St Mary-at-Hill

St. Mary-at-Hill is a Church of England church on Lovat Lane, a cobbled street off Eastcheap in the ward of Billingsgate, London, England. Coordinates: 51°30′36″N 0°05′01″W / 51.510069°N 0.08374°W / 51.510069; -0.08374

Rebuilt many times, St Mary-at-Hill was originally founded in the 12th Century, where it was first known as "St. Mary de Hull" or " St. Mary de la Hulle".

Although the official address is Lovat Lane, the more notable side faces the street called "St Mary at Hill" where there is a huge two-faced clock extending several feet into the street. There is a narrow alleyway alongside, but no right of way.


St Mary-at -Hill was already in existence by 1336. The north aisle was rebuilt at the end of the fifteenth century, and a south aisle and steeple were added a little later. John Stow, writing at end of the sixteenth century described it as "the fair church of Saint Marie, called on the Hill, because of the ascent from Billingsgate".

The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London of 1666 which began only a few feet away in Pudding Lane. After the fire, the parish was united with that of St Andrew Hubbard. Christopher Wren rebuilt the interior and the east end, but retained the medieval walls on the other three sides, and the west tower to which he added a lantern. Wren's east end has a venetian window, now blocked up, and a broken pediment. His interior has four free-standing corinthian columns, supporting barrel vaults in a Greek cross pattern, and a coffered central dome. The church is 96 feet long and 60 feet wide.

There have been considerable alterations since the seventeeenth century. In 1787-8 George Gwilt Senior rebuilt the west wall and replaced the tower in brick and in 1826-7 James Savage installed round headed iron- framed windows in the north wall and replaced the vaults, ceilings and plasterwork. In 1848-9 he added a cupola to the dome and cut windows through the chancel vault. In 1849, the seventeenth century wooodwork was sympathetically augmented and adapted by W. Gibbs Rogers.The church survived the Second World War unharmed, but was severely damaged by a fire in 1988 after which the roof and ceiling had to be rebuilt. Much of the woodwork, including the box-pews, has not been reinstated.

Writing before the most recent fire Sir John Betjeman said of the church “This is the least spoiled and the most gorgeous interior in the City, all the more exciting by being hidden away among cobbled alleys, paved passages, brick walls, overhung by plane trees…”

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. On St Mary-at-Hill, there is an adjacent Grade II brick and stone rectory of 1834 designed by James Savage, incorporating a vestry of the late 17th century.

Music and traditions

From 1510 the Chapel Royal choir sang here. The organ-builder Mighaell Glocetir worked at St.Mary-at-Hill from 1477 to 1479. He is possibly the same person as the builder Myghell Glancets who worked on St.Michael church at Cornhill in 1475. The great composer Thomas Tallis was organist at St.Mary-at-Hill in 1538-1539. A William Hill organ was installed in 1848 and partly restored after the 1988 fire, but a more complete restoration did not commence until 2000. It is now used for concerts on Thursday lunchtimes.

In several books on English folklore, or about ceremonies of London, there is mention of the costermonger's festival held here every October. It also goes by the name "Fish Harvest Festival" or "Harvest of the Sea", associated with the fishmarket that was held at Billingsgate. Another notable ceremony is Beating the Bounds, where notables and children process around the boundary of a parish or ward on Ascension Day, carrying slender rods. Originally the children were whipped (not severely) at points along the route. Almost every example died out in the middle of the nineteenth century, but the account books of St.Mary-at-Hill testify to its existence here. Four shillings were paid for the provision of fruit on the day of the "Perambulation" in 1682. In another example at Chelsea the whipped children were given four pence. One rare surviving example of "Beating the Bounds" is at the nearby church "All Hallows by the Tower", where it is held every three years.

St Mary Hill hoard

A hoard of coins (now known as the Mary Hill hoard) was found in a basement near St Mary Hill church in the 18th century. The hoard included the only known example of a coin from the Horndon mint.

Notable people

The poet Edward Young, author of Night Thoughts was married here in 1731. The antiquarian John Brand became rector here in 1784. William Turner Alchin, another antiquarian, was born here in 1790.


Parliament outlawed new burials in the City of London during the Victorian era, forcing the closure of its churchyards; in 1847 the church purchased burials rights 'in perpetuity' in a small section of the consecrated ground in West Norwood Cemetery for its own parish use. It stood out from the main cemetery through its railed enclosure and planting, including monkey puzzle trees. The London Borough of Lambeth subsequently compulsorily purchased the main cemetery and removed the memorials in this section during 1990-91. A subsequent Chancery Court case found this to be illegal and set up a mechanism for those monuments to be restored at the request of descendants.

Building Activity

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