Survey of London: Volume 25, St George's Fields (The Parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1955.
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CHAPTER 4: THE CHURCH OF ST. GEORGE THE MARTYR
The first church of St. George's, Southwark, was probably built at the beginning of the 12th century. There is no mention of it in Domesday Book, but in 1122 it was presented to the Abbey of Bermondsey by Thomas of Ardern and his son. (fn. 100)
Little is known about the mediaeval church except that it was rebuilt
at the end of the 14th century. (fn. 101) Two stones which may have come from this
second building have been bedded into the inside wall of the 18th century
tower at the level of the clock. The inscriptions, which are rudely carved,
appear to be by the same hand. The larger (fn. n1), reads—
d[ominu]s de Hasting
me fieri fecit
anno dni mil
XXX – VIII
which may be paraphrased in the words of Romeo—
Will I set up my everlasting rest" (fn. 102)
Sir Edward Hastings, de jure Lord Hastings, was imprisoned in the Marshalsea in 1417 for refusing to pay the costs of his unsuccessful claim against Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin to bear the undifferenced arms of Hastings. (fn. 103) In several pitiful letters Sir Edward bewailed his sufferings (fn. 104) —he was bound in fetters of iron; he had a "langweryn" sickness and was never likely to be hale again. After 18 years of imprisonment, he suggested that the quarrel should be resolved by his son John marrying Sir Reynold's daughter, but the effort at conciliation failed and Sir Edward died early in 1438. It is possible that the two inscribed stones formed part of a chantry in the church of which Sir Edward had paid the cost.
In the 15th century Letters of Indulgence were granted from Rome to persons helping the guild or fraternity of St. George in Southwark. (fn. 81) This guild, founded for the maintenance of one priest, was still in existence at the Reformation, when it was stated to be worth £6 2 s. 8d. a year. (fn. n2) (fn. 105)
St. George's Rectory was surrendered to Henry VIII with the other possessions of Bermondsey Abbey and has remained in the gift of the Crown ever since. (fn. n3)
No accounts or minutes have survived for the period before 1619, by which time the building was in a poor state. In 1629, according to an inscription formerly in a window in the north aisle, the "Church, Steeple and Gallery, was repayred and new pewed, and beautified, and the South He inlarged by the Parishioners… and other good Benefactors"—the latter including most of the greater City livery companies. (fn. 108) At this time a portion of the churchyard was taken to enlarge the south aisle, and in part of the extra space a pew was provided with "two long Seats, one for the Men, the other for the Women Almsfolk of St. Peter's Hospital or Alms house at Newington." (fn. 20) The church was repaved and the windows repaired in 1652, and in 1715–16 it was "new pewed and beautified." Aubrey described it in 1719 as "large and spacious," with pillars, arches and windows of "modern Gothick." (fn. 108)
By 1732 the building was in such a ruinous condition that it was "dangerous for the Inhabitants of the Parish to attend the Worship of God therein," (fn. 109) and as a result of a petition of the churchwardens a grant of £6,000 from the funds of the Commissioners for the Building of Fifty New Churches was authorized by Act of Parliament (fn. 109) for the rebuilding of St. George's "with Brick." The new church was designed by John Price. (fn. n4) The foundation stone was laid on St. George's Day, 1734, and the main part of the structure was completed by 1735. (fn. n5) The grant from the Commissioners proved inadequate to cover the cost of furnishing the church, and in 1735 a rate of 1s. in the pound was levied to set up the old organ, to provide a clock, font, etc. (fn. 96) The church was opened in 1736, when numbered pew seats were allotted to 404 parishioners (fn. 96) and their families. The new building was smaller than the old, with the result that the churchwardens became embroiled with the Fishmongers' Company who claimed the right to have pews for their almspeople in the same place as before, though this was manifestly impossible since the site was now outside the church wall.
In 1749 the living of St. George's was worth only about £70 a year and was dependant on tithes and Easter offerings. The parish therefore applied for and obtained an Act of Parliamen (fn. 111) authorizing a rate to raise £125 a year for the better maintenance of the rector. There was no parsonage house and the increase in his income proved inadequate for the Rev. Leonard Howard, the then rector, who was frequently confined in the King's Bench for debt. It was not, however, until 1807, during the rectorate of the Rev. John Brand, that a further Act (fn. 112) was obtained increasing the amount which might be raised by rate to £400 a year with an additional £80 a year until a parsonage house should be built.
