Saturday, 6 July 2013

St Mary-at-Hill, London

Tucked away on Lovat Lane, St-Mary-at-Hill is one of London's oldest churches. Although much rebuilt, it has a surprisingly light and spacious interior.

The church is first mentioned in 1177, but may have existed as early as the 11th century, being on the route from Billingsgate Quay to the City. The steep rise from the river gave the church its name 'St Mary on the hill'. It had close links with the nearby fish market at Billingsgate, and the famous composer Thomas Tallis was organist here 1538-9.

The interior of the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire in 1666, but, under the guidance of Sir Christopher Wren, it was rebuilt and reopened by 1677.

The original surviving north and south walls were retained, as well as the brickwork of the tower, but the church was extended to the east and new windows inserted. The new interior had a coffered dome and barrel vaults in a Greek Cross pattern, supported on four large Corinthian columns. The tower was replaced by the present design in 1787-8, and the interior was modified in 1848-9 with new ceilings and plasterwork, and two new windows, cut into the chancel vault.

Surviving the Blitz in 1940, the church - which until then had 'the least spoiled and the most gorgeous interior in the City' according to Betjeman - succumbed to fire in 1988, which gutted the interior. The restoration retained the organ and the 17th century woodwork at the west end, but the pews were replaced by chairs and the reredos by the present large curtain.

The church does however retain some interesting wall monuments, as well as the fine William Hill organ installed in 1848. It is now much in demand as a concert venue. The parish services are held on Wednesday lunchtimes, with a Lutheran congregation on Sundays.

 Lovat Lane, London EC3R 8EE

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