St Leonard's, Shoreditch
|St. Leonard's, Shoreditch|
18th century print of St. Leonard's
|Denomination||Church of England|
|Architect(s)||George Dance the Elder|
St Leonard's, Shoreditch, is the ancient parish church of Shoreditch, often known simply as Shoreditch Church. It is located at the intersection of Shoreditch High Street with Hackney Road, within the London Borough of Hackney. The current building dates from about 1740. The church is mentioned in the line "When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch" from the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons and is noted as being the resting place of many actors from the Tudor period.
The original church is possibly Saxon in origin, though the first historical reference to it occurs in the 12th century.
The church was situated near The Theatre, England's first purpose built playhouse, built in Shoreditch in 1576, and the nearly contemporary Curtain Theatre (built in 1577). Several members of the theatrical profession from the Elizabethan period are buried in the church, including:
- James Burbage, the founder of The Theatre, England's first playhouse.
- His son Richard, who was the leading man in many of Shakespeare's plays, which were first performed in the contemporary Shoreditch theatres.
- The comedian Richard Tarlton, who was a stalwart of the pre-Shakespearian stage.
- The actor Gabriel Spenser, who was killed by Ben Jonson in a duel.
These, with others of their profession from the period, are commemorated by a large classical memorial erected by the London Shakespeare League in 1913, inside the church, which serves as a reminder of Shoreditch's Shakespearian heritage.
Following a partial collapse of the tower in 1716, the medieval church was rebuilt in Palladian style built by George Dance the Elder during 1736–40, with a soaring steeple 192 feet tall – an imitation of Christopher Wren's magnificent steeple on St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, – and a giant four columned, pedimented Tuscan portico. Inside the church the entablature is supported by giant Doric columns. Dance was also architect of the Mansion House. Many original 18th century fixtures and fittings remain, including the font, the pulpit, the communion table, clock, organ case, bread cupboards and commandment boards. It was lit with gaslight in 1817, the first in London.
Whilst the church has had bells for many centuries, as evidenced by its inclusion in the Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme, the current ring of 12 bells (plus a "sharp second" to allow a lighter ring of eight bells using 1, sharp second and 3–8 to ring a true octave), hung for change ringing, dates from 1994 when the bells were cast by John Taylor Bellfounders of Loughborough.
Thomas Fairchild (1667–1724), a pioneer gardener and the author of The City Gardener, endowed an annual sermon at the church on either The Wonderful World of God in the Creation or On the Certainty of the Resurrection of the Dead proved by Certain Change of the Animal and Vegetable Parts of the Creation. These Whitsun sermons become locally known as "The Vegetable Sermon" and continued into the 1990s.
- The Centre of Attention at Shoreditch Church accessed 06/01/08
- The Bells of Shoreditch accessed 06/01/08
- Details for Shoreditch S Leonard, Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Retrieved 2008-07-11.
- Heraldry of the World: Hackney
- Civic Heraldry of England and Wales: Hackney lb
- Cherry, B and Pevsner, N (1998) The Buildings of England. London 4: North. Penguin.
- Sugden, K. (n.d) Under Hackney: The Archaeological Story. (Friends of Hackney Archives).