Survey of London: Volume 1, Bromley-By-Bow. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1900.
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I.—THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY.
General description and date of the structure.
Nothing remains of the old church, which was originally the chancel of the church of St. Leonard's Convent, the "Scole of Stratford atte bowe" mentioned by Chaucer in the description of the Nonne Prioresse in the "Canterbury Tales," except two small fragments of the walls, built up in the north-east and south-east corners of the nave. The rest of the building was reconstructed piecemeal in 1842-3, and consisted of nave with south aisle, chancel with apsidal east end, and tower with pyramidal spire at the south-west angle. The north aisle and porch were added in 1874. The outside walls of the church were rebuilt in bricks, the roofs tiled, and the inside walls plastered. The large semicircular arch ornamented with chevron and other mouldings across the west end of the nave, stands in the same place as, and is said to be an exact copy of, an old one of Norman date which was built up in the west wall of the old church, and must have originally formed the division between the chancel and the nave of the conventual church. A great number of the monuments and tablets were preserved at the destruction of the old building and placed in the new church. Some of these are very fine examples of 17th century date, of coloured marbles, with figures and heraldic and decorative treatment. The more interesting are described below.
The carved oak tablets containing the Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostles' Creed, date 1692, and a large coat of arms about eight feet high and seven feet wide, carved in wood in high relief, made to the order of the parish in 1660, were also rescued. The tablets are now in St. Andrew's Church, Gurley-street, and the coat of arms in the Good Shepherd's Mission Hall, Back-alley, both mission churches in the parish.
There were up to the beginning of 1898, three bells: one stated by Dunstan as dated "John Clifford, churchwarden, 1636," the other two dated "T. Mears, Londini, 1843." The churchwardens sold them and bought a new peal of eight tubular bells in 1897. It is much to be regretted that merely for the sake of the small quantity of metal it should have been considered necessary to sell the old bell.
On the floor of the tower, partly hidden by the stairs, is a slab of Purbeck marble about 6 feet long and 3 feet wide with the matrix of a very fine brass with two figures, shields, and a border with inscriptions round the edge of the slab. This is undoubtedly the slab mentioned by Dunstan (Hist. Brom.) as formerly containing the figures of John de Bohun and wife, who were buried here in 1336.
Weever also (Fun. Mon., page 541), states:—"In this Abbey church sometime lay entombed the body of John de Bohun, eldest sonne and heire of Humfrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, 5th Earl of Hereford and 4th Earl of Essex, of that name."
William Ferrers, 1625.— Rebuilt into the north aisle wall in 1874. It is composed of alabaster, with panels of black marble, and is about 12 feet high and 6 feet wide. In the centre are demi-figures, coloured and gilt, of William and Jane Ferrers, with one hand each clasping a skull, and the other holding books. Above the figures are two arches supported by corbels ornamented with cherubs' heads, carved and gilt. In a panel over the arches is the motto—
On each side of the figures are Corinthian columns supporting an entablature and broken pediment, in the centre of which is a shield bearing the arms of Ferrers—Arg. on a bend gu. plain cotised sa., three horseshoes or., a crescent sa. for difference, surmounted by a helmet and the crest, an ostrich ppr., holding in beak a horseshoe or. with mantling at the sides. Above this is another shield on which the same arms are repeated.
Here lyes ye body of William Ferrers ye only son and heyre of
Will[ia]m Ferrers Esq[ui]re late Citizen & Mercer of London, who tooke
to wyfe Iane one of ye daught' of sr Peter Van-Lore, of London
Knight by whom hee had one childe, His Wyfe & childe dyed both
before him and he departed this lyfe a month before his Father.
He was a gentleman of religious sovle towardes God and a sweet behaviour towardes Menn and his death was by his kindred and generally
by all mvch lamented. He dyed the 25th of August 1625 and left his
Vnckle Thomas Ferrers his Executor who to the memory of him hath
erected this small monument.
In this most pure and blessed shade
(such by the sacred asshes made that heare in habit must) do's lye
the Man, whose vertues cannot dye
his Alms, his Prayers his Pyety
have sent his sowle above the sky.
Nature full well had taught his wife
to sum her howers in pius life
to God, to friend, to poore, to all,
she was as good as we dare call
frayle flesh good passenger give prayse
to them who made such happy dayes.
Sir John Jacob, 1629.—This is the most beautiful and original in design of any in the church. It is about 13 feet high and 6 feet wide, composed of alabaster and coloured marbles, and built high up on the south wall of nave, against the chancel arch.