In 1791 it was reported to the vestry that the steps in front of the church were badly decayed and that "it would be very Convenient as well as Ornamental if the Corners were taken off and the Steps & railings made Circular." (fn. 96) This alteration was carried out, thus in part remedying the fault noted by Ralph in his Critical Review that the church projected "very aukwardly into the street." (fn. 113) Fifteen years later the Rector's warden, James Hedger, asked S. P. Cockerell, the architect, to make a survey of the church. Cockerell advised a "substantial repair" since much of the exterior was decayed. (fn. 114) Work to the value of £9,000 was carried out at this time. The ceiling was repainted by J. F. Rijaud and the paintings at the east end of the church were restored.
In 1899 the crypt was cleared and 1,484 coffins were removed and re-interred in Brookwood Cemetery where the site is marked by an obelisk, a replica of the obelisk formerly in St. George's Circus and now standing in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (Plate 42b).
The vibration caused by the City and South London Underground Railway (now the City line section of the Northern Line), opened in 1890, and the increased traffic of the streets on either side of the church gradually damaged the structure. (fn. 115) In 1930 some repairs were made to the tower, spire and crypt under the supervision of Philip Johnston, (fn. 115) but funds were not available for the thorough overhaul of the building which was needed. In 1938 Frederick Etchells reported that the south wall had bulged and cracked, that almost all the supporting pillars of the west, north and south galleries were out of upright, and the main beams had pulled away from the walls and that, though the main roof was of excellent material and construction, it would be necessary to provide a continuous tie to the easternmost truss and make good the timbers in the south-west corner where wet had penetrated. He found that the walls rested on old piles set to a considerable depth in made ground and that immediately below the floor were "masses of skulls and bones thrown together at the time of the rebuilding." The death watch beetle had also attacked the pews.
The foundations of the south wall were strengthened in 1938 and perhaps saved the building from collapse during the war when the damage from enemy action was considerable. A thorough restoration was carried out under the direction of Thomas F. Ford in 1951–52, and the church was rededicated by the Bishop of Southwark on 16th October, 1952. The opportunity was taken to make some alterations and improvements in the building. The sanctuary was enlarged by moving forward the altar rails, the font was raised, a new east window replaced the shattered old one and the ceiling and coats of arms were repainted in colour.
St. George's is built of red brick with Portland stone dressings. Its west tower is faced wholly in stone. The main roof is covered with copper in replacement of the former slated roof, only the roof over the sanctuary being now slated.
The church has galleries on three sides fronted with plain oak panelling. The supports to the galleries are also faced with oak panels, and the carved consoles at their heads are of the same material. Under the galleries the plaster ceiling is recessed with simple coved mouldings to admit more light through the lower windows.
The ceiling in carton pierre above the nave, which replaced the old plaster ceiling in 1897 (Plates 18 and 19), was designed by Basil Champneys, (fn. 116) though it has the appearance of being coeval with the building. It shows winged cherubs in bold and richly modelled relief breaking through a clouded sky. Shining through the clouds are rays which emanate from the glory beyond. The cherubs hold ribbons bearing texts from the Te Deum and the Benedicite. At the recent restoration the ceiling was delicately coloured in gold, and pastel shades of blue, pink, and green.
The frieze has the same plain cream finish as the rest of the interior wall surfaces except for the picking out in colour of the shields bearing the arms of the Skinners', Drapers', Fishmongers' and Grocers' Companies (who contributed towards the rebuilding) on the north and south walls, and the City of London and the parish device on the east wall. The inscriptions "Holy Holy Holy" to the ribbons of the swags beneath the cherubs' heads are in gold.
The east window, which replaces one destroyed by enemy action in 1942, shows in the centre panel Our Lord ascending in glory. Rays surround Him and He is attended by two angels carrying a cloth of gold. There is a cross beneath His feet and above is a hand representing God and a dove symbolic of the Holy Spirit descending to earth. Beneath are saints grouped in an arc, each carrying a pilgrim's shell, and at the centre is a pelican in piety. In the left and right panels are St. George and St. Michael, and at the bottom the arms of the Fishmongers' Company, the borough of Southwark, the see of Canterbury, and the City of London. Also there is a tiny kneeling figure of Little Dorrit carrying a poke bonnet. The predominant colours of the glass, which was designed by Miss Marion Grant, are yellow, red, blue, and emerald green.
The centre window under the south gallery (the inner window of the double glazing) is in rich colour and depicts St. George slaying the dragon. It is the only window in the church to have survived the recent war, and in 1950 it was re-set in antique glass. The window, which was brought from the chapel of the Hanwell Residential School in 1933, commemorates those, born in Southwark and the City of London and educated at Hanwell, who fell in the Great War.
"Little Dorrit's" vestry, at the west end of the south aisle, has wood panelling in two heights, and there are cupboards similarly panelled on each side of the doorway leading to the aisle. The vestry has a heavy plaster cornice to the ceiling and contains a plain narrow oak table which is nearly 10 feet long and dates from the 18th century.
