Book 2, Ch. 17: Cordwainer Ward

Pages 597-600

A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.

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The antient name of this ward was Cordwainers-street ward, from Cordwainers-street, now Bow-lane; which formerly was chiefly inhabited by shoemakers and other workers in leather: shoemakers being in many of our old statutes termed Cordwainers (fn. 1). It is bounded on the north by Cheapward; on the west by Bread-street-ward; on the south by Vintry-ward; and on the east by Wallbrook-ward.


The principal streets and lanes in this ward are Bow-lane, Queen-street, Budge-row, Little St. Thomas Apostle's, Pancrass-lane, a small part of Watlingstreet and Basing-lane, with the several courts and alleys to be found within these limits; which are divided into eight precincts.

Bow church.

The most distinguished building in this ward, is the parish church of St. Mary le Bow; which stands near the north west corner of Bow-lane, having its elegant steeple brought forward to Cheapside. This church obtained its name from being the first church in London built with stone arches, then vulgarly called Bows; which was done in the reign of William the Conqueror. It was first called New Mary church, but afterward obtained the addition of de arcubus, or le Bow, in West Cheaping or Cheapside. In this church originally was held the court of Arches, which took its name from hence; and it has always been a church of much consideration amongst the citizens of London. By a terrible hurricane in 1091, the roof of this church was blown off with some singular circumstances, already related (fn. 2); and it is recorded that in 1271 the steeple fell down and destroyed and maimed a great number of persons: after which accident it remained long destitute of a steeple. In 1512 it was finished upon the old plan; the ornamental part of it with quarry stone, from Caen in Normandy, a rough stone, easy of workmanship, but which would stand the weather longer than could be naturally supposed from its composition. In 1620 it underwent so good a repair, that had it escaped the flames at the great fire, it might have still remained in the old form: but perishing in the common calamity, the present church was erected in 1673.

The great care used by Sir Christopher Wren in securing a proper foundation for this church, and for the better placing of the steeple, has been mentioned in the early part of this work, on another occasion (fn. 3); it remains to add, that the body of the church is well built and suited to the steeple, which is in the highest degree finished, and elegant; extremely light in its aspect, but secure from any second fall by the due proportion, and firm connection of its several parts.

It rises from the ground a square tower, plain at bottom, and carried up to a very considerable height in this shape; but with more ornament as it advances in height. The principal decoration of the lower part is the door-case; a lofty, noblearch, faced with a bold and well wrought rustic, and raised on a plain solid course from the foundation. Within the arch is a portal of the Doric order, with well proportioned columns, the freeze is ornamented with triglyphs, and with sculpture in the metopes. There are some other slight ornaments in this part, which is terminated by an elegant cornice, over which rises a plain course, from which the dial projects. Above this, there is in each face an arched window, with Ionic pilasters at the sides. The entablature of the order is well wrought; it has the pulvinated or swelling freeze, and supports on the flat of the cornice an elegant ballustrade, with attic pillars over the Ionic columns. These sustain elegant scrolls, on which are placed urns with flames; and from this part the steeple rises circular. There is a plain course to the heighth of half the scrolls, and upon this is raised an elegant circular series of Corinthian columns; and the body of the steeple is continued round within. These support a second ballustrade with scrolls; and above those is placed another circular series of columns. The order here is composite, and from the entablature rises a set of scrolls supporting the spire, which for lightness is placed on balls, and is terminated by a globe, on which is fixed a dragon as a fane (fn. 4).

An accurate observer has remarked, that the steeple of Bow, church is a masterpiece in a peculiar kind of building, which has no fixed rules to direct it, nor is to be reduced to any settled laws of beauty: that if we consider it only as a part of some other building, it can be esteemed no other than a delightful absurdity; but if either considered in itself, or as a decoration of a whole city in prospect, it is not only to be justified but admired; that it is beyond question as perfect as human imagination can contrive or execute; and that until we see it outdone, we shall hardly think it to be equalled (fn. 5).

This church has always been in the gift of the archbishop of Canterbury, and is at the head of his peculiars in this city. When it was rebuilt after the fire, the parishes of Allhallows Honey-lane, and St. Pancras were united to it: the latter is a peculiar belonging to the see of Canterbury, but the living of Allhallows being in the gift of the Grocers company, it should follow that this company has a right to present every third time.

St. Mary Aldermary church.

