St Nicholas Acon

Above: Remaining metalwork from a 19th-century water-pump in Nicholas Lane, showing the initials of the parish. The water spout was where the round plate is to be seen (near the top of the metalwork).

When the medieval street plan was in its original state – long before King William Street was cut through in the 1820s – the three lanes that it cut across each had a church. They are (from west to east) Abchurch Lane, Nicholas Lane and Clement’s Lane. Abchurch Lane still has its post-1666 church (St Mary Abchurch) as does Clements Lane (St Clement, Eastcheap). The church that used to stand in Nicholas Lane was called St Nicholas Acon.

The church of St Nicholas Acon was first mentioned in 1084 when Godwynus and his wife Turnud gave it to St Mary and St Aldhelm in the church of St Nicholas at Malmesbury – a market town in Wiltshire. The name Acon may be a corruption of ‘Hacun’, a benefactor of the church. Nicholas Lane was first mentioned in 1258. The church stood on the west side of the lane. Although some sources spell the name as ‘St Nicholas Acons’, Harben’s ‘Dictionary of London’ has the spelling as ‘St Nicholas Acon’. That spelling is followed in this article.

Above: Part of Ogilby and Morgan’s map (1676) showing the ground plan of St Nicholas Acon and the churches in the two adjacent lanes.

The Great Fire of London (1666) swept across this part of London and destroyed the church. It was among many that were not rebuilt and its parish was united with St Edmund the King. If you are thinking that it would be informative to see an early print of the pre-Fire church, then you are out of luck. While prints exist for many of the medieval churches in the City, sadly there is no known print of this church – even on a pictorial early map. For that reason, part of the large scale map by Obilby and Morgan in 1667 – showing what the City street plan looked like before the Great Fire of London has been reproduced. It is possibly the only reliable map to show the plan of this elusive church.

Although the church no longer exists, that does not mean that there are no clues for the observant visitor to find. To start with, there is a City Plaque on the west side of Nicholas Lane, marking the original site of the church. A second, more unusual piece of evidence is part of the front plate of a metal water-boss (or water-pump) in Nicholas Lane, on the east side, almost opposite the site of the church. The metalwork on the parish pump remains from the 19th century and still bears the initials of the original parish. This is surprising because by the 19th century the church had ceased to exist for almost 200 years.


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