The church: monuments, furniture and fittings

Pages 25-42

Survey of London Monograph 2, Saint Mary, Stratford Bow. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1900.

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In this section

CHAPTER III. An account of the monuments, internal fittings and furniture of the church.

The Fonts

The old font is now carefully preserved in the north-west corner of the aisle. It is evidently of considerable merit, and a good piece of 15th century work; octagonal in shape with a quatrefoil carved on each side of the bowl. It is unfortunately so decayed as to render the task of deciphering the various designs & the lettering next to impossible, and the illustration of it in the extra illustrated copy of Lysons' "Environs of London," in the Guildhall Library, is not quite reliable, though the base shown therein is doubtless more correct than the cement restoration now to be seen.

The newer font is of Italian Renaissance character and is of marble. No record exists showing when or how it was acquired, but from its character and also from a marginal note to be seen in the old registers, its date may with tolerable certainty be attributed to 1624. The entry in question is as follows: "The font new set up. This the first child christened," and the date given is October 17th of the above year. The font is oval in shape, and is in excellent preservation.

Owing to the introduction of this new font the old one was relegated to an out-of-the-way corner of the church for about a century. Then it experienced several changes of fortune. First of all it was sent across to the workhouse yard opposite and used as a flower stand. Thence it was rescued through the intervention of the church wardens, brought back to the church and placed in the chancel. At the Induction Service of 1880 it was again driven forth and found its way to a builder's yard near the church. Upon the death, a few years later, of the builder, who was also church warden at the time, the font was planted in the churchyard among the tombstones, the stem or base being buried about a foot in the ground. In the year 1891 it was again allotted a corner within the sacred edifice. At the present moment it has been removed from the church by a firm of sculptors and marble masons, for repairs.

Communion Tables

The tables now in use in the respective vestries have both served for a number of years as communion tables. That in the clergy vestry is the finer piece of work. It is of oak, with spiral triplet legs and an inlaid top; the whole being polished. Its date is unknown, but it is probably of last century, and took the place of the table now in the choir vestry which is of the Stuart period in character, and probably is of the same date as the new font, though this is conjecture. In 1892, however, when altar frontals were first used at Bow, the then rector discarded the newer table and again used the older one, which was lengthened and heightened, though somewhat crudely. It has now been reduced to its original dimensions, but still bears the marks of the alteration.

The Communion Rail

Until the reseating in 1887 the communion rail ran round three sides of the table as shown on the older plans. The panelled recesses on each side (answering to the sedilia in other churches) were used (though not without protests from some) for the choristers' hats, overcoats, and umbrellas. The seats themselves could be lifted & formed a sort of box or cupboard which was used at one time for storing all sorts of rubbish. In the cleansing and reseating in 1891 under the supervision of Sir Arthur Blomfield, A.R.A., the altar rail was continued straight across the chancel, the latter raised to its present level, and the existing tiles laid. It was not, however, till the present year that, by the munificence of the present rector, the new carved oak altar and re-table, the dossal, altar carpets, & choir seats, were added.

The Carved Oak Chairs

The church possesses two very fine examples of carved oak chairs. They were obtained by the rector and churchwardens in 1857 or 1858. There appears to be no other record than this.

The Pulpit

A reference to the plans of 1824 and 1828 shows alterations in the position of the pulpit. In fact, on no two plans are the positions identical. The earliest position seems to have been about one-third of the way down the church against one of the piers of the north arcade. This pier was much wider, but was subsequently reduced to its present dimensions. Without doubt the well-known three-decker oak pulpit was retained in one position or another until well into the present century.

In 1836 this pulpit was altered, the seats for the clerk and minister being nearly on the same level beneath the pulpit. The three-decker was again altered a few years later, thus forming a simple moulded panelled pulpit. It will hardly be believed nowadays that in consequence of the oak becoming rather dark and gloomy in comparison with the new pews of this date, it was painted, grained, and varnished in a poor imitation of new oak. The last the writer saw of this pulpit was in a music hall opposite the church; it had been cut down and was apparently used as a pay-desk.

The present pulpit is of oak, very light, and it stands upon a stone base which is hardly so good as the pulpit itself. The pulpit base bears the inscription:

"To the glory of God. Presented by George William Allan as a thankoffering, 1887."

The Organ

The following minute (fn. 1) is evidence of the origin and date of an earlier organ:

1762. Sunday. October 3rd.

At this meeting Mr. Alexander Hill, the churchwarden, proposed to make a present of an Organ, to be put in the Church for the use of the Parish; and Mr. Benjamin Wayne was chosen Organist unanimously at a salary of £20 per annum, to be paid out of the monies arising from the Bills and Ground. Present: The Rector, 1 Churchwarden, 2 overseers, 4 Vestrymen.