Between three detached marble columns with gilt caps, are figures of Sir John Jacob and his wife, kneeling on cushions, with clasped hands, and facing each other. They are dressed in the costume of the period. At the back of them are two arched recesses. The columns each support, and are united to the back of the monument by, an entablature, each having a shield on top. The centre shield, which is larger than the sides, bears the following arms—Quarterly, 1st and 4th, arg. a chevron gu. between wolves' heads erased sa. for Jacob, 2nd and 3rd az. three trussed lambs arg. Crest, a lion statant sa. The shield on the top of column on the side nearest to chancel bears the charge—Jacob impaling arg., a chevron between three stags passant attired or., and that on the opposite side bears the arms of Jacob only. The inscription on the panel at the bottom of the monument is as follows—
Parentes Opt;i cv' Prole nvmerosa'
Non vestræ Vartvtis sed Doloris Mei Montvm esto
Qvam Vterq erga Deu' Pivs; qva Regi
svo Obseqve, & Commodvs; qva Amicia Fidvs;
qva' Patriæ Vtilis; Mevm imitari; Pii Lectoris
svpplere Qvod Filialis modestia retinvit.
Sic in Christo et vivite, et morimini.
Joh Jacob F: Parentib, Mœrens Merentib, P.
By far the most interesting portion of this monument, however, is the charming way in which the children and grand-children of Sir John Jacob and wife are shown by the shields and vine leaf decoration in the space above the inscription. They are disposed as follows—
Sir John Roberts, 1692.—A large monument about 15 feet high and 7 feet wide, in black and white marble. It stands on the north aisle wall, against porch door. The design consists of a central niche flanked by twisted Corinthian columns supporting an arched entablature, urn, and mantling at the sides, all in white marble. The centre piece, with the urn and weeping female figures, are also of white marble.
Above the niche is a shield ornamented with swags on each side, and bearing the following arms—Quarterly, 1st and 4th, or. a lion rampant gu., 2nd az., a bow charged with an arrow, the bow in chief, the arrow pointing to base, arg., 3rd, az., a cross arg. between four mullets or. for Roberts; impaling arg., a boar's head couped sa., armed arg., langued gu., between three cross crosslets of the 2nd for Amy. Over all is a small shield charged with a hand couped gu.
Sir William Benson, 1712.—This is the largest monument in the church. It is 16 feet high and 7 feet wide, and stands on the west wall of the north aisle. It is of black and white marble, and somewhat similar in design to the Roberts monument. In the centre is a large semicircular-headed recess, flanked by pilasters of veined white marble, and covered with an ogee shaped pediment. There is the customary urn in the recess, on a square pedestal, with cherubs on each side. In front of the pedestal is a kneeling skeleton, crowned with a laurel wreath, and holding a shield, on the face of which is another shield, bearing the arms—Arg., three trefoils sa., between two bendlets gu., impaling az. a chevron engrailed erm. between three crowns or. The inscription is as follows—
Sr WILLIAM BENSON Knt. lord of this mannor and patron of this church ye
east end of which he built at his own expence and underneath lyes inter'd
he was of an ancient family in the county of york, and married martha
daughter of john austin of brittins in the county of essex esqr..
by whom he had nine sons and five daughters.
After a usefull life spent in the practice of sobriety, industry, iustice,
sincerity, charity, love of his country and all other christian and sociall
he lay down to rest on the XXIst.. day of august MDCCXII in ye LXXIId
year of his age full of peace and hope the happy effect of
having made this one maxim ye rule of all his actions
Under the panel containing this incription, arranged on a festoon of vine
leaves and tendrils is a series of 14 discs bearing the names of each of their children,
one on each disc.
William the Eldest
Robert the 2 Son, died young
Martha Eldest Daughter
Iane ye 2 Daughter
Susanna the third Daughter
Mary ye 4 died young
Elizabeth the 5 died young
Benjamin the eighth son
Septimus, died Ianuary ye 7th 1714
Richard 5 died Young
Thomas ye 6 died young
Harry the Seventh Son
Iohn ye 3 died young
Samuel the Fourth died Young
Sir Richard Munden, 1680.— A white marble monument on the north aisle wall. The inscription is set in a panel with pilasters at each side, and a semicircular pediment over which supports the arms and crest. The pilasters are flanked by carved scrolls. The arms on the top shield are—per pale gu. and az., on a cross engrailed arg. five lozenges of the 2nd, on a chief or. 2 jambs erased sa., on a canton of the last an anchor or. Crest, a leopard's head sa., spotted or., corned and langued gu., issuing from a crown vallary for Munden. The two shields at the bottom bear the arms, respectively— (I) Munden, (2) Munden impaling gu., a fesse between three cross crosslets fitchee or, for Gore.
