In my last post I gave a mention to the church of St Mary le Bow in Cheapside. This is the church that appears in the nursery rhyme, Oranges and Lemons.
Post war archaeological digs showed that there was a church on the site in Saxon times. During the medieval period the church was redeveloped after it was badly damaged in the great tornado in 1091. Reports say that the tornado was probably the most violent ever experienced in Britain. The storm ripped timbers said to be in excess of ten feet long from the old London bridge, carrying them more than a quarter of a mile to send them crashing through the roof of the church.
During the mid twelfth century the church was again rebuilt and became famed for its stone arches and took the name St Mary de Arcubus, the term arcubus meaning bows, as in the bowed form of the arches. From that term the church named morphed into the St Mary le Bow that we know today.
The church was decimated during the Great Fire in 1666 and was rebuilt to designs by Sir Christopher Wren and was considered the second most important church in the City of London after St Paul’s Cathedral.
The church sits amidst Bow Churchyard on one side and Bow Lane on the other. Today, the churchyard is a rather uninspiring modern(ish) plaza, but Bow Lane has roots which predate even the church’s Saxon origins as several Roman wells and buildings were found during excavations. The area around the church including the lane was populated during the the medieval period predominately by Cordwainers, or shoe makers. Life in the area was no less harsh and brutal then anywhere else and I found the following incident that occurred in 1326.
Back then Bow Lane was known as Cordwainerstrete and on Friday 15th at around 6:00 am a fishmonger called Roger Styward was making his was along the street in the direction of the Stocks Market in Cheapside. He was carrying a large wooden bucket filled with eels that he had previously skinned. Obviously the skins were of no use to him, so he seems to have tossed them onto the floor of the lane and continued on his way. Unfortunately for him he had thrown the eel skins next to the shop of Cordwainer John de Keslyngbury. Two of John’s apprentices, Simon and Richard chased after the Fishmonger and remonstrated with him demanding that he return and pick up the skins and “angry words were exchanged“. When the Fishmonger refused to pick up the skins it appears that Richard gave him a firm slap around the cheek and a bit of a scuffle started but was soon over and Roger with his bucket of eels continued on his way. He was followed by the other apprentice Cordwainer, Simon and as they drew level with St Mary le Bow Simon attacked him with a blow to the head which floored Roger who then received several kicks to the head and body. With some difficulty Roger regained his feet and retrieved his bucket of eels and staggered off turning right into Cheapside where he collapsed and died. On hearing the news both apprentices sought sanctuary in St Mary’s and later Richard gave himself up and was transported to Newgate prison to await trial, Simon refused to surrender. No record exists as to what happened to either apprentice.