A faculty was obtained and the organ duly set up.

This I believe to have been a very small instrument whose long keys were black and short keys white, the reverse of the ordinary modern key-board. It is said to have been brought from some neighbouring teagardens. It was replaced early in the present century by Messrs. J. W. Walker & Sons, who constructed a new instrument in the gallery. In the year 1887, by the generosity of the widow of the late church warden, (fn. 2) this small organ was partly rebuilt and modernized. It is much to be regretted that the fashion of 1870 should have led to the construction of a chamber which effectually detracts from such good qualities as the organ possesses.

The Seats

The seating has been altered so often that it is difficult to regard any one arrangement as permanent or characteristic in the church. High-backed pews, well-cushioned, and some with little curtains, were in vogue in the early half of the present century. A curious little drawing is still to be seen in one of the vestries showing a plan of the seats in 1804. No knowledge remains of what existed at an earlier date. The Restoration Committee has now provided chairs.

The East Window

The church unfortunately possesses one large stained glass window. It is garish in colour, hard and unpleasing in outline, and of no artistic merit. This is the east window, inserted some thirty years since to the memory of members of the Soutter family. It is said that the then rector would not tolerate either figures or symbols, but even that is hardly sufficient excuse for the production now seen.

The West Window

The only good original window in the church is at the west end. This is an excellent example of the architecture of the period, viz., about 1480. It is filled in with clear glass with the exception of two lights of (probably seventeenth century) enamelled glass representing Moses and Aaron respectively. These, with the twelve enamelled glass lights of the same character (in the western-most window of the north aisle) representing the twelve apostles, were all taken from the east window to make room for the above-mentioned stained glass.

It is said (fn. 3) that at one time the east window was entirely blocked & light obtained only by the north and south windows of the chancel. About 1818 (when only the lower portion of the window was bricked up) the enamelled glass, referred to below, was inserted, while the large boards containing the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments were immediately underneath, facing the congregation, in the position now occupied by the dossal.

Upon the minutes of the Select Vestry will be found the following entry:

1758 Sunday 2nd July.

At a meeting of the Select Vestry it is ordered that the Lord's Prayer, Creed, and Decalogue be paint, gild and write the characters on the Glory, the whole to be in gold for the sum of Twelve pounds Five shillings and at the same time Nathaniel Sawyer was ordered to wash, white wash and colour the ceilings and walls of the Church as before for the sum of Three pounds.


About the year 1855, during the church wardenship of Mr. Goddard, a pair of maces, purporting to be of solid silver, were purchased for £75. Unfortunately their intrinsic value is small as it has been proved that the metal used was pewter, not silver. The maces bear neither date nor mark upon them. The workmanship is skilful, and they doubtless lent a touch of picturesqueness to many a ceremony at which Mr. Goddard and his successors, officiated. They may be seen in plate No. 23, opposite p. 27.

The Bells

The church has eight bells, five given in 1760, each of which is thus inscribed:

"John Cook, Esquire, collar-maker to His Majesty, The Principal subscriber."

"Lester & Pack of London, fecit, 1760."

The next in point of age is inscribed as follows:

"The Rev. Mr. Allan Harrison Eccles, M.A., Rector.

Mr. Richard Lovelidge, Church Wardens, S. Mary Stratford, Bow.
Mr. John Giles,

"Thos. Mears of London, fecit 1797."

A small bell, sometimes termed the "priest's bell," and sometimes the "sanctus bell," was added in 1821, and bears the following inscription:

"J. Rose, R. E. Crawley, Church Wardens, 1821."

The remaining two bells are dated 1858, but who gave them does not appear. The Rev. George Townshend Driffield, Rector, and Godfrey Goddard, Richard Walter Crawley, Church Wardens, are the names inscribed, and
"S. Mears, Founder, London, 1858."

Though not the "Bow bells" which can claim to have recalled Dick Whittington with a chime so prophetic of his future greatness, still there are few peals which can send forth a sweeter or more melodious chime.



The church is not rich in monuments that can claim to have more than a local interest. No doubt this is accounted for by the fact that Bow being (until last century) merely a chapel-of-ease to Stepney, the local celebrities preferred to be interred in their parish church.

Among the few men of note connected with Bow Church are found the following names, extracted chiefly from Lyson's "Environs of London": Sir William Furnival died 1383. Edmund, Lord Sheffield of Spanish Armada fame; John le Neve, author of "Monumenta Anglicana"; and Dr. Samuel Jebb, an eminent physician, who published a life of Mary Queen of Scots and other works, all lived in Bow.

