St Helen's Church, Bishopsgate

St Helen's Bishopsgate

St Helen's Bishopsgate pictured in 2006
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Churchmanship Conservative evangelical
Heritage designation Grade I listed building
Diocese London
Rector The Revd William Taylor

St Helen's Bishopsgate is a large conservative evangelical Anglican church located off Bishopsgate in London.

It is the largest surviving parish church in the City of London and it contains more monuments than any other church in Greater London except Westminster Abbey, hence it is sometimes referred to as the "Westminster Abbey of the City".

It was the parish church of William Shakespeare when he lived in the area in the 1590s.[1][2] In 1608, Sir Alberico Gentili, the founder of the science of international law, was buried in the church.


The church of St Helen dates from the 12th century and a priory of Benedictine nuns was founded there in 1210.[3] It is unusual in that it was designed with two parallel naves, giving it a wide interior.[4] Until the dissolution of the priory in 1538, the church was divided in two by a partition running from east to west, the northern half serving the nuns and the southern the parishioners.[3] It is the only building from a nunnery to survive in the City of London.

The priory had extensive monastic buildings; its hall was later used by the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers until its demolition in 1799. A crypt extended north from the church, under the hall.[3]

In the 17th century two Classical doorcases were added to the otherwise Gothic church.[3][5] In 1874 the parish was united with that of St Martin Outwich when the latter's church was demolished, and the first incumbent of the new parish was John Bathurst Deane. St Helen's church was heavily restored by John Loughborough Pearson in 1891–3, and reopened on St John the Baptist's Day in 1893 by the Bishop of London, Frederick Temple.

Interior of St Helen's Bishopsgate

St Helen's was one of only a few City of London churches to survive both the Great Fire of London of 1666 and the Blitz during World War II.[6] In 1992 and 1993, however, the church was badly damaged by two IRA bombs that were set off nearby.[7] The roof of the building was lifted and one of the City's largest medieval stained glass windows was shattered. The church has since been fully restored although many of the older monuments within it were entirely destroyed. The architect Quinlan Terry, an enthusiast of Georgian architecture, designed the restoration along Reformation lines.

Owing to parish consolidation over the years, the parish is now named "St Helen's Bishopsgate with St Andrew Undershaft and St Ethelburga Bishopsgate and St Martin Outwich and St Mary Axe". The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors are the patrons of the benefice.[8]

The church was designated a Grade I-listed building on 4 January 1950.[9]


  1. North wall of the nuns' choir, near the west end, Alderman Thon Robinson, 1599. An Elizabethan group of kneeling figures; the deceased and his wife with nine sons and seven daughters.
  2. In the north-east corner of the "Gresham Memorial Chapel" at the east end of the nuns' choir, altar tomb of Sir Thomas Gresham, 1579. Founder of the Royal Exchange and the Gresham Lectures.
  3. Side by side with the preceding, Sir Julius Caesar Adelmare, 1636. Judge of the Court of Admiralty. Altar tomb with Latin epitaph in the form of a deed to which is affixed the broad seal of the deceased.
  4. In the south-east corner of the Gresham Memorial Chapel, Sir Andrew Judd 1558. Founder of Tonbridge School.
  5. Under the chancel arch, north of the high altar, Sir William Pickering, 1574. Ambassador in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Altar tomb with recumbent figure surmounted by a lofty canopy.
  6. Under the chancel arch, south of the High Altar, Sir John Crosby 1476[10][11] founder of Crosby Hall, and Agnes his wife. Altar tomb with recumbent figures.
  7. In the Chapel of the Holy Ghost, Sir John Oteswich and his wife. Formerly in the church of St Martin Outwich.
  8. Against the south wall of the church, sightly to the west of the south entrance, Sir John Spencer and his wife, 1609. Altar tomb under a canopy with recumbent figures, and a third kneeling figure.


The organ dates from 1744 when an annuity organ by Thomas Griffin was installed. It has undergone several restorations since by builders such as George Pike England in 1810, J. C. Bishop and Son in 1910 and 1923, Hill, Norman and Beard in 1929 and 1957, and Martin Goetze & Dominic Gwynn in 1996. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.

The organ is of notable historic significance and has been awarded a Grade II* listing by the British Institute of Organ Studies.



The church holds three services each Sunday, one at 10:30 am, another at 4 pm and a 6 pm evening service. The Sunday afternoon and evening services are followed by an informal meal and opportunities to socialise.

There are also numerous small groups which meet at the church during the week. These include the "Read, Mark, Learn" (RML) groups which either study the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of John, the Epistle to the Romans or a Bible overview over the course of a year. There is also the Central Focus group which studies a whole variety of topics and books from the Bible. The church also runs the Christianity Explored course regularly.


Former rectors include Thomas Horton, John Bathurst Deane (the grandfather of P. G. Wodehouse) and R. C. Lucas. The current rector is William Taylor.[12]


Current curates include Andrew Sach.

See also


  1. Hales 1904, pp. 401–2.
  2. In Search of Shakespeare. Bishopsgate
  3. 1 2 3 4 Godwin, George; John Britton (1839). The Churches of London: A History and Description of the Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Metropolis. London: C. Tilt.
  4. "London:the City Churches” Pevsner,N/Bradley,S New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0-300-09655-0
  5. Nairn, Ian. Nairn's London. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 28.
  6. "The Old Churches of London" Cobb,G: London, Batsford, 1942
  7. "The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0-9553945-0-3
  8. Details of the history of St Helen's and the other churches in this benefice (St Andrew, St Martin Outwich etc) in the 17th century can be found in Lee Gatiss, The Tragedy of 1662: The Ejection and Persecution of the Puritans. Gatiss
  9. Historic England. "Details from image database (199492)". Images of England. accessed 23 January 2009
  10. "Churches of the City of London" Reynolds, H. : London, Bodley Head, 1922
  11. 'Appendix 2: The will of Sir John Crosby', Survey of London Monograph 9: Crosby Place (1908), pp. 69–84 Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  12. Saint Helen's Bishopgate


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Coordinates: 51°30′53″N 0°04′54″W / 51.5148°N 0.0818°W / 51.5148; -0.0818

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