St George the Martyr Church

  • About
    George the Martyr is one of the ancient parishes of Southwark and probably the first church in London to be dedicated to St George. The earliest record of the church is in The Annals of Bermondsey Priory, for the year 1122. It records the gift of the advowson of St George's to the Priory by Thomas de Arderne and his son.

    Little or nothing is known about the original Norman church, which was rebuilt at the end on the 14th century. The second church appears on some early maps and drawings of Southwark and can be seen in William Hogarth's picture of Southwark Fair in 1733. Almost immediately after this the church was again demolished and replaced with the current structure, consecrated in 1736 (although the architect, John Price, died before its completion).

    The church retains its Georgian appearance, though a spectacular new ceiling was designed in 1897, in an Italianate style, by Basil Champneys. During the Second World War, the building suffered blast damage and a major restoration was carried out at the beginning of the 1950s.

    In the Middle Ages, the Borough High Street ran south from London Bridge, ending at the church, with St George's Fields lying beyond. On special occasions the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London would venture out to St Georges to welcome important visitors, as they did for Henry V, on his return from Agincourt.

    Amongst the famous associated with St George's are Peter Carmelianus (the poet and Latin scholar to Henry VII) who was Rector; the poet, John Gower, who was a benefactor; Nahum Tate, author of the carol While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night (who was buried here); Edward Cocker and Edmund Gunther (both mathematicians). Charles Dickens also has a considerable link with the parish and church (see 'Our Community and other links' - The Dickens Fellowship).

    During the 19th century, the Borough became one of the most densely populated areas in England. The Vestry Meeting, chaired by the Rector, continued to discharge local authority functions for the parish up until the late 1890s, when the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark was established.

    There are continuous registers dating from 1602 (although all historic registers are now with the Metropolitan Archive) and records of the Civil Parish and its Vestry Meeting are held at the nearby Southwark Local Studies Library.

    Today, the church stands in the midst of an area undergoing considerable regeneration and change. We recently underwent a massive restoration project which put the structure of the building back on secure foundations, and turned the Crypt into an attractive and spacious community resource.

    The church has strong associations with Charles Dickens, whose father was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea prison. The surviving wall of the prison adjoins the north side of the churchyard.

    Dickens himself lived nearby, in Lant Street, lodging in a house that belonged to the Vestry Clerk of St George's. This was during the darkest period of his life when, as a teenager, with his father in prison, he had to work in the `blacking factory', and his literary career must have seemed an impossible dream.

    Later, he was to set several scenes of the novel Little Dorrit in and around St George's Church. There is a small representation of Little Dorritt in the east window of the church, and we welcome members of the Dickens Fellowship to an annual service. Father Ray Andrews is Chaplain to the Dickens Fellowship, London.
  • Address
    Borough High Street
    Borough High Street
    SE1 1JD
  • Website

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