The coat of arms and supporters now erected in front of the organ are those of James I and Charles I (Plate 20b). No record has been found of the exact date when they were carved but they were probably first put up in 1628–30 when the church was extensively altered. (fn. n6) They are in elm, painted and gilded. There are several entries in the 17th and 18th century accounts for cleaning or repainting these arms. (fn. c1)
No details of the making of the pulpit (Plate 20a) have been found though there is little doubt that it is contemporary with the building. In the early years of the 19th century it stood in the centre of the middle aisle with the lectern and clerk's desk in front of it. (fn. 114)
The font from the old church was for many years submitted to the ignominy of being used for the beating of oakum in the parish workhouse. (fn. 117) The existing font is contemporary with the building. It is made of greyveined marble and has all its surfaces tooled vertically. It was moved and raised on a step during the recent restoration when more space was made for the baptistery by the removal of two rows of pews. The font has an octagonal pedestal and base, the pedestal having attached shafts at each angle. The bowl is circular and is scalloped inside and out.
In 1735 £50 was paid to a Mr. Jordan for setting up the old organ in the new church. In 1807 Thomas Fruin of York Row, Lambeth, was appointed "to repair and improve" the organ, the compass "being three Notes less in All than common" and the case "very Old Fashioned and heavey." (fn. 114) He set it up in its present plain panelled case.
A full description of the very interesting plate belonging to St. George's (Plate 71a) was printed in the Surrey Archaeological Collections for 1900. (fn. 3) The plate consists of—
Two silver cups of 1559 and 1640, respectively; both have a London hall-mark; the second has the bowl inscribed "Thomas Dudson one of the Parishoners of the Parish of St. Georg in Southwarke gaue this Cupp and Cover to the Church of the same Parish for ever to remayne. Anno D[omi]ni 1640." The cover is lost.
The inscription was probably copied from an earlier paten. (2) Has the London hall-mark of 1711 and is inscribed "Ex Dono J C Ecclesiae Sancti Georgij Martyris in Burgo de Southwark 1711." (3) Has the London hallmarks of 1716 and is inscribed "Pietatis Ergo Hanc patinam Eucharisticam Ecclesiae & Parochiae Sti Georgii Mertyrii Dedit et dedicavit Sarah Moore 1716."
A silver alms basin with the London hall-marks of 1696 and the inscription "The Gift of Lawrenc James Septm 1627. Gilbert Keffer, Robert Green, William Addams, Church Wardens. T.D. 1640." The inscription is reproduced from an earlier plate.
Two silver plates each with the London hall-marks of 1743 and in the centre a coat of arms and the inscription "The Gift of Mrs. Ann Walmesly, Widow, Deceas'd, to the Parish of St. George the Martyr in Southwark." On the reverse side is "Thos Dawson, Jacb Forster, Jno Chandler, Church Wardens 1743."
There are two beadles' staves with globular silver heads. One is
dated 1800 and the other is inscribed—
"This was Purchasd. by
Constables of St. George ye Martyr 1732
For ye Use of ye said Parish for ever.
Will. Spicer, Beadle."
The clock with four dials in the steeple, painted "in as good and handsome a manner as the Clock at Greenwich Church" was made by George Clarke of Whitechapel for £90 in 1738. (fn. 114)
In 1738 the churchwardens agreed with the "Proprietor of the Thames Water at Dockhead" to pay twenty shillings a year for a supply of water to the church from the main. A lead cistern to contain 5½ barrels of water was placed "within the North West Door under where the Bucketts now hang." (fn. 114) The cistern (now converted into a collection box) still remains in the church porch.
John Williams of Aldersgate Street was employed in 1735 to repair the 8 bells from the old church and rehang them on a new frame. There is extant a letter from a parishioner written in 1805 complaining of having "his ears Saluted with the Clanking of St. Georges Candlesticks" and asking for the 2 treble bells and the great bell to be recast to improve the peal. (fn. 114)
The Monuments.—St. George's was the nearest church to the prisons in Borough High Street and many of those who died in prison were buried there. Bishop Bonner is said to be of their number. (fn. 118)
It is recorded that John Rushworth, author of Historical Collections relating to Proceedings in Parliament, who at the end of a long life was imprisoned in the King's Bench for debt, was buried behind the pulpit in 1690, and that the remains of Edward Cocker, arithmetician and writing master, who died in 1675, were deposited in the passage at the west end of the church. (fn. 118)
If any monuments of mediaeval date survived the Reformation they were probably destroyed during the large-scale alterations to the fabric in 1628–30. John Aubrey, writing towards the end of the 17th century, transcribed a number of inscriptions, the earliest, dated 1588, in rhyming doggerel being in praise of James Savadge who left £5 to the parish poor. (fn. 108)
(2) Here lyeth the body of Etheldred Reynell, davghter & sole heyre to SR Edward Pecoke of Finchley KT wife to SR George Reynell KT Marshall of yE king Bench by whom she had Issve 3 Son[n]es & 3 Davghters, She Dyed YE X1TH Day Of September 1618. In The 34TH Yeare Of Her Age.
