St. Botolph was the patron Saint for travellers and as such most of the churches with this name were located just inside (within) or outside (without) the City’s gates. This particular church is unique for a variety of reasons. While it was the first church in the City to convert its burial grounds to a public garden, it is perhaps most unique as the home of the only public tennis court in the City of London. The court is also used for netball & anyone can reserve it. Between the garden and the sports court those in the area are offered a respite from the busy Liverpool Street station area and perhaps a good game to watch or play.
The Building: While it is probable Christian worship has occurred on this site since Roman times, it is certain that a Saxon church was located here. Foundations of this church were discovered when the present church was built in the early 18th Century. The first recording of St. Botolphs was in 1212 under the name ‘Sancti Botolfi Extra Bishopesgate’. While this medieval church survived the Great Fire, it was rebuilt between 1725-1728 – the fourth known church at this location. The building in classical in most of its design with aisles and galleries, but it has several unique features. The tower at the East End (usually at the west end), with the chancel & altar underneath. There is also an atypical glass dome above the nave from the 19th Century. There are eight 18th Century bells that are typically rung every Wednesday at lunchtime.
History & Notable People: In the March 1311, the Knights Templar were tried at an inquisition both here and at St. Martin within Ludgate on charges of heresy after the Pope dissolved their Temple. They appeared in front of an Inquisition led by the Bishops of London & Chichester.
The actor Edward Alleyn, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s and the founder of Dulwich College, was baptised here in 1566. John Keats, the poet, was baptized in the current font in 1795.
As a point of interest, the Priory of Bethlehem was located next door to this church until it was dissolved in 1535 by Henry VIII. The buildings of the Priory were then used as a hospital for the mentally ill – a lunatic asylum. The contraction of Bethlehem was ‘Bedlam’ – thus giving us the modern meaning.
One of the Vicar’s of the church (from 1863-1896) was William Rogers who founded the Bishopsgate Institute (see my article on this Institute here) just up the street.
While a survivor of the Great Fire and the Blitz (only one window was lost), the church was damaged twice by IRA bombs. In 1992 the bombing near St. Mary Axe damaged the exterior slightly, but in April 1993 the Bishopsgate bomb opened up the roof and blew out the doors and windows, and damaged the offices and Vestry of the church. Restoration work took over 3 years but in 1997 it was completed and the church fully reopened. project followed taking three and a half years to return the church to its former glory.
The church contains the Regimental Memorial Chapel of the Honourable Artillery Company, the Book of Remembrance of the London Rifle Brigade, and (rather uniquely) a memorial for those with hæmophilia who have died as a result of contaminated blood products.
The Churchyard: The church’s burial grounds were the first in the City to be converted into a public garden in 1863. While a controversial change in its day, the space is very popular. Also in the garden is St. Botolph’s Hall (1821), once a school as the stone figures at its entrance attest to. It is now available for hire as a function room. The memorial cross (1916) at the garden’s entrance is believed to be the first memorial of the Great War to be set up in England.
The Tennis & Netball Court: The Tennis and Netball Court is open all year. From October to May it is used for netball only. The rest of the year both tennis and netball are played here. The court is open from 8 am – 9 pm Monday to Friday in 1 hour sessions (1/2 hour increments from 12-2). Bookings can be made up to 3 weeks in advance. See their website for more details: http://www.botolph.org.uk/hall-court-hire/
Visiting: The church is open weekdays from 8 am to 5.30 pm. Services are Wednesday at 1.10 pm and Thursday at 12.10pm and last no longer than 50 minutes.
Located at: Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 3TL (just south of Liverpool St. Stn).
Closest Tube: Liverpool Street