St Mary-le-Bow
St Mary-le-Bow is an historic church in the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

, off Cheapside
Cheapside is a street in the City of London that links Newgate Street with the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Mansion House Street. To the east is Mansion House, the Bank of England, and the major road junction above Bank tube station. To the west is St. Paul's Cathedral, St...

. According to tradition, a true Cockney
The term Cockney has both geographical and linguistic associations. Geographically and culturally, it often refers to working class Londoners, particularly those in the East End...

 must be born within earshot of the sound of the church's bells.


The sound of the bells of St Mary's are credited with having persuaded Dick Whittington to turn back from Highgate
Highgate is an area of North London on the north-eastern corner of Hampstead Heath.Highgate is one of the most expensive London suburbs in which to live. It has an active conservation body, the Highgate Society, to protect its character....

 and remain in London to become Lord Mayor.

Traditionally, distances by road from London have been measured from the London Stone
London Stone
The London Stone is a historic stone that is now set within a Portland stone surround and iron grille on Cannon Street, in the City of London.-Features:...

 in Cannon Street
Cannon Street
Cannon Street is a road in the south of the City of London. It runs roughly parallel with the River Thames, and about 250 metres north of it. It is the site of the ancient London Stone.-Etymology:...

, or the "Standard" in Cornhill, but, on the road from London to Lewes
Lewes is the county town of East Sussex, England and historically of all of Sussex. It is a civil parish and is the centre of the Lewes local government district. The settlement has a history as a bridging point and as a market town, and today as a communications hub and tourist-oriented town...

, the mileage is taken from the church door of St Mary-le-Bow. To emphasize the difference, mileposts along the way are marked with a cast-iron depiction of a bow and four bells.

The church is also immortalised in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons
Oranges and Lemons
"Oranges and Lemons" is an English nursery rhyme and singing game which refers to the bells of several churches, all within or close to the City of London. It is listed in the Roud Folk Song Index as #3190.-Lyrics:Common modern versions include:...


Details of the bells:
Bell Weight Nominal Note Diameter Cast Founder
1 5-3-21 1565.6 G 27.75" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
2 5-3-10 1389.5 F 29.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
3 6-1-7 1298.5 E 30.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
4 6-2-17 1170.0 D 32.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
5 7-3-27 1046.5 C 34.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
6 8-3-27 978.5 B 35.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
7 10-0-20 869.0 A 38.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
8 12-1-11 778.0 G 41.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
9 17-3-17 694.0 F 46.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
10 21-2-23 649.5 E 49.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
11 29-1-5 585.0 D 54.00" 1956 Mears & Stainbank
12 41-3-21 521.2 C 61.25" 1956 Mears & Stainbank


Archaeological evidence indicates that a church existed on this site in Saxon period England. A medieval version of the church had been destroyed in the late 11th century by one of the earliest recorded (and one of the most violent) tornado
A tornado is a violent, dangerous, rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the earth and a cumulonimbus cloud or, in rare cases, the base of a cumulus cloud. They are often referred to as a twister or a cyclone, although the word cyclone is used in meteorology in a wider...

es in Britain, the London Tornado of 1091
London Tornado of 1091
The London Tornado of 1091 is reckoned by modern assessment of the reports as possibly a T8 tornado which occurred in London, England. Britain's earliest reported tornado, it occurred on 17 October 1091, killing two. The wooden London Bridge was demolished, and the church of St...

During the Norman period, a church known as “St Mary de Arcubus” was built and was famed for its two arches (“bows”) of stone. From at least the 13th century, the church was a peculier
Royal Peculiar
A Royal Peculiar is a place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch, rather than under a bishop. The concept dates from Anglo-Saxon times, when a church could ally itself with the monarch and therefore not be subject to the bishop of the area...

 of the Diocese of Canterbury
Diocese of Canterbury
The Diocese of Canterbury is a Church of England diocese covering eastern Kent, founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597. It is centred on Canterbury Cathedral, and is the oldest see of the Church of England....

 and the seat of the Court of Arches, to which it gave the name. The church with its steeple had been a landmark of London and the “Bow bells”, which could be heard as far away as Hackney Marshes
Hackney Marshes
Hackney Marshes is an area of grassland on the western bank of the River Lea in the London Borough of Hackney. It was incorporated into the Lee Valley Park in 1967...

, were once used to signal a curfew in the City of London. This building burned in the Great Fire of London
Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall...

 of 1666.

The current building was built to the designs of Christopher Wren
Christopher Wren
Sir Christopher Wren FRS is one of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history.He used to be accorded responsibility for rebuilding 51 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including his masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710...