Monuments (fn. 4) did at one time exist in the church to the memory of:

Thomas Beaufix, Justice of Peace and Coroner, 1458.

Henry Wilson, of Oldford, 1502.

John Tate, 1508.

Richard Gray, 1532.

The Amcotts and Wylford Brass

These monuments have, however, completely disappeared and I have failed to ascertain what position they occupied or anything about them. The oldest remaining monument and the one with perhaps the most artistic merit, is a brass on the wall of the south aisle. It has two shields bearing respectively the arms of Amcotts and Wylford, thus:

I. Amcotts. Quarterly of eight:—

1. Arg. a tower bet. 3 covered cups ar. Amcotts.
2. Arg. a fesse bet. 3 escallops gu. Sutton.
3. Barry of 8 a. and g. a lion saliant su. Wasthouse.
4. Gu. gutty arg. a castle triple towered or. Hawburgh.
5. Gu. on a bend arg. double cotised 3 escallops sa.
6. Arg. on a bend cotised sa. 3 griffin's heads erased of the field, beaked or. Sawley.
7. Barry of 6 gu. and erm. Kirton.
8. Arg. 3 annulets gu. bet. 2 bendlets sa. Dawery.

II. Amcotts, quarterly of eight, as above, impaling Gu. a chevron engrailed charged with a crescent of the field, between 3 lion's faces.

The blazoning of the first shield is copied from Lysons, but his description of the second is quite inaccurate, and is as given above. The charges on both shields are now indistinct both in colour and form. Underneath is the following inscription in black letter:—

Here under lyeth buryed Grace the Dowgther of Mr. John Wylford (late Alderman of London) and whylle she lyuyd the wyffe of John Amcotte of the same ciette, fyshemonger, by whom he had II sones named Hamond and Harry and a daughter namyed Grace the which Grace the Mother decessyd the XIII of July and her sonne Hamond decessyd ye VI of August folloying in Ao dni 1551, and lyethe buryed with his mother whose dethes and vertuous end have ye in Remembrawns in Callyng to ye Lyuyng God for ye forgyveness of yor synnes.

Though very small this monument is intricately carved as will be seen in the illustration, (fn. 5) and is an excellent example of the work of the Tudor period.

The Jordan Monument

In striking contrast to the last is the monument to the memory of Thomas Jordan, 1671, fixed on the north wall of the chancel. In design it is eminently of the Stuart period and well executed in marble.

On a shield in the pediment above the inscription are the arms sab. an eagle displayed in bend or. cotised arg.; Lysons also adds, a canton or. in sinister chief, but this is now obliterated, and the whole blazoning of shield much defaced. The shield is surmounted by a helmet bearing the crest, a hound sejant rampant, and mantling. Both the helm & mantling are decorated with colour, part of the helm being gilded.

The Summers Monument

In 1704 a simple tablet of small size was erected and may still be seen on the wall of the south aisle containing the following inscription:

This Stone is erected to the Memory of Mrs. Elizabeth Summers, Widow of Mr. Samuel Summers, of this Parish. She was a kind Neighbour, a good Christian, and a constant friend to the Poor. By her Last Will and Testament she ordered the Sum of Two Hundred Pounds to be invested in some Parliamentary Funds, upon this special Trust, that the Interest and Produce there of be annually distributed on New Years Day to the Poor of this Parish for ever. She died the 26th of June 1764 aged 95 years.

The Walker Monument

Very different is the next monument, to John Walker, 1707; it is very large, and most elaborately carved. In addition to busts of the departed, there are cherubs, weeping boys, a death's head and several skulls, carved wreaths and flowers, drapery, scrolls, and a coat of arms. The shield formerly bearing these arms is now quite bare; it was fixed separately on the front of the upper part of the monument. The arms are given by Lysons as follows: On a chevron between 3 crescents, as many amulets, quartering 3 peacocks—the coat of Peacock of Finchley.

