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History Overview

The Tower collapses

In the time of Edward III the royal family watched processions in Cheapside from a balcony adjacent to the tower of St Mary’s. But disaster struck in 1271 when the tower collapsed. It had allegedly been weakened by fires which were lit in 1196 to smoke out William FitzOsbert who had taken refuge in the tower following a famous siege. FitzOsbert, also known as 'Longbeard', was opposed to various new taxes being levied on the poor. In a minor riot he killed a man who had been sent to arrest him and took refuge in the tower of St Mary’s. He was smoked out from there and taken before the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Tower of London.

There he was condemned and drawn by his feet through the streets of London to a site called The Elmes, near Smithfield, where he was publicly hanged. St Mary’s seems to have attracted its fair share of violent crime during those years. In 1284 a local goldsmith, Laurence Drucker, was murdered in the ruins of the old tower, and the doors and windows of the church were blocked up for a time with thorns to purge this grave sin.

St Mary-le-Bow was by then increasingly recognised as an important City church. In the fourteenth century it was one of the four City churches appointed to ring the curfew, the others being St Bride in Fleet Street, St Giles Cripplegate and All Hallows Barking.

The new tower which emerged in 1512 had flying buttresses which held five lanthorns (or lanterns) designed to give travellers a good view of the impressive structure. Of these five lanterns, four were at the corners of the tower while the fifth was held aloft on the buttresses. This steeple is shown on a parish seal dating from 1580.

The 1512 tower sat on a site to the south of the nave. In 1630
the churchwardens of St Mary’s were - it is reported - excommunicated for failing to upkeep the five lanterns on the 1512 tower. And one author, the Revd E. Hermitage Day, writing in 1911, even suggested that the 'of the Arches' in St Mary’s name was more likely to have derived from these arched buttresses on the 1512 steeple rather than from the arches in the crypt below. This is unlikely.