On the east side of Bow-lane, a little to the south of where Watling-street crosses it, stands the church of St. Mary Aldermary, or Elder Mary, to distinguish it as the oldest church in the city, dedicated to the Virgin Mary; it having been founded before the church of St. Mary le Bow. This church has had several liberal benefactors, who kept it repaired from time to time. Sir Henry Keeble, lord-mayor of London in 1510, bequeathed 1000l. toward rebuilding this church; and in 1626, William Rodoway gave, toward restoring the steeple then greatly decayed, the sum of 3000l. Richard Pierson, about the same year, gave 200 marks for the same purpose with condition that this steeple should follow its ancient pattern, and be compleated according to the foundation laid 120 years before by Sir Henry Keeble. Within three years after it was finished, so that, notwithstanding the body of the church was burnt in the fire, 1666, the steeple remained firm and good.

This church is now handsomely built at the expence of Henry Rogers, Esq; who left 5000l. toward rebuilding a church, before the public fund was settled by parliament, from a duty on coals, form restoring the churches demolished by the great fire: which legacy his executrix Mrs. Rogers was prevailed on to apply to this edifice (fn. 6). The steeple was added about the year 1701, at the public charge, arising from the above mentioned duty on coals. The structure is gothic, but in a modern stile; 100 feet in length, and 63 feet in breadth; 45 feet in height to the roof, and 135 to the top of the steeple. The body is enlightened by a single series of large gothic windows; the wall has well contrived buttresses and battlements; and these buttresses run up pilaster fashion, in two stages, not projecting in the old manner from the body of the building. The tower, which is full of ornament, consists of five stages, each of which, excepting the lowest, has one gothic window; and the pinnacles, which are properly so many turrets, rise from the ground at each corner, are divided into stages, like the body of the tower, and cabled with small pillars bound round them, with a kind of arched work and subdivisions between.

The living is one of the peculiars belonging to the archbishop of Canterbury; and, after the fire, the parish of St. Thomas the Apostle was annexed to it, which being in the gift of the dean and chapter of St. Paul's, the archbishop of Canterbury and the dean of St. Paul's present alternately to the united livings.

St. Antholin's church.

At the south west angle of St. Sythe's lane, in Budge-row, is situated the church of St. Anthony, vulgarly termed St. Antholin, or St. Antlin, which is dedicated to the founder of the eremites of St. Anthony. This church is of great antiquity, as it was in the gift of the canons of St. Paul in the year 1181, and as appears from the state of it when Ralph de Diceto was dean of St. Paul's in 1190: the patronage is now in the dean and chapter of St. Paul's who give instition to it. About the year 1399 it was rebuilt by Thomas Knowles grocer, mayor, and his son; and again in 1513, by John Tate, mercer: in 1616 it was repaired and beautified at the expence of 1000l. raised by the contribution of seven munificent inhabitants; but suffering in the great fire it was again restored in 1682, under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren (fn. 7).

The present edifice is built of stone, of the Tuscan order, firm and massy; the length of it is 66 feet, the breadth 44. The roof is a cupola of an elliptic form, enlightened by four port-hole windows, and supported by composite columns. The steeple consists of a tower and a very neat octangular spire, which has a proper diminution upward, and is ornamented with apertures in three stages, the upper ones being proportionably smaller, in a very agreeable manner. The decorations are suited to the style of the building, plain, decent and substantial. On the lower part of the tower they correspond with the body, and, as the building rises, assume an air of more lightness: the windows at the base of the spire have regular cases, and are crowned with pediments, supporting urns. Those of the middle stage have shields, with more free ornaments, which also support their vases. The uppermost have surrounding ornaments, but nothing more; and the crown of the spire, with the decorations under the fane, are a proper continuation of the same spirit of embellishment (fn. 8).

After the conflagration the parish of St. John the Baptist, the church belonging to which stood close by Wallbrook, was annexed to it; and this having been in the patronage of the crown since the suppression of the convent of St. Helen, the presentation to the united parishes is now alternately in the crown, and the dean and chapter of St Paul's.


  • 1. From Cordouannier, old French, a shoemaker; Cordova in Spain being famous for its fine shoe leather.
  • 2. Vid. p. 26, ante.
  • 3. p. 5.
  • 4. English Architecture, p. 16.
  • 5. Ralph's Critical Review of Public Buildings, 2d edit. p. 9.
  • 6. Parish Clerks Remarks, p. 98. The memory of this liberality is preserved by an inscription in golden letters-over the west door, of which the following is a copy. "Ædes hæc Deo O. M. jam olim sacra, quæ communi urbis incendio ad cineres redacta, impensis una manu, sed larga & sanctissimè prodiga, integre quinque librarum millibus surrexit denuo maxime munificentior. Tam piam beneficentiam Henrico Rogers, armigero, Edwardi Rogers, de Cannington, militis, & sub Mariana persecutione Xti, militantis, pronepoti & pietatis etiam hœredi honesta hæc & ingenua fronte fatetur. A. D. MDCLXXXI. Memoria justi in benedictione."
  • 7. Parish Clerks Remarks, p. 31.
  • 8. English Architecture, p. 22.