Above: Looking north at the western end of the church in Lovat Lane, which includes its tower.
The title says ‘St Mary at Hill (Church)’ because there is also a street with exactly the same name that we will call ‘St Mary at Hill (Street)’ to save confusion. Several other streets in the City of London are also named directly after a church standing in the street. It is a curious situation that several streets in the City simply took on the name of the church and, although the church sometimes longer exists, the name has never been changed. The church under consideration is a good example, with the church of St Mary at Hill standing in the street which is also called St Mary at Hill. Notice that the street name is not ‘St Mary at Hill Street’ but just ‘St Mary at Hill’, making it necessary to qualify whether we are talking about the church or the street by that name.
In the same way, the church of St Clement, Eastcheap, stands in Clement’s Lane. Similarly, there was a St Martin church in Martin Lane, a St Nicholas church in Nicholas Lane and St Mary Abchurch still stands in Abchurch Lane. St Dunstan’s Hill still has the ruins of the church of St Dunstan in the East beside it. The street called St Mary Axe once had a church by that name standing in it. St Helen’s Place still has its church called St Helen. There are other examples that could be mentioned.
Returning to St Mary at Hill (Church), it was first mentioned during the time of King John as ‘St Mary de Hull’ which means the church was in existence from at least 1200. According to John Stow, Thomas a Becket was a parson at the church which, if that is correct, would mean that the church was in existence around the year 1150.
The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire, when the flames reached the church on Monday 3 September. The church was not completely destroyed. It was later rebuilt 1670-76 by Christopher Wren. He rebuilt the church’s interior and east end but retained its medieval walls on the other three sides. The tower at the western end was also retained. The church is 96 feet long and 60 feet wide. Stepping inside the church we, therefore, see it the same ground-plan as the medieval one that existed before the Great Fire.
Above: The eastern end of the church, with its large overhanging clock, is on the west side of St Mary at Hill (Street).
Overhanging St Mary at Hill (Street), the eastern end of the church has a large clock, driven by a clockwork in the tower at the other end of the building. The mechanism is linked by a long rod running the length of the church.
Over the next three centuries alterations and remodelling to the church were made at various times, first by George Gwilt and then by James Savage. The church survived the bombing during the Second World War but restoration was carried out in 1967 and a new organ was installed in 1971. During further repairs in 1988, the church was badly damaged by fire on the night of 12 May when the roof collapsed and the bell tower was almost completely destroyed. Much of the interior of the church was also destroyed in the fire. The box-pews survived but they are now in store and have not been re-installed in the church.
The church was designated a Grade I listed in 1950. Beside St Mary at Hill (Street) is an adjacent Grade II brick and stone rectory of 1834, designed by James Savage. The church stands on the west side of the street of the same name and extends west to meet Lovat Lane where its tower rises above the narrow thoroughfare. The church has its main entrance under the tower in Lovat Lane, even though the street to the east bears the name of the church.
Between the two streets is a small secluded churchyard, with the church on one side and other buildings surrounding it on the other three. It is typical of how many medieval churchyards once looked. Space in the City in the 15th and 16th centuries was at a premium. The open space that we see surrounding a large church today is much greater than those in earlier times. Over the eastern entrance to the passageway linking St Mary at Hill (Street) with Lovat Lane is curious stonework depicting a skull.