St Michael Queenhithe - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Michael Queenhithe

• St. Michael Queenhithe was located in what is now Upper Thames Street. First recorded in the 12th century, the church was destroyed during the Great Fire in 1666.

• The ward's name derives from the "Queen's Dock", or "Queen's Quay", which was probably a Roman dock but known in Saxon times as "Aedereshyd", later "Ethelred's Hythe".

• The dock existed during the period when the Wessex king, Alfred the Great, re-established the City of London, circa886 AD. It only became "Queenhithe" (spelt archaically as "Queenhythe") when Matilda, daughter of Henry 1, was granted duties on goods landed there. The Queenhithe dock remains today, but has long fallen out of use and is heavily silted up The Queenhithe harbour was used for importing corn into London and continued to be in use into the 20th century, by the fur trade. Being upstream of London Bridge however meant that large (especially sailing) ships could not gain access to the dock from the sea. The dock is the only surviving inlet on the modern City waterfront. The walls have been re-strengthened, as part of the area's flood defences.

• The earliest reference to the church is as St Michael Aedredeshuda in the 12th century (Aethelredhyth being an earlier name for Queenhithe). The church was also recorded as St Michael upon Thames, St Michael in Huda, St Michael de Hutha Regina and St Michael super Ripam Regine.

• During the Great Fire, Charles II and the future James II “came down from Whitehall by boat to Queenhithe and, from a high rooftop, saw dwellings, Company halls and churches blazing.” The flames soon engulfed St. Michael Queenhithe.

• The church was rebuilt, through the office of Sir Christopher Wren, incorporating some of the old walls, between 1676 and 1686 at a cost of £4375. The parish was combined with that of Holy Trinity the Less, also destroyed in the Fire, but not rebuilt.

• Uniquely for a Wren church, a famous painter contributed to its decoration. According to Malcolm in London Redivivum, the church officers thanked Sir James Thornhill– father-in-law of Hogarth and painter of the grisailles on the ceiling of St Paul’s for his “liberality in repairing and improving the painting which adorned the altar” in 1721. This was later destroyed.

• In 1779 a new organ was provided by George England and Hugh Russell.

• Due to the move of population from the City to the suburbs in the second half of the nineteenth century, the church became redundant and the last service held in December 1875. The church was demolished in 1876 under the Union of Benefices Act 1860. The parish was combined with that of St James Garlickhythe, which also received much of the church fittings.

• The site of St. Michael Queenhithe now partly lies under the northern carriageway of Upper Thames Street, where it is crossed by the footbridge in the photo above, whilst the churchyard to its north now lies under the western part of Fur Trade House, completed in 1972. There is a plan to redevelop the area as a hotel.

• St. Michael Queenhithe had its main front on the south and east facing the Queenhithe dock. It was five bays long from east to west and three bays long from north to south. The lower level of windows were round-headed and separated from the upper tier of circular windows by swags. The entrance lobby and the vestry were built at a lower level than the body of the church.

• The tower, on the northwest corner, was surmounted by a steeple reminiscent of a ziggurat, with five steps ascending on four sides to a pointed leaded spire rearing from the dais. At the top of the spire was a vane in the shape of a three-masted barque, of the type used to carry corn – a reference to the chief cargo unloaded at the nearby dock. Just underneath the ship was a brass sphere that could hold a bushel of grain.

• After the church was demolished, the vane remained in situ perched on a miniature spire. It was moved to the top of the newly restored spire of St Nicholas Cole Abbey in 1962, where it remains today.


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