The inscription reads:

Sup. Hoc. Tumulo.
Obdormit Jacobus Walker Armicer
mercator integerrimus.
Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ decus: expers doli,
singulari cum humanitate omnes tractavit
prole utriusqe generis beatus;
Pater vere facillimus. In amicos.
in pauperes, & præcipue in Clerum.
Liberalitate, et Charitate.
præ cæteris Insignis.
cum octoginta annos confecisset
invicta animi patientiâ,
intrepide piam animam effl avit
die Ian. xxviii. anno salutis mdccxii.
sita est etiam Dorothea
uxor prædicti Iac: Walker,
eximijs virtutibus, tam Animi
quam Corporis, ornata.
conjugi charissmo conjux charissma
mater indulgentissima.
in omnes amica. comis. affabilis.
mente. ac manu munifica.
hanc vitam (meliorem expectans)
placide commutavit Maij xxix die,
anno ætat xlvii. æræ xtianæ mdccvi.
ad Parentum perpetuam memoriam
Tho. Walker arm. fil natu max.
Hoc monumentum obsequij ergo
devotissime posuit,
et consecravit

Rust Monument

The monument of Thomas Rust on the wall of the south aisle is of very poor design, but it is of interest in its reference to one of the oldest and most important industries of the parish, viz., Dyeing. In Gascoyne's map of 1703, and other even older records, the dye works of Bow are noted. Indeed, it is comparatively recently that the works on the banks of the Lea, in the Old Ford Road, were swallowed up by the Midland Railway Company. The bulk of the industry had, however, long since migrated to other parts of the Metropolis. (fn. 6)

The stone is thus inscribed:

In hopes of a joyful Resurrection Under a Grave stone near this place lies deposited the Body of Thomas (son of Edward Rust Citizen and Draper of London and Scarlet Dyer of Oldford in this Parish by Elizabeth his Wife) who departed this life on the 12th day of June 1704 Aged 14 years.

Elizabeth (wife of the said Edward Rust she was third daughter of Jarvis Day of Melton Mobree in the County of Leicester, Gent, by his first wife Elizabeth) who departed this life the 6th day of November 1706 Aged 55 years.

Also the said
Edward Rust (Youngest son of William Rust of Shirlington in the County of Bedford by Johanna his wife). He had by the said Elizabeth issue four sons viz: Edward and William (who died infants and are buried in the Parish of St. Catherine Creed Church London, Stephen his only surviving and the above said Thomas) He departed this life the 21st day of December 1724 in ye 64th year of his Age.

The said Stephen Rust departed this life the 9th day of March 1739 in the 56th year of his Age.

The Alice Coburne Monument

On the north wall of the nave stands the monument of Alice Coburne. Though far from beautiful it is well executed in white marble. It is surmounted by a bust of the deceased, and at the foot are three cherubs surrounding the Coburne arms:—On a lozenge shaped shield, Arg. on a chevron between 3 bugle horns sa. as many mullets or.—the arms of Foster, of whom her mother Mrs. Prisca Coburne was daughter.

The somewhat pedantic Inscription is as follows:

[Hebrew text: refer to printed volume, page 32]

Infra siti sunt cineres Aliciæ Coburne,
Filia unica Thomæ Coburne, gen, de Stratford Bow,
(Licet defunctâ inter pariendum matre, defuncto
item post mensibus Patre, tamen

inauditâ Novercæ Priscæ Coburne curâ liberaliter educata,
cum attigisset annum decem quintum,
Supra ætatem longe Prudentia optimisque animi
dotibus ornata,
supra quotidianas formas miris modis elegans et venusta,
supra præceptis Philosophorum cunctis virtutis numeris
supra fidem omnibus æqua et benigna omnibus
vicissim grata;
Suorum denique deliciæ, spes sola Familiæ.
Tandem ea er at vis Formæ ac virtutis,
attraxit ad se amantem
, (W— W—),
Qui veniendo, videndo victus,
eam solam sibi speravit uxorem, eam solam comitem vitæ,
Thalamique participem.
Prospera omnia procedere visa,
cum inopinato variolarum morbo correpta,
nupturiens puella, magno omnium cum luctu, amantis
maximo, obiit
(infandum obiit),
viii scil. Maii Anno Christi nati mdclxxxix,
Et ipssimis die Nuptiis destinatâ sepulta hic recubuit;
Quasi mortali amplexui præponens Abrahami sinum.
Ubi jam suavi obvoluta Requie, manet [Greek: anastasin]/
eo primum die visura terreno suo corpore corpora pulchriora,
virtutem suâ, dum in vivis erat, perfectiorem;
Amorem, vel suo erga Procum, vel procierga seipsam
In id tempus daret hoc quale monumentum,
mæstissimi amatoris opus,
dimidiâ tantum parte super stitis,
memoriæ virginis [Greek: tis makaritidos] utriusque,
amori sacrum

The foregoing Inscription is translated into English verse, by the Rev. W. P. Insley, M.A.:

"Neither hath he power in the day of death."— Eccles. viii. 8.

Beneath this tablet rests the mortal Form Of Alice Coburne, lov'd and only child Of Thomas Coburne, Gentleman, of Bow; Whose birth was purchased by a Mother's life, And ten months later felt a Father's loss.

