The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 26 From St Paul's Cathedral to the Bank of England

Bow Church

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To the right, farther on, stands Bow Church, or St. Mary-le-Bow, begun by Wren in 1671 and completed with the steeple in 1687. It takes its name from the older church on this site ('St. Marie de Arcubus'), described by Stow as 'the first in this city built on arches (bows) of stone.' The beautiful Steeple, considered by some authorities the finest Renaissance campanile in the world, is 222 feet high (slightly lower than that of St. Bride). The dragon (emblem of the city) at the top is 8 feet 10 inches long. The balcony on the north side of the tower, below the clock, is an architectural allusion to the old 'grand stand' erected by Edward III. on this site to view the joustings and other shows in Chepe. On the exterior of the west wall (in Bow Churchyard) is a memorial to Milton (with Dryden's famous lines), removed from All Hallows on its destruction in 1878. Bow Church is open daily (except Monday) from 10 to 5 (admission to crypt 3d., to steeple 6d.; description of crypt 6d.). The nearly square INTERIOR (72 feet by 65 feet) was restored by Sir A. Blomfield in 1878-82. It contains a few monuments, including that of Bishop Newton (1704-82), by Thomas Banks. The old Norman CRYPT, built about 1090, is 72+ feet long (north to south) and 52+ feet wide. It was at one time divided into nave and aisles by two rows of three columns with cushion capitals, three of which remain in situ. The original stone vaulting of the north aisle is preserved also. The small west window is of Saxon workmanship, and some of the rough walling also was probably built by Saxon workmen under Norman direction. Roman bricks have been used in the walls and arches. An angle and doorway of the mediaeval tower can be made out at the north-west corner of the crypt. The ecclesiastical Court of Arches (now held in the Sanctuary at Westminster) takes its name from having formerly sat in Bow Church. In 1914 an ancient stone from the crypt of Bow Church was placed in Trinity Church, New York, in reference to the fact that William III. granted to the vestry of that church the same privileges as those of St. Mary-le-Bow. Anyone born within the sound of Bow Bells is a 'cockney,' i.e. a Londoner pure and simple. It was the sound of these bells (now twelve in number) that (according to the old story) called back Dick Whittington to be three times Mayor of London. An old rhyme predicted that- 'When the Exchange grasshopper and dragon from Bow Shall meet, in London shall be much woe.' This unlikely meeting actually happened in 1832, when the two vanes were sent to be repaired in the same yard.