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History Overview

1080 to the present

The first references to a church on the site of St Mary-le-Bow seem to date from 1087 by which time a Norman church had been erected there. From earliest times it was closely associated with the See of Canterbury - as one of the archbishop’s 'London Peculiars' - and may in fact have served as Archbishop Lanfranc’s London headquarters.

In 1091 the roof of the church was blown off in a huge storm which battered the south of England during the winter of that year. The roof became embedded by its rafters in the street of Chepe, now Cheapside, Old London’s main thoroughfare which runs east-to-west just to the north of St Mary-le-Bow. A famous siege took place at St Mary’s in 1196 and in 1271 the tower collapsed into the street outside.

By 1512 the tower had been reconstructed and the church was able to enjoy over 150 years of structural peace. But in the Great Fire which raged through London in 1666, the whole of the medieval church apart from the crypt beneath was utterly destroyed. Between 1670 and 1683 St Mary’s was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren. In the 1750s a new peal of ten 'Bow Bells' was installed, with all ten bells being rung together for the first time on 4th June 1762 to mark the 25th birthday of King George III.

In 1820 the church was extensively restored by George Gwilt the Younger. From 1905 to 1907 the famous bells were restored, the peal having increased from 10 to 12 in 1881. (Wren had made room for 12 bells but only 8 were installed in 1680). But disaster struck again during the War when the church was destroyed by enemy bombing. A programme of reconstruction was implemented in the 1950s and 60s and St Mary’s acquired a number of its now-dormant neighbouring parishes by an Act of Parliament of 1952 which reduced the number of City parishes from 46 to 24.