, 1671–1673, with the 223-foot steeple completed 1680. It was considered the second most important church in the City of London after St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral, London, is a Church of England cathedral and seat of the Bishop of London. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. St Paul's sits at the top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, and is the mother...

, and was one of the first churches to be rebuilt by Wren and his office for this reason. The mason-contractor was Thomas Cartwright, one of the leading London mason-contractors and carvers of his generation.

In 1914, a stone from the crypt of St Mary-le-Bow church was placed in Trinity Church
Trinity Church, New York
Trinity Church at 79 Broadway, Lower Manhattan, is a historic, active parish church in the Episcopal Diocese of New York...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, in commemoration of the fact that King William III
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

 granted the vestry of Trinity Church the same privileges as St Mary-le-Bow. A recording of the Bow Bells made in 1926 has been used by the BBC World Service
BBC World Service
The BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasting in 27 languages to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays...

 as an interval signal for the English language broadcasts since the early 1940s. It is still used today preceding some English broadcasts.

Much of the current building was destroyed by a German
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 bomb during the London Blitz on May 10, 1941, during which fire the bells crashed to the ground. Restoration under the direction of Laurence King was begun in 1956 (with internal fittings made by Faith-Craft, part of the Society of the Faith
Society of the Faith
The Society of the Faith is a Church of England charity founded in 1905. Its objects are to bring together Christians in communion with the See of Canterbury for mutual assistance, and to support and further charitable undertakings, particularly those that popularise the Catholic faith...

) and the bells rang again only in 1961 to produce a new generation of Cockney
The term Cockney has both geographical and linguistic associations. Geographically and culturally, it often refers to working class Londoners, particularly those in the East End...

s. The church was formally reconsecrated in 1964 and was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

In the churchyard is a statue of Captain John Smith
John Smith of Jamestown
Captain John Smith Admiral of New England was an English soldier, explorer, and author. He was knighted for his services to Sigismund Bathory, Prince of Transylvania and friend Mózes Székely...

, founder of Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 and former parishioner of this church. St Mary-le-Bow ministers to the financial industry
Financial services
Financial services refer to services provided by the finance industry. The finance industry encompasses a broad range of organizations that deal with the management of money. Among these organizations are credit unions, banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, consumer finance companies,...

 and livery companies
Livery Company
The Livery Companies are 108 trade associations in the City of London, almost all of which are known as the "Worshipful Company of" the relevant trade, craft or profession. The medieval Companies originally developed as guilds and were responsible for the regulation of their trades, controlling,...

 of the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

. There is a memorial in the church to the first Governor in Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip
Arthur Phillip
Admiral Arthur Phillip RN was a British admiral and colonial administrator. Phillip was appointed Governor of New South Wales, the first European colony on the Australian continent, and was the founder of the settlement which is now the city of Sydney.-Early life and naval career:Arthur Phillip...

, who was born nearby. Through this connection the Rector of St Mary-le-Bow is the Chaplain
Traditionally, a chaplain is a minister in a specialized setting such as a priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam or lay representative of a religion attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, police department, university, or private chapel...

 of the Britain-Australia Society
Britain-Australia Society
The Britain-Australia Society was established in 1971 as a friendship society to promote historic links between Britain and Australia. It has headquarters in Buckingham Gate in London and branches throughout the UK.- History :...



The organ is a two-manual and pedal design by Kenneth Tickell and Company, with design and construction initiated in 2004. It occupies the case of the previous Rushworth and Dreaper
Rushworth and Dreaper
Rushworth and Dreaper was a firm of organ builders based in Liverpool, England Upon its bankruptcy, its archives were mostly destroyed, and the Victorian clock in the works tower was removed...

 organ (from the 1960s). The inaugural recital was given by Thomas Trotter
Thomas Trotter
Thomas Trotter is a British concert organist. He is Birmingham City Organist and organist of St. Margaret's, Westminster and visiting Professor of Organ at the Royal College of Music, London....

 in September 2010. The resident organist
An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists...

 is Alan Wilson
Alan Wilson (composer)
-Professional career:He was born in 1947, in Nottingham, UK, and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music at the age of 17. He attended composition classes with Nadia Boulanger and studied on a scholarship at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam early keyboard music with Gustav Leonhardt...


See also

Further reading

  • Howard Colvin
    Howard Colvin
    Sir Howard Montagu Colvin, CVO, CBE , was a British architectural historian who produced two of the most outstanding works of scholarship in his field.-Life and works:...

    , Biographical Dictionary of British Architects
  • Michael Byrne and George R. Bush (eds), St Mary-le-Bow: A History (Privately published, 2007).

External links

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