The incription is as follows—
Underneath lyeth in
Hope of a Blessed Resurrection
Ye Body of Sr RICHARD MVNDEN
Knt one of his Majesties Captains at Sea
who having bin what upon Publick duty
& what upon Merchants Account Successfully
Ingaged in 14 sea-fights after seaueral
Considerable Exploits & signal seruices
Performed to his KING and Country whereof that
of taking St HELENA is not to be forgotten,
dyed in ye Prime of his youth & Strength
in ye XL year of his Age Jun 25th AD 1680
He had to wife Mrs SVSANNA GORE
by whom he left one son RICHARD born since
his Fathers death & fiue Daughters,
SUSANNA ELIZABETH DOROTHY
ANNE & RACHEL
Think Reader how every man even at his
best estate is Altogethir vanity
Psalm XXXIX Vers 5th
Elias Russell, 1690, and Katherine, his wife, 1720.—A small white marble monument also on the wall of the north aisle, erected by their children Elias and Katherine in 1722. On the upper part of the monument is a shield, with the arms—arg., a chevron between three cross crosslets fitchee sa., impaling arg., on a bend sa., three eagles displayed of the first.
There is also a small brass, now fixed in the middle of the step leading from the nave to the chancel, containing a shield surmounted by a helmet, and mantling at the sides. The arms on the shield are—Sa., on a chevron erm. 3 martlets of the first, a crescent for difference. Crest—before a tree fructed a talbot couchant regardant.
A feature of great interest is the old churchyard, which is one of the few remaining in this part of London in anything like its original condition, though even here some of the tombs have been shifted. There is a variety of late 17th and 18th century monuments, many to Huguenot families, with altar tombs and head stones, some of them of considerable beauty, or with carving of interest. They are disposed under the shade of trees planted in two avenues, and here and there among the tombs, the whole making a very charming and characteristic spot. The finest of the monuments is that of Duprie, a graceful circular structure, with a spire supported on stone arches, near the south-west entrance of the church. Among the other noteworthy tombs are those of Gad, Stevens, Patrick, Howson, William Shurley, Hector Graham (with carved angels' heads and scroll work), William Dan, Richard Charlton, Gillham, Phillip Starkey, Sweeting, Andrew Urgill, and those indicated in the key plan for their carving.
Condition of repair.
The monuments in the church are in good condition, excepting the one to William Ferrers, 1625, on the north aisle wall. Owing to this having been badly re-constructed in its present place in 1874, when the north aisle was built, parts have bulged out and sagged, and the monument had to be repaired about a year since.
It has been recently proposed to cut the trees down and level the churchyard for an asphalte playground. It is to be hoped that while means will be found for making the churchyard more public, nothing will be done to either destroy its beauty or the historical interest of the monuments it contains. It is much better left as it is.
