Borough, London

Church of St. George the Martyr, Borough, London

St. George the Martyr in Borough is one of Southwark’s oldest churches and is believed to be the first church in London to be dedicated to St. George. The earliest record of the church is from 1122 when Bermondsey Priory were granted the rights over the church. This does tend to imply the church was already built by then.

There is no record, or even description, of this Norman church which was knocked down in the 14th Century and rebuilt. This second church can be seen in William Hogarth’s “Southwark Fair” painted in 1733 where it shown with a cupola atop the tower. Almost immediately after this the church was demolished again and the current church by John Price was built. It was consecrated in 1736, by which time Price had died.

The exterior of Price’s church remains more or less unaltered, but the interior was redesigned in 1897 and then rebuilt after World War II when the interior was badly damaged by bombing.

During the 19th Century the Borough was one of the most densely populated areas in England and was absolutely notorious for its seedy tendencies. The debtors prison – the horrendous Marshalsea prison – stood right next door to St. George’s (only one wall now remains). Charles Dickens’ father was imprisoned in Marshalsea prison and Dickens lived nearby in Lant Street whilst he worked as a teenager in the nearby blacking factory to get his father out of debt. This was most likely the start of Dickens’ interest in prison reform and the plight of the poor in London. He later set several scenes of ‘Little Dorrit’ in and around St. George’s Church and when the repairs were undertaken after World War II a small section of one of the windows was created to reflect this connection. Indeed, the church is often called Little Dorrit’s Church.

Today, the Borough is a much more civilised and pleasant place centred more on the famous Borough Market than St. George the Martyr which stands opposite Borough London Underground Station, a proud bastion of Georgian London flanked by modernity and now towered over by the nearby Shard building.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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