×
Select Page

Bells and Belfries at St Botolph Aldgate

Rare opportunity to see the bells and belfry of this church by the architect of Mansion House, with demonstrations taking place. Inside is London's oldest organ.

Architect

Dance, George the Elder

Date

1744

St Botolph's Church, Aldgate High Street EC3N 1AB

Sat/Sun 10am-5pm. Bell ringing demonstrations and tours Sat only 10am-12noon & 2pm-4pm. Max 20 in belfry. Last entry 3.30pm.

Aldgate, Aldgate East

Liverpool Street, Fenchurch Street

42, 78, 100, 67, 15

  • Partial disabled
  • Refreshments available
  • Regularly open to the public at no charge
  • Toilets available

BELLS AND BELFRIES AT ST BOTOLPH ALDGATE There has been a church on this site for over 1,000 years, outside the _ald_ gate on the eastern edge of the City of London. St Botolph has always been regarded as a sort of English St Christopher, so churches at City gates were often dedicated to Botolph so travelers could pray there on arrival and departure. London has four such churches; one at Billingsgate (destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666), one at Aldersgate, one at Bishopsgate, and one here. The original Saxon building was enlarged in 1418 and almost entirely rebuilt in the next century. This church was demolished as unsafe in 1739 and the present building finished in 1744. It is the work of George Dance the Elder, who also built the Mansion House, official home of the Lord Mayor of London. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the interior of the church was remodelled by J.F. Bentley, architect of the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster. He made the carved ceiling and added the decorative plasterwork, created the chancel by adding the side screens, replaced the gallery fronts with a pierced balustrade and replaced the large box-pews with the present seating. His work survived the bombs which fell on this part of London during the First and Second World Wars. In 1941 a bomb pierced the roof near the organ but failed to explode. Our Rector in those days slept among the coffins in the Crypt, coming out on to the church roof during air raids to put out incendiary bombs. Thanks to our previous architect Mr. Rodney Tatchell and Mr. J. S. Comper, the church interior was greatly improved following a fire in 1965, notably by the creation of the Baptistry in the space under the Tower. The three reredos panels, made in a method of batik using dye and wax risist, were designed by Thetis Blacker in 1982. Using as her inspiration St John_s account of the Holy City seen though the Gate of Heaven (Revelation 21), she has placed the Tree of Life in the centre panel. From the roots of the tree flows the River of Life. The foundations of the city are coloured according to their stones. In the side panels are angels guarding the gate, holding Alpha and Omega, symbolising the beginning and the end of creation. The stoneware ceramic pyx holding the Blessed Sacrament was designed and made in the shape of a dove by Juliet Pilkington. The altar pall was created by Barbara Sansoni. We are the fortunate possessors of a fine peal of eight bells, cast during the 18th century at the nearby Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The magnificent organ in the west gallery is by Renatus Harris, and was given to the church in 1676. It is the oldest church organ in London, and perhaps the country. The church has a splendid collection of 16th and 17th century silver, but unfortunately it cannot be put on display and has to remain in our bank vaults. The Baptistry, through which you enter the church, contains the busts of two of our great benefactors, Robert Dow (1552-1612) and Sir John Cass (1661-1718), the latter of whose schools and Foundation still exist and work in close association with us. Also in the Baptistry is a list of the Portsoken Aldermen (this is a Ward Church) and, on the opposite wall, a list of the Parish priests since 1115. They include Thomas Bray, founder of SPCK and SPG, whose memorial tablet in the church was unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen in March 1980. The East window is an enamelled glass copy of Rubens_ _Descent from the Cross_ and was given in 1857. Most of the other windows mark Aldermen of the Ward who have also been Lord Mayor of London. The 18th century ironwork includes the elegant altar rails and the Lord Mayor_s sword rest (on the pillar by the pulpit). The carvings on the organ case (by Grinling Gibbons), the inlaid pulpit and the laudian font rails (now forming the tip of the Sacristy screen near the pulpit) are all that remains of the furnishings of the older churches, although many of the memorials were preserved and can still be seen on the walls. The carving of King David surrounded by musical instruments on the south wall is from the church of St Mary, Whitechapel. Famous Residents Chaucer lived in the parish; in 1734 Daniel Defoe was married here (in a novel he depicts an horrific account of the Great Plague of 1665, when over 5,000 bodies were buried in a pit dug in the churchyard). Sir Isaac Newton lived opposite the church when he was the Master of the Royal Mint. William Syminton, builder of the first practical steamboat, was buried here in 1832. Edmund Spencer the poet was born here in 1552. Buried in the churchyard are two noblemen beheaded on Tower Hill for their part in a rebellion against King Henry VIII; Thomas, Lord Darcy and Sir Nicholas Carew. Their Renaissance monuments in alabaster are in the Baptistry. We value our past, but we do not live in it. Today the population of the parish is small and mostly Jewish or Muslim (The Council for Christian-Jewish Understanding is based here). Our congregation is made up of business people during the week and on Sunday of people who travel to come here, as well as tourists who join us for worship. Like other City churches, we invite those who work nearby to come here to read, listen to music, worship at the daily Eucharist, or to pray and relax in this haven of quiet. The weekly list of services is as follows: Monday 1.05 Eucharist Thursday 1.05 Eucharist Tuesday 1.05 Eucharist Friday 1.05 University Service Wednesday 1.05 Eucharist (In term time) Sunday 10.30 Sung Eucharist On six days a week we welcome to our Crypt up to 300 homeless women and men. We offer a comprehensive service covering all aspects of homelessness and resettlement; there is a walk-in Advice Centre open each day. We also provide residential care at our five hostels. The evening sessions in the Crypt are mainly run by volunteers supported by the staff. Not all our volunteers are Christians and we have no sermons or services. Our day Centre opens four days a week and on average 45 people attend. Our hostel in Hackney was opened in 1985 by Princess Alexandra, and there are now four other hostels open, offering high quality accommodation and care to women and men.