History of the Building
Christian worship has probably been offered on this site since Roman times. The original Saxon church, the foundations of which were discovered when the present church was erected, is first mentioned as ‘Sancti Botolfi Extra Bishopesgate’ in 1212. Sir William Allen, Lord Mayor (1571-2) who was born and buried in the parish marked his mayoralty by repairing the Church at his own expense. Although the church survived the Great Fire of London (1666) St. Botolph’s had by the early eighteenth century fallen into disrepair and the decision was made to build a new church. The old church was demolished in 1725, and the present church, the fourth on this site, was completed in 1729 to the designs of James Gould, under the supervision of George Dance. It is aisled and galleried in the classic style, and is unique among the City churches in having its tower at the East End, with the chancel underneath. The font, pulpit and organ all date from the eighteenth century.
The parish registers are complete from 1558, and record the burials of many notable persons, including an infant son of the playwright Ben Jonson. Sir Paul Pindar (d 1650), James I’s Ambassador to Turkey, was probably the most celebrated parishioner. His epitaph reads that he was ‘faithful in negotiation, foreign and domestick, eminent for piety, charity, loyalty and prudence’. (The magnificent Jacobean facade of Pindar’s Bishopsgate mansion is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum.). The great actor Edward Alleyn, Shakespeare’s contemporary, and the founder of Dulwich College, was baptised here in 1566 and the poet John Keats in the present font in 1795.
Several rectors of St. Botolph’s went on to become Bishops of London. William Rogers, rector 1863-96, was a great social reformer, devoting time and money to the education and welfare of his poor parishioners, founding the Bishopsgate Institute, which carries on his ideals to this day. He also took a leading part in the reconstruction of Dulwich College.
On the ledge of the Gallery around the church are the names of the Rectors of this parish from 1300 to present day.
Below is a copy of the list.
- List Of Rectors (66 KB)
The church contains the regimental memorial chapel of the Honourable Artillery Company, the Book of Remembrance of the London Rifle Brigade, and the most recent addition, a memorial for those with hæmophilia who have died as a result of contaminated blood products.
St. Botolph without Bishopsgate may have survived the Great Fire of London unscathed, and only lost one window in the Second World War, but on 24 April 1993 was one of the many buildings to be damaged by an IRA bomb. The St. Mary Axe bomb the year before had damaged the exterior joinery and windows, but the Bishopsgate bomb opened up the roof and left the church without any doors or windows. The building was classed as a dangerous structure and cordoned-off. The Rector’s office and Vestry were shattered, causing papers and files to be scattered all over Bishopsgate. An extensive restoration project followed taking three and a half years to return the church to its former glory. A Thanksgiving Service was held in January 1997 to mark its completion at which the Bishop of London dedicated a new stained glass window which had been commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Bowyers.
St Botolph’s was the first of the City burial grounds to be converted into a public garden. At the time, the transformation caused much opposition, but today it is a much appreciated space by the many who find it a tranquil place to sit, or by the more athletic who use the adjoining netball and tennis court to let off steam. Also in the church garden is St. Botolph’s Hall, once used as an infants’ school, but now a multipurpose church hall available for hire. At its front entrance is a pair of Coade stone figures of a schoolboy and girl in early nineteenth century costumes. Nearby is the large tomb of Sir William Rawlins, Sherriff of London in 1801 and a benefactor of the church. Close to the garden’s Bishopsgate entrance is a memorial cross. This is believed to be the first memorial of the Great War to be set up in England, erected in 1916 following the Battle of Jutland and the death of Lord Kitchener.