6. A marble tablet from which the inscription has been removed. The coat of arms—a chevron between 3 mullets pierced—indicates that it was erected to John Davis of St. John's Street, Clerkenwell, d. 1793. (fn. n7)
9. William Cody, d. 1795, and his mother, Mrs. Eleanor Hill, d. 1795. (fn. n8)
2. Anthony Hall, d. 1799. (fn. n9)
3. William Davidson, d. 1803, and Elizabeth, his wife, d. 1798, and three sons. (fn. n10)
7. Sarah, wife of Florance Young, d. 1832, and their son, George, d. 1833. (fn. n11)
|1307||William de Alyngio.|
|1315||Alard de Alyngio.|
|1317/18||William de Halybourn.|
|c. 1352||Orardus de Pratellis.|
|c. 1369||Thomas Motyng.|
|Before 1451||Robert Amyas (d. 1451).|
|1452||Roger Potter alias Redonall.|
|c. 1510||Peter Carmelianus, Latin secretary and chaplain to Henry VII and luteplayer to Henry VIII. At different times prebendary of York, St. Paul's, London, and St. Stephen's. Westminster. (fn. 25)|
|1561||Thomas Harlowe alias Byerde.|
|1615||Edmund Gunter, mathematician, Gresham professor of astronomy, 1619–26; introduced "Gunter's Chain" and "Gunter's Line." (fn. 25)|
|1668||Hezekiah Burton, who was afterwards rector of Barnes, Surrey. His sermons were published posthumously. (fn. 25)|
|1715||Nathaniel Hough, lecturer of Kensington. (fn. 108)|
|1737||John Cooksey; also rector of St. Antholin, London. (fn. 118)|
|1749||Leonard Howard, chaplain to Augusta, Princess Dowager of Wales, lecturer of St. Magnus, London Bridge, and St. Margaret, Fish Street. (fn. 25) He was buried beneath the altar.|
|1768||John Lewes, Archdeacon, Chaplain to Lord Onslow. (fn. 118)|
|1768||Joseph Pote; also rector of Milton near Gravesend. (fn. 118)|
|1797||John Brand; he published pamphlets on politics and political economy.|
|1892||Thory Gage Gardiner.|
|1897||William James Sommerville.|
|1918||Henry Mayne Young.|
|1933||Ernest Charles Cook.|
|1942||John Baker Gale.|
|1947||Cyril E. V. Bowkett.|
The Churchyard.—There can have been little room for burials in the churchyard prior to 1800, for it was quite small and in the 18th century contained the fire engine shed, cage and watch house. Earlier still the stocks and whipping post seem to have been situated there. (fn. 15)
In 1806 when S. P. Cockerell made his survey of the church it was stated that the vaults under the church and churchyard were nearly full and quite disproportionate to a parish of 22,000 where the yearly death rate exceeded 1,100. (fn. 114) Nothing was done for ten years, but in 1816 the population in the words of the Act being "much increased" and "still increasing" parliamentary authority was obtained for the enlargement of the churchyard. (fn. 120) Premises in several small courts north of the church, New Alley, Shaw's Court, Bangor Court, and Willmott's Buildings, including the Girls' Charity School and the watch house, were purchased and demolished, and an exchange was made with the Surveyor-General of H.M. Works, of ground previously included within the Marshalsea, for ground cleared for the churchyard, so that the wall dividing the two could be straightened. (fn. 114)
A tablet dating from the time of this extension is standing in the east
part of the churchyard. It reads—
"This Wall was built at the Expence of the
Parifhoners of St. George, Southwark,
in the Year of our Lord, 1817.
|William Gibbs Church-Wardens."|
In 1882 the churchyard, having ceased to be used for burials, was laid out as a public garden. Part of the south side was shorn off in 1902–04 for the widening of Long Lane. (fn. n12) A record of the inscriptions on monuments and coffin plates disturbed at this time has been preserved in the Council's library; they date from the period 1760 to 1851. Some Roman, Mediaeval and Tudor pottery fragments were also discovered during the excavation for this alteration. A drinking fountain, the gift of J. A. Pash and William Bear in 1859, stands near the gateway.