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Bow Church

Medieval village church, restored in late 19C and after bomb damage in WWII. 15C font and memorials from five centuries. Elegantly restored tower. Grade II* listed. Refurbished for 700th anniversary in 2011 and London 2012 Olympics.


H S Goodhart-Rendel (restoration)



Bow Road E3 3AH

Sat 10am-6pm/Sun 12pm-5pm. Last entry 5.45pm. Max 100 at one time.

Bow Road, Bow Church


25, 8, D8, 425, 205

  • Bookshop at location
  • Children's activities
  • Partial disabled
  • Refreshments available
  • Regularly open to the public at no charge
  • Toilets available


Bow Church was licensed in 1311 as a chapel of ease in the enormous parish of St Dunstan’s, Stepney, and a site ‘in the middle of the King’s highway’ was granted a few years later by King Edward III.

The original building was either enlarged or completely replaced in the 1490s by the church we see today. The rubble stone north aisle wall may date from the 14th century – a relic of the previous structure.

Though battered by weather, time, war (and restoration!), St Mary’s is still, basically, the church of the medieval village of Bow. It became a parish church, independent of St Dunstan’s, in 1719.

The late 15th century ashlar masonry tower, with its eroded perpendicular window, has been particularly battered. The upper storey collapsed in a storm in 1829 and was restored in a battlemented, ‘medieval’ style. This work was then destroyed in the 1941 Blitz and was replaced by H. S. Goodhart Rendel with an elegant design in brick, topped by a wooden clock turret, as part of his post War restoration of the church.

The aisles, clerestory and chancel have straight headed late perpendicular windows. The south aisle wall was refaced in 1794. Goodhart Rendel added the ‘Tuscan’ south porch (not anticipating today’s ceaseless torrent of traffic!) The brick vestries date from the early 18th century and from 1900.

Inside the church, a tall tower arch with moulded capitals on rounded shafts, leads to six irregular bays of low octagonal columns. These are probably original to the 1490s but have been restored and made more uniform. Notice the lack of symmetry, the different widths of the aisles and the slight difference in the alignment of the chancel and nave. The chancel, with its low pitched late medieval roof, was raised and tiled by A.W Blomfield in 1881.

Repeated calls in the 19th century for the demolition and replacement of the decayed building were nearly heeded when the chancel roof collapsed in 1896. However, the fledgling conservation movement, including C. R. Ashbee (who lived locally) and the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), ensured that the church was instead restored in a three year project, undertaken by Osborn. C. Hills. Wall panelling, double glazing, and the outer vestry were provided and Ashbee himself designed new choir stalls. In 1902 St Mary’s was the subject of the second monograph of the Survey of London.

The unusual but striking east window, with its pastiche classical aedicules, curtains, fountains, flower vases, and cute little animals lurking about the place, was designed by Goodhart Rendel’s partner H. Lewis Curtis. It seems to lack any Christian symbolism, but sits well in the building, all the same.

The coupled rafter roof (obscured for several centuries by an 18th century plaster ceiling) has also been much restored.

The font, said to be from the time of Henry V, was replaced in the 1620s with one of a more up to date design and was put in the minister’s front garden. Brought back into church in Victorian times, it took the full impact of the collapse of the bombed tower – hence its (honourably) battered state.

There are memorials in the church from every century of its life, including – Grace Amcottes (1551); Thomas Jordan (1671); Alice Coborn (1689); Prisca Coborn (1701); The Rust Family (1704); James & Dorothy Walker (1712); Ann Driffield, wife of an eminent Rector, (1878) and, in the St Stephen’s Chapel, local people who fell in both World Wars.

Underneath the church is a vault, with about fifty coffins, sealed for health and safety reasons and not entered for more than a century.

The churchyard was created in 1825 when buildings which had for centuries crowded close to the church were demolished. There are few interesting tombstones, though the grave slab of minister Thomas White, who died in 1709, has been removed from the chancel to a site to the north of the tower. The memorial, by the gate, to Joseph Dawson was recently listed by English Heritage. The gothic railings were reinstated in 1984 (but suffer continual damage from accidents involving traffic coming off the Bow flyover). If you look at the eastern part of the churchyard, please be very careful of the uneven ground!

The statue of Gladstone, outside the church gates, sculpted by Albert Bruce-Joy, was donated by the directors of the nearby Bryant and May match factory and was erected in 1887, during the great statesman’s lifetime.

St Mary’s will celebrate its 700th anniversary in 2011 and a programme of works has begun to ensure that the ancient building will be best suited for the mission of the Church in the coming years – and for its position at the gateway to the 2012 Olympic Games! Major work was done recently on the roof and drains and plans are being made for improved disabled access, new toilets and kitchen and the decoration of the whole church.

Bow Church has been at the centre of a medieval hamlet, a prosperous Georgian suburb, and a teeming, poverty stricken, Victorian slum. Today it is at the heart of the vibrant modern East End. Its history is told in its fabric and will continue to be as it moves into its eighth century.