Brought up with unexampled love and care By her kind foster-mother, Prisca Coburne, At fifteen years she showed so rare a grace Of mind and person, that she far excelled Those of her age and circle. Beauty, virtue, love, Religion, learning, kindness—all were hers; Pride of her friends, sole hope of House and Name. Ere long these many charms of mind and form Drew to her side a lover, (W.— W.—) Who came, saw and was conquered, and who fondly hoped That she, and she alone, would be his wife, His life's companion, partner of his couch. Heaven seemed to bless the union; and a future Gilded with dreams of happiness and love Seemed to await the pair; when soon, alas! That fell Destroyer of the human race, The black Disease, (fn. 7) seized the expectant bride; And to the unutterable grief of all her friends, But most of all of her distracted Lover, Death claimed the hapless maiden as his own; And on the self-same day that should have seen Her glad espousal, she was laid within This tomb; as tho' she had preferred A seat in Abram's bosom to the fond And warm embraces of a husband's love. There sweetly, gently sleeping waits she now The joyful resurrection of the Just; When shall her body change its mortal grace, Fair as it was, for one diviner far; When shall her soul be clothed with righteousness, And radiant with a glory, such as eye Hath ne'er in this terrestrial world beheld, Shall taste a richer, purer, holier love. Until that day may this poor monument, The mournful tribute of thy weeping Lover, Who feels that half his soul is from him torn, Stand, Sainted Maiden! sacred to thy mem'ry And our mutual love.

The scripture text is the translation of the Hebrew heading, the italics that of the Greek and the rest of the Latin.

Mrs. Prisca Coburne

The last of the old monuments is that of Mrs. Prisca Coburne exactly opposite to that of her daughter which it slightly exceeds in size and ornament. The shield and arms are the same as on the monument of Alice Coburne.

The inscription is written in English and runs as follows:

To ye memory of Prisca Coburne, widw. who lyeth buryed in ye ille near this pillar and dyed ye 13th of Nov., 1701, and by her will dated ye 6th of May, 1701, gave ye charities follg. to ye poor inhabitants of this Hamblet, who have no pensions, to be paid as ye will mentions.

Then follows the enumeration of her various bequests for religious and charitable purposes. It may not be amiss to mention that Prisca Coburne, whose maiden name was Prisca Forster, and the record of whose baptism is found in our registers in the year 1622, was the daughter of one of the ministers of Bow, and appears to have been the widow of a brewer in the parish, where she was born and which she desired to benefit by her charities." (fn. 8)

The value of the sums left by Prisca Coburne to the parish of Bow for religious and charitable purposes was estimated a few years since as being equivalent to a capital sum of not less than £14,000.

Later Monuments

Of the other monuments in the church all are modern, and, with one exception, call for little or no remark. The first, in order of age, is that erected to Jonathan Arnold who was buried at Dagenham; the second to George and Richard Crawley, twin brothers and members of one of the oldest remaining families in Bow; the third to James Harris, a former parish clerk; and the fourth to Mrs. Driffield, the first wife of the Rev. G. T. Driffield, rector of Bow, 1844–1879.


The exception alluded to above is the brass just erected in the south aisle to the memory of James Bernard Hunter, and relatives of his connected with the parish.

Mr. Hunter was a member of the Restoration Committee, and took great interest in the work. His family have for more than three generations been well known in Bow, and the parish cannot but feel that it has lost an able supporter. The brass is above the spot where the family used, as children, to sit Sunday after Sunday. In the churchyard is to be seen the family tomb of the Hunters.

The brass bears the following inscription:

In Loving Memory of
James Bernard Hunter, M.Inst.C.E.
of the firm of Hunter and English, Engineers, Bow;
who was born in this parish, Oct. 21, 1855,
and died at Hampstead, April
21, 1899.
"He was my friend faithful and just to me."
Also of James Hunter, Father of the above, died May 6, 1883.
Also of Walter Hunter, Grandfather of the above, died Feb. 28, 1852.
Both of this parish.
"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord,
even so, saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours

External Monuments

Of the three external monuments two are little more than rectangular slabs to the memories respectively of Mrs. Joyce Hunt, spinster, who died in 1758, in her 83rd year; & Joseph Jones, who died in 1802, aged 72. (fn. 9) The third, however, which is affixed to the wall of the south aisle is of some historical interest, and states that it was erected to the memory of certain members of a family named Cook, collar makers to His Majesty, the last of whom, John Cook, died in 1763. The name of this John Cook is the one before referred to as appearing on the church bells, to the cost of which he was apparently a subscriber.

Communion plate.

