St. Mary, Bow, London

One of East London’s most ancient churches, it now stands forlornly on a traffic island on the A11 with traffic thundering past on either side. Just getting across to it can be an adventure in itself.

A Chapel of Ease was built here around 1311 for the parishioners of Stepney who could not travel all the way to St. Dunstan’s in Stepney High Street. The journey to Stepney was often fraught with danger, particularly in winter when the area was prone to flooding. On holy days it was still an obligation to travel to Stepney, but for regular services the new Chapel at Bow could be used. Unusually, it seems that the tower was built at the same time as the rest of the church, giving it a very uniform appearance, despite bombing in World War II.

In 1556 Mary I and Bishop Bonner of London were responsible for a number of people being brought on a cart to Bow Church and burnt at the stake in front of it. Today this spot is occupied by a statue of Gladstone.

In 1719 the parish of St Mary Stratford Bow was finally formed, removing the obligation to travel to Stepney.

A bomb hit the church in 1941 necessitating the rebuilding of the top of the tower, but it has been done with great respect for the original structure. The nearby Docklands Light Railway Station, Bow Church, is named for the church.

Today Bow Church is one of the most attractive in East London, although sadly its position in the middle of the A11 robs it of much of its appeal.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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© Text copyright - Raving Loony Productions and Andrew J. Müller, Roy Barton
and Shaun Runham
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