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St Mary-le-Bow

St Mary-le-Bow
Exterior of St Mary-le-Bow
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Heritage designation Grade I[1]
Designated 4 January 1950
Architect(s) Sir Christopher Wren
Style Baroque
Parish St Mary Le Bow Cheapside
Diocese Diocese of London
Vicar(s) Rev. George Raymond Bush
The spire, St Mary-le-Bow

St Mary-le-Bow is a historic church rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 by Sir Christopher Wren in the City of London[2] on the main east–west thoroughfare, Cheapside. According to tradition a true Cockney must be born within earshot of the sound of Bow Bells (which refers to this church's bells rather than St Mary and Holy Trinity, Bow Road, in Bow, an outlying village until the 19th century).[3]


  • Bells 1
  • History 2
  • Services today 3
  • Organ 4
  • Image gallery 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


The sound of the bells of St Mary's is credited with having persuaded Dick Whittington to turn back from Highgate and remain in London to become Lord Mayor.[4]

Ordinarily, distances by road from London are now measured from Charing Cross but, before the late 18th century, they were measured from the London Stone in Cannon Street, or the "Standard" in Cornhill. On the road from London to Lewes, the mileage is taken from the church door of St Mary-le-Bow. To note the reference used, mileposts along the way are marked with a cast-iron depiction of a bow and four bells.[5][6]

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


St Mary-le-Bow Church as shown on Agas map of 1561 (shown as "Bowe church")
The interior, facing the altar

Archaeological evidence indicates that a church existed on this site in Saxon times. A medieval version of the church had been destroyed by the London Tornado of 1091, one of the earliest recorded (and one of the most violent) tornadoes in Britain.[7] During the later Norman period, the church known as “St Mary de Arcubus” was rebuilt and was famed for its two arches (“bows”) of stone. From at least the 13th century, the church was a peculiar of the Diocese of Canterbury and the seat of the Court of Arches, to which it gave the name.[8][9] The church with its steeple had been a landmark of London. The “bow bells”, which could be heard as far away as Hackney Marshes, were once used to order a curfew in the City of London. This building burned in the Great Fire of London of 1666.

St Mary-le-Bow in an 1837 engraving

Considered the second most important church in the City of London after St Paul's Cathedral, St-Mary-le-Bow was one of the first churches to be rebuilt after the fire by Christopher Wren and his office.[10] The current structure was built to the designs of Wren between 1671 and 1673; the 223-foot (68 m) steeple was completed in 1680. The mason-contractor was Thomas Cartwright,[11] 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, New York, in commemoration of the fact that King William III granted the vestry of Trinity Church the same privileges as St Mary-le-Bow vestry, the forerunner of lower-tier local government. Since the early 1940s, a recording of the Bow Bells made in 1926 has been used by the BBC World Service as an interval signal for the English-language broadcasts. It is still used today preceding some English-language broadcasts.

Much of the current building was destroyed by a German bomb during the Blitz on 10 May 1941,[12] during which fire the bells crashed to the ground. Restoration under the direction of Laurence King[13] began in 1956 (with internal fittings by Faith-Craft, part of the Society of the Faith). The bells as listed above, cast in 1956, were eventually installed to resume ringing in 1961. The church was formally reconsecrated in 1964, having achieved designation as a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[1][14]

In the churchyard is a statue of Captain John Smith of Jamestown, founder of Virginia and former parishioner of the church.

Services today

The pendant cross, St Mary le Bow

St Mary-le-Bow ministers to the financial industry and livery companies of the City of London.[15] Consequently, services feature weekday morning and evening led prayers lasting just a quarter of an hour generally at 08:15 (except Tuesdays) and 17:45.[16] There is a memorial in the church to the first Governor in Australia, Admiral Arthur Phillip, who was born in the parish. Through this connection the Rector of St Mary-le-Bow is the Chaplain of the Britain–Australia Society.

It is still home to the Court of Arches today.


The organ

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 Alan Wilson.

Image gallery

See also


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^ Mentioned in Pepys's diary, "Samuel Pepys - The Shorter Pepys" Latham, R. (Ed) p484: Harmondsworth, 1985 ISBN 0-14-009418-0
  3. ^ Leigh's map of the Environs of London 1819 The city as was is shown in the map; it shows Bow, the village between Mile End and Stratford, in a historical form Stratford le Bow.
  4. ^ The bells that made cockneys Howse, Christopher, Daily Telegraph 2007-09-22, accessed 30 October 2007
  5. ^ Hissey, James J. (1910). The charm of the road. London: Macmillan. p. 58.  
  6. ^  
  7. ^ "Stormy weather".  
  8. ^ Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1907 edition
  9. ^ Keane, D. J.; Harding, Vanessa (1987). "St. Mary le Bow". Historical gazetteer of London before the Great Fire. Online edition from "British History Online". pp. 199–212. Retrieved 16 January 2009. 
  10. ^ The City Churches of Sir Christopher Wren, Jeffery, P., Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2007 ISBN 978-1-84725-014-8
  11. ^ London: the City Churches, Pevsner, N. / Bradley, S. New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0-300-09655-0
  12. ^ "The London Encyclopaedia" Hibbert,C;Weinreb,D;Keay,J: London, Pan Macmillan, 1983 (rev 1993,2008) ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5
  13. ^ "The Visitor's Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker, T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006, ISBN 0-9553945-0-3
  14. ^   accessed 22 January 2009
  15. ^ Church's historic home in the City Byrne, Michael and Bush, G.R. Times Online 26 October 2007, accessed 30 October 2007
  16. ^ A Church Near You, a Church of England website

Further reading

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

External links

  • St Mary-le-Bow
  • 360° panorama inside St Mary-le-Bow

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