The Plate

The following extracts are, by the kind permission of the author, from Mr. Edwin Freshfield's "Communion Plate of the Parish Churches in the County of London."

Flagon, ht. 13 in. dia. 6¾in. oz. wt. 51 A silver flagon with the date mark for 1718 and a maker's mark Fa crowned in a circular stamp; inscribed: "Dienatali Domini nostri Jesu Christi 10/25 Decembris An: Salutis 1718 in usum Ecclesiæ parochialis de Stratford Bow hanc lagenam dono dedit et dicavit Rev: Vir Henricus Lambe, L.L.D., non ita pridem Ecclesiæ prædictæ Minister."
Cups and Covers. ht. of each 9in. dia. of each bowl 3¾in./foot 4in. oz. dwt. oz. dwt. wt. 15 17 & 14 8. Covers. oz. dwt. oz. dwt. wt. 4 16 & 4 5 Two silver cups and paten covers. One cup and cover have the date mark for 1624 and a maker's mark T F in monogram in a plain shield; inscribed: "Vallantine Poole gave thre pounds towards this cupp S.B." The other cup & cover have the date mark for 1813 and a maker's mark RE EB in a quatrefoil stamp; inscribed: "S Mary Stratford Bow 1813 Rev: Hamlet Harrison, Rector, Joshua Robins, Francis Jowers, churchwardens, William Lambert, John Gadsden, overseers."
Paten oz. dwt. dia. 10¼in. wt. 16 7 A silver paten without marks; inscribed: "Ex dono Priscæ Colburn Ano: dni 1683 S. B."
Dishes dia. of each 9in. oz. dwt. wt. of each 13 9 Four silver dishes with the date mark for 1836 & a maker's mark C. R. G. S. with inscriptions showing that they were presented by the subscription of a few of the inhabitants in 1837, Johnson Gibson, Thomas Ansell, being churchwardens.
Spoon dwt. wt. 14 A silver spoon with perforated bowl, with the date mark for 1818, and a maker's mark G W; inscribed: "Francis Jowers, Charles Brett, churchwardens, Bow, A. D. 1818."

The maker's marks T F and F A will be found in Appendix A of Old English Plate, under dates 1609 and 1698 (part 2). The latter is there given as the mark of William Ffawdery. T F, a very common mark, will be found on church plate all over the City.


The Vaults

None of the historians before quoted devote a single word to this subject and anyone perusing their writings would naturally conclude that no vaults existed. There are, however, several entries in the parish registers notifying burials in these vaults.

The vault under the nave will, upon reference to the plan, be seen to be of great length. It is over 60 feet long, 10 feet wide and 6 feet high in the centre. There are 50 coffins more or less intact: of these the inscriptions of 17 were decipherable in 1891 when I entered the vault. The remaining 33 were mostly so placed that the inscriptions were hidden by the upper rows. Speaking generally, the coffins were situated one row on each side, parallel with the side walls and with the feet of the occupants turned towards the east. The coffin of Mrs. Harriet Johnson, who died in March, 1853, was left in the gangway near the entrance, as if it were known that no other interment would be made therein.

The oldest inscription deciphered was dated 1784, but this gives no clue to the age of the vault, for the south-east corner is partitioned off with a low brick wall in which is a stone bearing the inscription:

"Remains of bodies in wood coffins."

Evidently more room had been required in some far-gone period, & the "remains" had been swept up and placed in the corner. The coffins are mostly stacked three or four deep one on top of the other, and the only inscriptions that could be seen were those at the top, and necessarily the most recent interments. In one case where the lower coffin had given way and let the upper two fall over sideways, an attempt was made to get to the date of the lower inscription, but it was found to be too far perished. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary it would appear that this vault is of the same date as the church. The first note of an interment I can find in the parish registers is 1552, (fn. 10) but these books go no farther back than 1538.

The entrance shown with the flight of steps is comparatively modern (1836) and is easily recognised by the letter V boldly incised on the north aisle wall. The original entrance was by an aperture in the floor of the nave at the western extremity of the vault. The construction is not unlike a low railway tunnel walled in at both ends. I very greatly regret that at the time of my visit (having then no intention of writing an account of the church) I took no notice of the brick-work, except that the bricks were red, hard, and set with excellent mortar. It is, unfortunately, impracticable to inspect the work again as the wood block floor on concrete covers the entire vault, and to re-open the vault without the previous consent of the Home Secretary is an indictable offence. The crown of the arch is only a few inches below the church floor.

