St Mary Somerset

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Above: View from a pedestrian walkway over Upper Thames Street in 2015 of the remaining tower of St Mary Somerset.

“Upper Thames Street – Part 5”

The lone tower of St Mary Somerset was an interesting feature, standing beside the old narrow Upper Thames Street. In the 1970s Upper Thames Street became a dual-carriageway and care was taken to align the new, wider thoroughfare so that the church tower was able to remain standing.

The earliest mention of the parish was during the reign of Richard I – which would be some time around 1190. Somerset is a county in England but it is unlikely that the name of the church is anything to do with that. The name of Somerset probably came from ‘Summer’s Hithe’, a wharf next to Queenhithe, Summer being a landowner according to the historian John Stow.

In 1370 weavers, brought from Brabant by Edward III, were appointed to meet in the churchyard of St Mary Somerset. Brabant has two divisions, one in Belgium, the other in Netherlands (or Holland). Historically, the Duchy of Brabant existed between 1183 and 1795. It was a duchy of the Holy Roman Empire (1183–1556); it was the Burgundian Netherlands (1430–1482); then Habsburg Netherlands (1482–1581); and finally Southern Netherlands (1581–1795). The fact that foreign traders used the churchyard to conduct their business is of interest because, as was mentioned in the introduction, several nationalities had their trading quarters at different locations along Upper Thames Street.

We have almost no details of the church that stood before the Great Fire of London. The church was destroyed on Monday 3 September 1666 and a new church was erected later. Christopher Wren was the architect for the church which was rebuilt in 1695. His building was to remain until 1872 when it was pulled down. The parish was united with that of St Nicholas Cole Abbey.

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Above: Looking west in July 1969 from near Queenhithe at the tower of the church, then standing beside the old narrow Upper Thames Street.

The handsome tower, 120 feet (36.5 m) high, was left standing opposite what was then No 26 Upper Thames Street. The tower graced the old narrow Upper Thames Street until the 1970s when the street was re-aligned as a dual carriageway. Traffic now thunders past it by day and by night. The drivers are too busy looking ahead of them, concentrating on the road, to even notice that they are passing a wonderful 17th century church tower.


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