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Bow Churchyard Tower Hamlets

Bow Churchyard

St Mary Bow Church, looking east, April 2010. Photo: S Williams

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The church of St Mary, Stratford Bow dates from the C14th, originally built as a chapel of ease to Stepney Parish Church. Built 'in the King's Highway', it remains on an island site at the east end of the busy Bow Road, and is the only reminder of the medieval village of Bow. The churchyard was expanded and laid out in 1825 when adjoining buildings were removed. After the churchyard was closed to burials, it was laid out as a public garden by the MPGA, designed by Fanny Wilkinson with plans modified by CR Ashbee who designed features inside the church. The main path and benches in the west churchyard were added at a later date. The east churchyard provides a further garden area.
St Mary Bow Churchyard, west end, April 2010. Photo: S Williams
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Stratford-le-Bow Church, reproduced from Alfred Capes, 'The Old and New Churches of London', 1880
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Previous / Other name: St Mary, Stratford Bow with Bromley St Leonard Churchyard; Stratford-Le-Bow Church; St Mary & Holy Trinity Church
Site location: Bow Road
Postcode: E3 3AH > Google Map
Type of site: Churchyard
Date(s): 1825; 1894
Designer(s): 1894: MPGA (Fanny Wilkinson)
Listed structures: LBII*: St Mary Bow Church. LBII: St Mary's Church Island site including iron railings, gate and piers to churchyard; Statue of William Gladstone
Borough: Tower Hamlets
Site ownership: St Mary Stratford Bow PCC
Site management: Churchyard: Leisure Services, Parks and Open Spaces
Open to public? Yes
Opening times: 8am - dusk. 1st Saturday of each month: Church open 11am-4pm; volunteer gardening sessions 10am-1pm
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 2 times, most recently in 2017.
Special conditions:
Events: Events in church
Public transport: Tube: Bromley by Bow (District). DLR: Bow Church. Bus: 8, 25, 108, 205, 276, 425, 488, D8
St Mary Bow Churchyard, west end, April 2010. Photo: S Williams
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Stratford-le-Bow Church, reproduced from Alfred Capes, 'The Old and New Churches of London', 1880
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The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/07/2016
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.;

Fuller information:

The Church of St Mary, Stratford Bow became Bromley-by-Bow parish church in its own right in 1719, but had originated in the C14th as a Chapel of Ease to Stepney Parish Church of St Dunstan (q.v.). License to build the Chapel 'in the King's Highway' was granted in 1311 by Edward II and the Bishop of London who was the Episcopal Lord of the Manor of Stepney. The chapel was built in the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) and meant that parishioners in Old Ford and Stratford could avoid having to struggle to church through difficult winter road conditions. They were still obliged to contribute towards the upkeep of the mother church of St Dunstan's and to attend there on holidays but in 1497 this was limited to just the feast of St Dunstan together with payment of an annual 24s for repairs. In June 1648 Parliamentary militia in the Civil War took refuge in the church when surrounded by Royalist cavalry, which was the only engagement of the Civil War in East London. Part of the current building dates from the C15th and C16th, although a fire in April 1747 damaged the tower, destroying the clock. The tower again collapsed in 1829 and was not rebuilt until 1898, and later fell as a result of WWII bombing in May 1941. The parish of Holy Trinity, Mile End merged with that of St Mary in 2006 and its altar cross is now in St Mary.

Until the C18th the church had been ringed with buildings, with tenements and a tavern to the west, a Market Hall and school to the east, which were razed to the ground following an Act of Parliament of 1825 that allowed the burial ground to be expanded and cleared the area west of the church. Near the main western entrance to the churchyard is the memorial to Joseph Dawson (d.1834), with a draped urn and relief portrait. Many burials took place beneath the church, including that of Thomas Jordan (d.1671) whose memorial is on the left wall, and at least four rectors were buried in the chancel, although the tombstone of Thomas White (d.1709) was later moved to the churchyard. The last burial in the churchyard took place in 1854 and it was later re-ordered as a public garden by the MPGA in 1894, laid out by the MPGA's landscape gardener Fanny Wilkinson. She took advice from C R Ashbee of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to ascertain which of the tombstones should be preserved. A Loos cross brought back from the WWI battlefield was erected as a War Memorial with the names of those from Bromley who died. The churchyard retains the characterful C19th Gothic railings, which were reinstated in 1984, and has a number of chest tombs, monuments and headstones. From the western gate a central York stone path flanked by a number of seats leads to the church entrance. Today the central pathway opens out at a metal pergola with climbers growing over it, with recent planting on either side of the path; to the rear of the church the eastern part of the churchyard provides another garden area. Since 2015 volunteers have been working to improve the garden, clearing and planting in both areas of the churchyard, including 1500 spring bulbs donated by MPGA and Taylors of Spalding.

The statue of William Gladstone by Albert Bruce-Joy at the west end of the churchyard was erected in 1882, funding for which was partly raised by public subscription, although largely through the auspices of Theodore Bryant of Bryant and May, whose match factory was nearby. The statue was daubed in red paint in 1988 in tribute to the Match Girls who reputedly paid for the statue with their blood, although it appears that their blood-letting was connected with their protest at enforced contribution to a drinking fountain erected on Bow Road in 1872.

Sources consulted:

Bancroft Library, Clippings. Horwood, 1813.Tom Ridge, Central Stepney History Walk (Central Stepney Regeneration Board), 1998; Guide to the Church of St Mary, Bow, n.d.; LB Tower Hamlets, 'Fairfield Road Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Guidelines', 2007; Michael Peet, 'Seven Parishioners of Stratford Bow', Bow Church, 2011. See Historical Locations in Bromley by Bow on; Elizabeth Crawford, 'Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle' (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2nd ed. 2009). Postcard of the month no 3, August 2000 on
Grid ref: TQ376829
Size in hectares: 0.2659
On EH National Register : No
EH grade:
Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:
Registered common or village green
on Commons Registration Act 1965:
Protected under London Squares
Preservation Act 1931:
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
On Local List:
In Conservation Area: Yes
Conservation Area name: Fairfield Road
Tree Preservation Order: No
Nature Conservation Area: No
Green Belt: No
Metropolitan Open Land: No
Special Policy Area: No
Other LA designation:

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