The present church occupies the site of the former church, which was the chapel of a Benedictine nunnery dedicated to St. Leonard. The best account of the ancient church is given in R. Newcourt's Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Parochiale Londinensi (London, 1708–10. Folio, 2 vols.) Pages 576–578 of Vol. I. are devoted to Bromley St. Leonard nunnery and church. As the church is believed to have been the chapel of the nunnery, its history is intimately bound up with that of the nunnery. Authorities differ as to the date of its foundation. Thus Newcourt says, "Weaver tells us that this religious structure was . . . . founded by King Henry II. in the 23rd of his reign;" "but that it was a Benedictine nunnery before the reign of King Henry II. appears from what Mr. Tanner tells us, in his Notitia Monastica, that this house at Stratford-Bow was a Benedictine nunnery dedicated to S. Leonard, and founded by William, Bishop of London, in the time of William the Conqueror." Whether Tanner was correct or not is uncertain, but that Weever was wrong is largely confirmed by the existence of a charter granted by King Stephen to the nuns of this house. "The monastery was valued at the suppression to be worth £108 1s. IId. (Dugdale), £121 16s. (Speed)." "After the dissolution of this monastery, King Henry VIII., in 32nd of his reign, April 21st, granted . . . . the site thereof, and the church with its appurtenances, and the mannor with its appurtenances, as also the rectories with the advowsons of the vicarages of this church of Bromley . . . . to Sir Ralph Sadler, Knight, one of his Privy-Counsellors." Six years later," in 38 of the same king," the property returned to the crown. Elizabeth, in the 15th of her reign, granted the rectory and parish church of Bromley, with the appurtenances, to Ric. Pickman for 21 years; and, in 28th of her reign, to Ambrose Willoughby for 40 years more. James I., in 7th of his reign, granted them to Francis Morrice and Francis Philips, and their heirs in soccage, to be held of the Manor of East Greenwich. "As to the church here that is parochial, it is very small, and seems to be only a part of that church which did belong to the late dissolved monastery aforesaid. It is a donative or curacy, and was lately in the gift of Sir John Roberts, Knight, deceased, who dwelt in a goodly house built whereabouts the said monastery stood; and whilst he lived pretended this church to be exempt from the Bishop of London's jurisdiction; but (with submission) without any ground for such pretence, as I conceive, for it appears by the London registry, that the prioresses of this house were from time to time chosen by licence from the Bishop, and their election confirmed by his vicar-general, in which elections they expressly owned the Bishop of London for the time being, for their ordinary, patron and founder, and to be under his jurisdiction, and when such elections were confirmed, they swore obedience to the said Bishop of London and his successors, whom in the very oath is stiled Founder and Patron of the said priory, and their Ordinary and Diocesan. Thus stood the jurisdiction of the bishop over this house before its dissolution; and since that time the curates (for here is neither spiritual rector nor vicar) of this church have from time to time been licensed by the bishop or his vicar-general, and appeared at episcopal visitations; where likewise the churchwardens have also appeared and been sworn, as they constantly are, by the Archdeacon of Middlesex, or his official, at his visitation; and the Bishop's Commissary of London and Middlesex hath the proving of wills, and granting administrations of such as die in this parish, to this very day, and so hath had from time immemorial." On page 920 of the same volume there is given a list of curates of the church from 1561 to 1697.
Mr. A. Wood, in his Ecclesiastical Antiquities of London and its Suburbs (London, 1874), says that "fragments of the chapel are supposed to have been retained in the walls of the old parish church. It was Romanesque, and consisted of nave and chancel only, as did the old St. Pancras. There was a bellcot at the west-end. From the old church there has been preserved in the modern building and octagonal font of late-pointed date, incised with twelve dedication crosses, ten of them on the bowl, the others on the stem." This font has since been replaced by a modern one of stone and coloured marbles elaborately carved and ornamented in the Norman style.
Strype's edition of Stow's Survey (6th edition, 1755), vol. ii., pages 766–768, contains an account of the monuments in the church. This account is complementary to Newcourt's, and gives at length a large number of the inscriptions on the tombs.
Dunstan (History of the Parish of Bromley St. Leonard, 1862, pages 69–148) deals at length with the old and new churches, detailing the steps of the gradual transformation. The new church was first opened for service in 1843. Views are given of the old and new churches, and the interior of the new church. A list of the clergy who have officiated since the dissolution of the priory is given.
In the Committee's MS. collection are—
(1) Tomb of Sir John Roberts, in north aisle (photo).
(2) General view from the road (2 photos).
(3) Ferrers monument, north aisle (2 views, photo and colour).
(4) Jacob monument, in nave (photo).
(5) Tomb of Elias Russell north aisle (photo).
(6) Jacob monument, sketch showing position of heraldic shields and vine-leaf decoration containing names of children (line drawing).
(7) A key plan in pencil of the churchyard as it is, with the more noteworthy tombs numbered and described.
(8) The plan of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association for the opening of the churchyard as an open space (line drawing).
(9) A revision of this plan by Mr. C. R. Ashbee, for the purpose ot showing how the more important monuments might be preserved (line drawing).
(10) View from church looking west (colour drawing).
(11) View from church looking south (photo).
(12) Tombs at west end of church (2 views, photo and line drawing).
(13) Looking south-east (photo).
(14) Tombstone of William Dan (colour drawing).
(15) Group of tombstones to south-west of church (photo).
(16) Duprie monument (2 views, photo and colour).
(17) View looking west (photo).
(18) View looking east towards church (photo).
(19) Tomb in north corner of churchyard (photo).