St Mary-at-Hill

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St Mary-at-Hill
St Mary-at-Hill pictured in 2008
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Anglican, earlier Roman Catholic
Architect(s) Christopher Wren
Style Baroque

St Mary-at-Hill is a Church of England church on Lovat Lane, a cobbled street off Eastcheap in the ward of Billingsgate in the City of London. Coordinates: 51°30′36″N 0°05′01″W / 51.510069°N 0.08374°W / 51.510069; -0.08374

It was originally founded in the 12th century[1] and it was first known as "St. Mary de Hull" or " St. Mary de la Hulle".[2] It was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666; afterwards it was partly rebuilt and has been much altered since, although some medieval fabric survives.

Although its official address is Lovat Lane, the more notable side faces a street, itself called 'St. Mary at Hill', where there is a large two-faced clock extending several feet into the street. There is a narrow alleyway alongside, but no right of way.

History and architecture[edit]

St Mary-at-Hill dates to 1336. The north aisle was rebuilt at the end of the 15th century, and a south aisle and steeple were added a little later. John Stow, writing at end of the 16th century, described it as "the fair church of Saint Marie, called on the Hill, because of the ascent from Billingsgate".

Interior of the dome.

The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 which began only a few feet away in Pudding Lane.[3] After the blaze, the parish was united with that of St Andrew Hubbard, which was not rebuilt. Christopher Wren rebuilt the interior and the east end, but retained the medieval walls on the other three sides, and the west tower to which he added a lantern. Wren's east end has a venetian window, now blocked up, and a broken pediment. His interior has four free-standing corinthian columns, supporting barrel vaults in a Greek cross pattern, and a coffered central dome. The church is 96 ft long and 60 ft wide.[4]

A hoard of coins (now known as the Mary Hill hoard) was found in a basement near St Mary-at-Hill in the 18th century.[5] The hoard included the only known example of a coin from the Horndon mint.

There have been considerable alterations since the 17th century. In 1787–88, George Gwilt rebuilt the west wall and replaced the tower in brick and in 1826–27 James Savage installed round-headed iron-framed windows in the north wall and replaced the vaults, ceilings and plasterwork. In 1848–49 he added a cupola to the dome and cut windows through the chancel vault. In 1849, the 17th century wooodwork was sympathetically augmented and adapted by W. Gibbs Rogers. The church survived the Blitz unharmed but was severely damaged by a fire in 1988, after which the roof and ceiling had to be rebuilt. Much of the woodwork, including the box-pews, has not been reinstated.[1]

Writing before the 1988 fire, John Betjeman said of the church: "This is the least spoiled and the most gorgeous interior in the City, all the more exciting by being hidden away among cobbled alleys, paved passages, brick walls, overhung by plane trees…"[6]

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[7] On the street St Mary at Hill, there is an adjacent Grade II brick and stone rectory of 1834 designed by James Savage, incorporating a vestry of the late 17th century.[8]

Music and traditions[edit]

The organ at St Mary-at-Hill.

From 1510 the Chapel Royal choir sang here. The organ-builder Mighaell Glocetir worked at St Mary-at-Hill from 1477 to 1479. He is possibly the same person as the builder Myghell Glancets who worked on St Michael, Cornhill, in 1475. The great composer Thomas Tallis was organist at St Mary-at-Hill in 1538–1539. A William Hill organ was installed in 1848 and partly restored after the 1988 fire, but a more complete restoration did not commence until 2000.[9] It is now used for concerts.

In several books on English folklore, or about ceremonies of London, there is mention of the costermongers' festival held here every October. It also goes by the name "Fish Harvest Festival" or "Harvest of the Sea", associated with the fishmarket that was held at Billingsgate. Another notable ceremony is beating the bounds, where notables and children process around the boundary of a parish or ward on Ascension Day, carrying slender rods. Originally the children were whipped (not severely) at points along the route. Almost every example died out in the middle of the 19th century, but the account books of St Mary-at-Hill testify to its existence here. Four shillings were paid for the provision of fruit on the day of the "Perambulation" in 1682. In another example at Chelsea the whipped children were given four pence. One rare surviving example of beating the bounds is at the nearby church All Hallows-by-the-Tower, where it is held every three years.


Looking up the street St. Mary at Hill, named after the church, c. 1975.

Parliament outlawed new burials in the City of London during the Victorian era, forcing the closure of its churchyards; in 1847 the church purchased burials rights 'in perpetuity' in a small section of the consecrated ground in West Norwood Cemetery for its own parish use.[10] It stood out from the main cemetery through its railed enclosure and planting, including monkey puzzle trees.

The London Borough of Lambeth subsequently compulsorily purchased the main cemetery and removed the memorials in this section during 1990–91. A subsequent Chancery Court case found this to be illegal and set up a mechanism for those monuments to be restored at the request of descendants.[11]

Notable people[edit]

The poet Edward Young, author of Night Thoughts was married at St Mary-at-Hill in 1731.

The antiquarian John Brand became rector here in 1784.

William Turner Alchin, another antiquarian, was born here in 1790.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bradley, Simon; Pevsner, Nikolaus (1998). London: The City Churches. New Haven: Yale Universsity Press. p. 111. ISBN 0-300-09655-0. 
  2. ^ Henry A Harben (1918). "Mary (St.) at Hill – Mary (St.) de Cricherche, Chapel". A Dictionary of London. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  3. ^ "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0-9553945-0-3
  4. ^ Godwin, George; John Britton (1839). The Churches of London: A History and Description of the Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Metropolis. London: C. Tilt. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 
  5. ^ Metcalf, David Michael (1998). An atlas of Anglo-Saxon and Norman coin finds, c.973–1086. Royal Numismatic Society. p. 222. 
  6. ^ "The Parish Church of St Mary-at-Hill Eastcheap". 
  7. ^ English Heritage. "Details from listed building database (199605)". Images of England. Retrieved 23 January 2009. 
  8. ^ English Heritage. "Details from listed building database (199729)". Images of England. Retrieved 24 January 2009. 
  9. ^ William Hill's organ Mander Organs
  10. ^ English Heritage Survey of London: volume 26 St Mary-at-Hill in West Norwood
  11. ^ Friends of West Norwood Cemetery, Newsletter No 17, Jan 1994

See also Private Eye, January 2014.

External links[edit]