Vic Keegan’s Lost London 79: The church of St Magnus The Martryr

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 79: The church of St Magnus The Martryr

If you want to follow in Shakespeare’s footsteps, stroll through the yard at the side of the ancient church of Saint Magnus the Martyr on the northern side of today’s London Bridge.

The path it stood on, shown in the painting above, led to the ancient, original London Bridge – the one which stood for 600 years until the 1830s. The church served as a gateway to it. Shakespeare would have had to used this route on his way from Bishopsgate and Shoreditch – where he lived and worked for a while – to the theatres on the South Bank. 

The original church was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666 but rebuilt under the direction of Christopher Wren between 1671 and 1687, and the bottom of its tower was reconstructed in the 1760s. The new London Bridge was built barely 30 yards to the west of the church.

In the foreground of the painting we see the The Monument, commemorating the Great Fire, designed by Wren and Robert Hooke. Today, if you walk from it along Fish Street Hill you can see across Lower Thames Street to the path that leads to the churchyard, where you will find two large chunks of stone from the original London Bridge. 

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The new London Bridge takes shape next to the old one.

Inside the church there is a large wooden model of the bridge, which provides an authentic idea of what it looked like, including all the houses that were built on it. Outside in the yard there is an even older link with ancient times in the form of a blackened chunk of wood from the piles of an old Roman quay which was excavated here around 1830.

It is a reminder of the enduring history of this fascinating church, which is named after Magnus Erlendsson, Earl Of Orkney (c 1080-1115), who was executed following a power struggle with his cousin. But that’s another story.

The previous 78 instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here.

Categories: Culture, Lost London

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