St Botolph Without Bishopsgate

Above: Looking north in Bishopsgate at the tower of St Botolph which stands on the west side of the street.

After considering the name of the church, we probably need to explain who Botolph was. St Botolph as the name of a church is not uncommon in England. The name is found in many of the ancient cities and, in fact, there have been no less than four in the City of London. Today, probably the most well-known saint associated with those who travel is St Christopher. You can even obtain badges depicting the scene of the saint carrying a child across a river. According to the legend, the child revealed himself as Christ.

In Saxon times the patron saint of those who travelled was St Botolph. For that reason, it is common to find a ‘St Botolph’ church in an ancient walled city standing next to one of the gates. In the City of London, there have been four ‘St Botolph’ churches – St Botolph, Aldersgate; St Botolph, Aldgate; St Botolph, Billingsgate; and St Botolph Without Bishopsgate. Only St Botolph, Billingsgate, no longer exists, being destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666) and not rebuilt.

Botolph was one of the earliest and most revered of the East Anglian saints and became known as the patron saint of wayfarers. After being educated with his brother in a Benedictine abbey in France, Botolph returned to his native East Anglia. He was granted land on which to build a monastery. The land was at Icanhoh – said to have been the present Boston (whose name means ‘Botolph’s Town’) in Lincolnshire but it is more likely to have been Iken, near Aldeburgh in Suffolk. Botolph died after a long life of Christian endeavour and teaching in AD 680. His monastery continued until AD 870 when it was destroyed by Danish invaders. King Edgar (AD 963-967) ordered that the remains of the saint be taken from the monastery ruins and be divided into three parts – the head was taken to Ely, the middle was taken to Thorney and the remainder was conveyed to Westminster Abbey. Although St Botolph has no place in the Prayer Book Calendar, his feast day is June 17.

Returning to the subject of St Botolph Without Bishopsgate, the ‘Without’ in the name simply means that the church stands beside the gate called Bishopsgate but is outside the wall – in other words not within the ancient Roman Wall. The church stands on the west side of Bishopsgate (Street) along with its large churchyard which is now enjoyed as a small City garden.

The exact date of the church being founded is not known. However, with a dedication to a Saxon saint, it is almost certain that it was in existence in Saxon times and so an approximate date of 1000 is more than likely, maybe earlier. The church was first mentioned in documents in 1212. The Norman church was later replaced by a medieval one. The medieval church of St Botolph was fully restored in 1571 by Sir William Allen, at his own expense.

One famous name associated with the church is that of Edward Alleyn who was born 1566. He was the son of an innkeeper in Bishopsgate and was baptised in the church. Edward ‘Ned’ Alleyn (1566–1626) was an English actor who was a major figure of the Elizabethan theatre. When he retired from acting on the stages of Bankside, in Southwark, he was a wealthy man and he bought the Manor of Dulwich where he founded a school called Dulwich College. Its foundation grew and both Alleyn’s School and James Allen’s Girls’ School owe their later foundation to Alleyn’s money.

Another famous name is that of Paul Pindar who died in 1650 and was buried with great ceremony in the church on 22 August. His monument is above the staircase leading to the north gallery. The epitaph reads – ‘His majesties Ambassador to the Turkish Emperor AD 1611 and nine years resident. Faithful in Negotiation, Foreign and Domestick, Eminent for Piety, Charity, Loyalty and Prudence.’ Due to Pindar’s long service to the Government, he became a wealthy man and had a large house erected beside Bishopsgate. It remained standing until the 19th century when it was in use as a pub. It had to be removed – for the formation of Liverpool Street Station – and its ornate timber frontage was carefully taken down and reassembled inside the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Above: Looking east in the churchyard towards Bishopsgate (Street).

Having narrowly escaped any damage during the Great Fire of London (1666), by the 18th century the church was beyond repair and in 1725 it was demolished. A new one, designed by James Gould, was consecrated in 1728. The layout is unusual in that the tower is above the east end of the church. The architect decided that the tower should stand beside Bishopsgate (Street) and so it had to be built at the eastern end of the body of the church. In 1764 a new organ was installed by the famous John Byfield.

A famous name in the literary world is that of John Keats who was born at the sign of the Swan and Hoop, 24 The Pavement, Moorfields in 1795. His father was an ostler at the inn. John Keats was baptised at the church of St Botolph on 18 December. In October 1815 Keats registered as a medical student at Guy’s Hospital (now part of King’s College London) and began studying there – at that time having a genuine desire to become a doctor. However, his mind was on his writing. In 1816, Keats received his apothecary’s licence, which made him eligible to practise as an apothecary, physician, and surgeon but before the end of the year he resolved to be a poet, not a surgeon, so he left the life in medicine. With little prospects, Keats moved to Hampstead and lived with his brother. He died young because he found that he was suffering from consumption (called tuberculosis today) and, although he moved to Rome to improve his chances of life, he died there on 23 February 1821.

The Georgian church has remained standing ever since. There was some damage suffered during the Second World War. It also suffered serious damage from an IRA bomb which went off on in Bishopsgate (Street) on Saturday 24 April 1993 and it was closed for a long time while repairs were carried out.

Georgian churches with the City are relatively rare. Due to the Great Fire of London (1666) many pre-fire churches were not rebuilt. Those that were rebuilt were mainly designed by Christopher Wren. Only a handful of City churches escaped damage and they are situated on the edge of the City towards the NE within the Roman Wall. Some of those churches remain from medieval times and have not been rebuilt since. For these reasons, only a very few City churches are of Georgian design. St Botolph’s is a rare example.

The church remains standing beside Bishopsgate (Street), with a large churchyard which is widest on its southern side. There is a hall in the churchyard, to the west of the church which formerly was a school. It was in use by the Fanmakers’ Company for several years but is now used as the Church Hall.


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