It’s 1665 and you’ve caught the coach from York to London and are recuperating at the White Hart Inn on Bishopsgate prior to a business meeting the following day. The merchant you are meeting has left word that he will meet you outside St Botolph’s church at midday. The Inn being being next door to the church you saunter along a few minutes before the appointed hour and wait…..and wait and wait……..
The White Hart Inn
What could have caused this no show? Your goods not up to scratch, traffic, or a general disregard for common curtesy, something that you level against any resident of the City of London? None of these, the answer in short is you’d waited at the wrong church. How can that be, it said St Botolph and outside St Botolph you waited. What you didn’t know was that there are in fact four St Botolph’s in the City of London. Your merchant contact living and working in Billingsgate would have taken it for granted that you would have worked out it was St Botolph’s Billingsgate that the meeting was to take place.
So why are were there four churches all within a mile radius of each other bearing the same dedication? To find the answer you have to go back to 7th century East Anglia. Botolph and his brother Adolph were young Saxon nobles, and were sent for their education to a Benedictine Abbey in France. Adolph rose to be a Dutch Bishop, whilst Botolph came back to his native East Anglia.
Botolph’s main claim to fame was the expulsion of evil spirits from the marshlands of Suffolk. Most likely he oversaw the draining of swamps and the removal of the noxious marsh gas. In what few writings survive from the next couple of centuries, he is described as a man of epic religiosity and grace, and by all accounts, he could really hold his mead! He was canonised in the 9th century and as such needed to be reburied in a more befitting location. The monarch at the time King Edgar made the curious decision to divide Botolph’s remains into many pieces and distribute them throughout the country. Four pieces of the body were earmarked for interment at Westminster Abbey and again curiously it was decided that each piece would make a separate journey to their final resting place.
The relics were brought to London through various towns and eventually through three of the City gates, Aldersgate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate and by boat to the wharf at Billingsgate. It’s obvious Botolph was quite heavily revered back in the day, as four London churches were subsequently dedicated to him near each of these sites.
St Botolph’s Billingsgate (1)
St Botolph’s Aldgate (2)
St Botolph’s Bishopsgate (3)
St Botolph’s Aldersgate (4)
Of these only three remain today, St Botolph’s Billingsgate burnt down during the Great Fire and was never rebuilt. Its position just not far from Pudding Lane gave this church the dubious honour of being one of the first to be lost lost. As was common, the burial ground continued in use until the 1850s, and a portion of it survives as a small garden near the junction with Lower Thames Street, along with the entrance pillars.