St Olave Hart Street
|St. Olave Hart Street|
Photo of St. Olave Hart Street
|Denomination||Church of England|
John Betjeman described St Olave’s as “a country church in the world of Seething Lane." The church is one of the smallest in the City and is one of only a handful of medieval City churches that escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666. In addition to being a local parish church, St Olave’s is the Ward Church of the Tower Ward of the City of London.
The church is first recorded in the 13th century as St Olave-towards-the-Tower, a stone building replacing the earlier (presumably wooden) construction. It is dedicated to the patron saint of Norway, King Olaf II of Norway, who fought alongside the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred the Unready against the Danes in the Battle of London Bridge in 1014. He was canonised after his death and the church of St Olave's was built apparently on the site of the battle. The Norwegian connection was reinforced during the Second World War when King Haakon VII of Norway worshipped there while in exile.
Saint Olave's was rebuilt in the 13th century and then again in the 15th century. The present building dates from around 1450. According to John Stow’s Survey of London (1603), a major benefactor of the church in the late 15th century was wool merchant Richard Cely Sr. (d. 1482), who held the advowson on the church (inherited by his son, Richard Cely, Jr.). On his death, Cely bequeathed money for making the steeple and an altar in the church. The merchant mark of the Cely family was carved in two of the corbels in the nave (and were extant until the bombing of World War II). No memorial to the Celys now remains in the church.
Saint Olave's survived the Great Fire thanks to the efforts of Sir William Penn, the father of the more famous William Penn who founded Pennsylvania. The flames came within 100 yards or so of the building, but then the wind changed direction, saving the church and a number of other churches on the eastern side of the City. The church was a favourite of the diarist Samuel Pepys, who worked in the nearby Navy Office and worshipped regularly at St Olave's. He referred to it affectionately in his diary as "our own church" and both he and his wife are buried there, in the nave.
However, it was gutted by German bombs in 1941 during the London Blitz. and was restored in 1954, with King Haakon returning to preside over the rededication ceremony, during which he laid a stone from Trondheim Cathedral in front of the sanctuary.
Between 1948 and 1954, when the restored St Olave's was reopened, a prefabricated church stood on the site of All Hallows Staining. This was known as St Olave Mark Lane. The tower of All Hallows Staining was used as the chancel of the temporary church.
St Olave's has a modest exterior in the Perpendicular Gothic style. with a somewhat squat square tower of stone and brick, the latter added in 1732. It is deservedly famous for the macabre 1658 entrance arch to the churchyard, which is decorated with grinning skulls. The novelist Charles Dickens was so taken with this that he included the church in his Uncommercial Traveller, renaming it "St Ghastly Grim".
The interior of St Olave's only partially survived the wartime bombing; much of it dates from the restoration of the 1950s. It is nearly square, with three bays separated by columns of Purbeck limestone supporting pointed arches. The roof is a simple oak structure with bosses. Most of the church fittings are modern, but there are some significant survivals, such as the monument to Elizabeth Pepys and the pulpit, said to be the work of Grinling Gibbons. Following the destruction of the organ in the blitz, the John Compton Organ Company built a new instrument in the West Gallery, fronted by a large wooden grille; this organ, and the Rectory behind, is ingeniously structured between church and tower.
Perhaps the oddest "person" said to be buried here is the "Pantomime character" Mother Goose. Church documents record her interment on September 14, 1586. A plaque on the outside commemorates the event. The churchyard is also said to contain the grave of one Mary Ramsay, popularly believed to be the woman who brought the Black Death to London in the 17th century.
The church tower contains 8 bells. These are rung by the University of London Society of Change Ringers. The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. St Olave's has retained long and historic links with Trinity House and the Clothworkers' Company.
Notable people associated with the church
- Anthony Bacon: buried 1601
- Samuel Pepys, diarist: buried 1703
- King Haakon VII of Norway: worshipped here 1940-1945
There are currently nine bells at St Olaves Hart Street consisting of one sanctus bell and eight bells hung for full circle ringing with the tenor of the eight weighing 11-3-23. The bells are usually rung for practices, which take place on Thursday evenings between 7:00pm and 8:30pm during term time, and for Sunday service between 10:15am and 11:00am on the 1st and 3rd Sundays in the month. The bells are currently rung by a the University of London Society of Change Ringers ( ULSCR ) which have a health band consisting of past and present members of London Universities.
- Betjeman, John (1993). City of London Churches. Pitkin Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85372-565-7.
- "The London Encyclopaedia" Hibbert,C;Weinreb,D;Keay,J: London, Pan Macmillan, 1983 (rev 1993,2008) ISBN 978-1-4050-4924-5
- St. Olave's Church Website. Retrieved on 2009-12-11.
- “The Churches of the City of London” Reynolds,H.: London, Bodley Head, 1922
- Hanham, Alison (2002). The Celys and Their World: An English Merchant Family of the Fifteenth Century. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-52012-6., pp. 7 and 318.
- "Pepys: the unequalled self" Tomalin,C: London, Viking, 2002 ISBN 0-670-88568-1
- "The Old Churches of London" Cobb,G: London, Batsford, 1942
- “The City of London Churches” Betjeman,J Andover, Pikin, 1967 ISBN 0-85372-112-2
- "London:the City Churches” Pevsner,N/Bradley,S New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0-300-09655-0
- "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0-9553945-0-3
- Cambridgeshire Collection - History On The Net
- Details from listed building database (199509) . Images of England. English Heritage. accessed 23 January 2009
- Love, Dickon. "Church Bells of the City of London - ST OLAVE, Hart Street". Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- "University of London Society of Change Ringers". Retrieved 21 February 2012.
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