The vault under the vestry is of the same date as the clergy vestry. Only eight coffins were found, (fn. 11) and one of them had crumbled away to dust and a perfect skeleton lay revealed. This was the only case in which no lead coffin was found. As a rule the wood outer coffin had decayed save for a strip of wood here and there studded with brass-headed nails. There is in the register an entry to the effect that one of the Crawley family was first interred in this vault and afterwards re-interred in the family vault in the churchyard. Search has been made, but no other vault exists within the walls of the sacred edifice.


The Church Registers

In 1538 an Act was passed requiring parish churches to keep registers of the births, marriages and deaths occurring in the parish. Bow was only a chapel-of-ease at this time, but it is quite in keeping with its constant attempt to assert its independence of Stepney, that it should at once start its own registers.

Unfortunately the books are not complete, though they will compare favourably in this respect with most of the neighbouring parishes. The records for the year 1780 to 1790 are missing, but beyond this there is a fairly continuous record from November 1538 to the present day, and it is from this source that we learn how many worthies have been connected with the place.

The earliest register appears to consist of several thin volumes bound together; thus we find several years (1538-1637) of weddings, then several of christenings, and finally the record of the burials. The year 1538 first occurs in the second part, viz., that allotted to baptisms. This is, no doubt, merely due to the erratic manner of the binding. The entries for nearly the whole of the first century are evidently in one handwriting, which proves it to be a copy and not the original.

In the earliest complete year (1539) there are recorded 18 baptisms, 12 weddings and 21 burials. This gives the impression of a small and decreasing population, but in those days the death rate afforded no true basis of calculation, as the tables of mortality fluctuated enormously with the appearance and disappearance of the plague. In 1577 there were 6 deaths from the plague, while in 1603 there were 89; but in many years there were none, so that the 21 deaths against 18 births in 1539 did not necessarily mean a falling population. In 1625 there were 102 burials (of which 30 are marked "plague") & in 1665 the number increased to 139, but none are marked as due to the scourge which was then sweeping England for practically the last time.

Extracts of interest

The following extracts from the registers, with a note here and there derived from other sources, may prove of interest. Should the reader desire to corroborate the following, or search for others, an application should be made to the parish clerk, who informs me that a charge is made "of 1s. for the first year and 6d. for every other year." This would amount in all to £9 1s. if the whole of the registers were searched.

Humphrey, Son of Sir Humphrey Brown, Knt., baptised 15th Dec., 1554.

John Harman, Esqre., one of the "gentilman hushers" of the chamber of our Sovereign Lady the Queen, and the excellent Lady Dame Dorothye Gwydott, widow, late of the town of Southampton, married Dec. 21st 1557.

Dugles, daughter of Henry Howard, Esq., baptized Jan. 29th, 1571-2. Note. This Henry Howard was afterwards the second Lord Howard of Brindon. Dugles (or Douglas) afterwards married Sir Arthur George.

Henry, Son of Henry Lord Howard baptized May 16th 1585. (He died in his infancy).

A poore boy was burryed ye 9th day of March, 1575.

Peter Cooy a poore man that died att ye Armitage in ye Bridge (1550).

A poore man that died in Thomas White's barn was burried ye 25th day of March (1551).

Cristian Stewart a woman was buried on Mary Magdalene's day (1551).

Nicholas Farkson Clarke was curate of ye chappel and deceased ye 26th day of July 1552, and lies buried in ye church.

William Gowge, the son of Thomas Gowge, was baptised the 6th November, 1575.

The name of Gowge frequently occurs in the registers. This lad afterwards became an eminent divine among the Puritans. He was a minister at Blackfriars. Neale (fn. 12) says he was for many years esteemed the father of London ministers. He sat in the assembly of divines and frequently filled the moderator's place. His works are "The Whole Armour of God"; Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews and on the Canticles; A Tract on the calling of the Jews; several sermons; and an exposition on the Lord's Prayer, &c.

Thomas Gowge, his son, also a person of eminence, was baptised (at Bow Church) on September 29, 1605. He established several schools in Wales, at which he caused to be educated at his own expense nearly 2000 children, who were taught the English language. He printed 8000 Welsh bibles, 1000 of which he gave away, and directed the remainder to be sold at a cheap rate in the principal towns in Wales. He published several volumes of sermons, devotional works and tracts. He died in 1681 (not, however, at Bow) and the funeral sermon was preached by Archbishop Tillotson.

Mary, or Margaret, daughter of Hugh Vere, and John, son of John Vere, baptised at Bow in 1581 and 1582 respectively, were descendants of John, Earl of Oxford.

Henry, son of the Right Hon. Lord Rich, baptised Aug. 19, 1590. He afterwards became the celebrated Earl of Holland, of whom anecdotes have been given in the account of Kensington. (fn. 13)

A Portuguese gentleman, treasurer to the King of Portugal, who was staying at the time in Bow, died in the house of "The Peter and Powle," and was buried the 1st April, 1591. The King of Portugal here mentioned was Don Antonio Perez, prior of Crato, who pretended to the crown of that kingdom in opposition to Philip II. of Spain. He was crowned at Lisbon, but was soon obliged to quit his new dominions by the superior power of Philip. He came to England in 1581, where he met with a kind reception from Elizabeth. (fn. 14)

Wm. Whitaker, Doctor of Theology at Cambridge, married Joan Fenner, April 8, 1591.

Mrs. Mary Yorke, daughter of Sir Edmund Yorke, buried 29th December, 1591.

Henry Watts, Merchant Taylor, married Anne Davis in 1606.

Marie Ingram, daughter of Sir Arthur Ingram, Knight, was brought from S. Leonards (fn. 15) and baptised the 20th June, 1616.

It is curious that Lysons states in his account of Bow that Thomas, son of Sir John Ingram, Knight, was baptised June 20, 1616. Sir John, according to Stow, (fn. 16) was a Spanish merchant and citizen of London.

Mary, daughter of the Hon. Wm. Maynard, buried in Essex, February 20, 1688.

This Maynard was the second son of Lord Maynard, & it is recorded that he married the daughter and heir of Thomas Evans, Esq., of Stratford Bow. As I cannot find the entry in the registers, the wedding probably took place in some other church.

Bow Clay, a boy about 15 years of age, taken up in the street at Stratford in Essex, was baptised 16th March, 1717.

That the boy was clay there can be no doubt, and perhaps the name is appropriate, but it seems rather cruel to have inflicted such a name upon him. Probably it was the china industry of the place that suggested it.

The names of William Penkethman, the celebrated comedian, who was married here in 1714; & the wedding in 1726 of the Rev. John Henley, the famous orator, must close the list.

It will hardly be out of place to conclude this chapter with a list of the rectors and parish clerks to whom the admirable condition of the registers is due.


1719 Robert Warren, D.D.

1740 James Parker.

1740 Thomas Foxley.

1771 Allan Harrison Eccles. (fn. 17)

1802 Samuel Henshall.

1808 Frodsham Hodson.

1811 Hamlet Harrison.

1844 George Townshend Driffield.

1880 Wm. Pimblett Insley.

1892 Marmaduke Hare.

1899 Manley Power.

Parish clerks (licensed by the Lord Bishop of London):

1718 —Rust. (fn. 18)

1754 Josiah Hunt.

1760 Joseph Dickenson.

1764 James Dorrington.

1802 William Ballinger.

1807 William Hanson.

1816 James Sholl.

1822 James Harris.

1857 John Ivimey.

1874 Henry Lewis Wheatley.


  • 1. From copies of the minutes in the possession of Mr. H. L. Wheatley, parish clerk.
  • 2. Wm. Bangs.
  • 3. Mr. H. L. Wheatley.
  • 4. Lysons.
  • 5. Illustration No. 27, p. 29.
  • 6. Pick's History of England, Vol. 3, p. 558, states that in 1643 a Dutchman established himself at Bow and taught the English the method of producing the fine scarlet dye for which foreign cloths were so much celebrated. An interesting article could be written on the ancient industries of the parish, not the least important of which was the manufacture of china; which business was finally purchased by Duesbury about 1750, when he transferred it to Derby.
  • 7. The Small Pox.
  • 8. Insley.
  • 9. Described on the stone as "a man from his birth almost deaf and dumb."
  • 10. "Nicholas Farkson Clarke was curate of ye chappel and deceased ye 26th day of July and lies buried in ye church."
  • 11. Several entries in the registers prove that other bodies had been interred in this vault. These were probably all removed about a century ago to make room for fresh comers.
  • 12. Neale's History of the Puritans, vol. II., p. 33.
  • 13. Lysons.
  • 14. Rapin's History of England, Vol. II., p. 114.
  • 15. The adjoining parish of Bromley.
  • 16. Stow's Survey, Book II., p. 154.
  • 17. According to the Registers the Rev. Allan Harrison Eccles died of "decline," Oct. 6, 1801, aged 61 years, and was buried in the "Chancel under the Communion Table."
  • 18. Memorandum of Dr. Warren, Dec. 22, 1724: "Mr. Rust, ye late Parish Clerk kept the Registers but very imperfectly and I could not get it out of his hands till the churchwardens and myself threatened to complain of him at Doctor's Commons." Reference to the above list will show that it does not appear who was parish clerk from 1724–1754.