St Magnus the Martyr - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Magnus the Martyr

• St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge is located in Lower Thames Street near The Monument. • Many authors have referred to St Magnus's prominent location and beauty.

• The ancient parish was united with that of St Margaret New Fish Street, in 1670 and with that of St Michael Crooked Lane, in 1831. Parish clerks continue to be appointed for each of the three parishes.

• The church is dedicated to St Magnus the Martyr, the earl of Orkney, who died on 16 April in or around 1116. He was executed on the island of Egilsay having been captured during a power struggle with his cousin. Magnus had a reputation for piety and gentleness and was canonised in 1135. The identity of the St Magnus referred to in the church's dedication was confirmed by the Bishop of London in 1926. In the 13th century the patronage was attributed to one of the several saints by the name of Magnus who share a feast day on 19 August, possibly St Magnus of Anagni who was slain in the persecution of the Emperor Decius in the 3rd century, or St Magnus or Magnes, who suffer'd under the Emperor Aurelian in 276. For the next century historians followed the suggestion that the church was dedicated to the Roman saint of Cæsarea. The famous Danish archaeologist Professor Jens Worsaae (1821–85) promoted the attribution to St Magnus of Orkney during his visit to the British Isles in 1846-7, when he was formulating the concept of the 'Viking Age' and a history of London written in 1901 concluded that "the Danes, on their second invasion ... added at least two churches with Danish names, Olaf and Magnus". A guide to the City Churches published in 1917 reverted to the view that St Magnus was dedicated to a martyr of the third century, but the discovery of St Magnus of Orkney's relics in 1919 renewed interest in a Scandinavian patron and this connection was encouraged by the Rector who arrived in 1921.

• St Magnus was built to the south of Thames Street to serve the growing population of the bridgehead area and was certainly in existence by 1128-33. The small ancient parish extended about along the waterfront either side of the old bridge, from 'Stepheneslane' (later Churchehawlane or Church Yard Alley) and 'Oystergate' (later called Water Lane or Gully Hole) on the West side to 'Retheresgate' on the East side and was centred on the crossroads formed by Fish Street Hill and Thames Street. The mediaeval parish also included Fish Wharf, which was to the South of the church. The latter was of considerable importance as the fishmongers had their shops on the bridge.

• In 1182 the Abbot of Westminster and the Prior of Bermondsey agreed that the patronage of St Magnus should be divided equally between them.

• Between the late Saxon period and 1209 there was a series of wooden bridges across the Thames, but in that year a stone bridge was completed. The work was overseen by the head of the Fraternity of the Brethren of London Bridge. The Church had from early times encouraged the building of bridges and this activity was so important it was perceived to be an act of piety - a commitment to God which should be supported by the giving of alms. London’s citizens made gifts of land and money "to God and the Bridge". The Bridge House Estates became part of the City's jurisdiction in 1282. Until 1831 the bridge was aligned with Fish Street Hill, so the main entrance into the City from the south passed the West door of St Magnus on the north bank of the river and so the church grew in importance. On 21 November 1234 a grant of land was made to the parson of St Magnus for the enlargement of the church.

• St Magnus Corner at the north end of London Bridge was an important meeting place in mediaeval London, where notices were exhibited, proclamations read out and wrongdoers punished. Being conveniently close to the river, the church was chosen by the Bishop between the 15th and 17th centuries as a venue for general meetings of the clergy in his diocese.

• The patronage of St Magnus, having previously been in the Abbots and Convents of Westminster and Bermondsey (who presented alternatively), fell to the Crown on the suppression of the monasteries. In 1553, Queen Mary, by letters patent, granted it to the Bishop of London and his successors.

• St Magnus narrowly escaped destruction from a fire in 1633. Susannah Chambers in her will of 1640 left money for a Sermon to be preached annually in the church as thanksgiving for deliverance from the fire. The tradition of a "Fire Sermon" was revived on 12 February 2004, when the first preacher was the Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres.

• Despite its escape in 1633, the church was one of the first buildings to be destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666. St Magnus stood less than 300 yards from the bakehouse in Pudding Lane where the fire started. Farriner, the baker and a former churchwarden of St Magnus, was buried in the middle aisle of the church on 11 December 1670, perhaps within a temporary structure erected for holding services.

• The rebuilding of the church was carried out between 1671 and 1687 under the direction of Wren, the body of the church being substantially complete by 1676. St Magnus was one of Wren's most expensive churches. • A steeple, closely modelled on one built between 1614 and 1624 for the church of St Carolus Borromeus in Antwerp, was added between 1703 and 1706. London's skyline was transformed by Wren's tall steeples and that of St Magnus is considered to be one his finest.

• The large clock projecting from the tower was a well-known landmark in the city as it hung over the roadway of the old bridge. It was presented to the church in 1709 by Sir Charles Duncombe a Lord Mayor of London. Tradition says ‘that it was erected in consequence of a vow made by the donor, who, in the earlier part of his life, had once to wait a considerable time in a cart upon London Bridge, without being able to learn the hour, when he made a promise, that if he ever became successful in the world, he would give to that Church a public clock ... that all passengers might see the time of day.’

• Shortly before his death in 1711 he also commissioned an organ for the church, made by Abraham Jordan. The organ case, which remains in its original state, is a specimen of wood carving and is looked upon as one of the finest existing examples of the Grinling Gibbons’ school. • A serious fire broke out on 18 April 1760 in an oil shop at the south east corner of the church, which consumed most of the church roof and did considerable damage to the fabric.

• Richard Hazard (1761–1837) was connected with the church as sexton, parish clerk and ward beadle for nearly 50 years and served as Master of the Parish Clerks' Company in 1831/32.

• In 1825 the church was repaired considerable expense. The magnificent organ rebuilt by Mr Parsons and was installed in 1826.

• In 1823 royal assent was given to ‘An Act for the Rebuilding of London Bridge’ and in 1825 first stone of the new London Bridge was laid The new bridge was opened further upstream and the old bridge demolished. St Magnus ceased to be the gateway to London as it had been for over 600 years.

• In 1921 two stones from the old bridge were discovered across the road from the church. They now stand in the churchyard.

• A report in 1920 proposed the demolition of nineteen City churches, including St Magnus. A general outcry from members of the public and parishioners alike prevented the execution of this plan.

• A bomb which fell on London Bridge in 1940 during the Blitz of blew out all the windows and damaged the plasterwork and the roof of the north aisle.

• The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950 and repaired in 1951. The architect was Laurence King. Restoration and redecoration work has subsequently been carried out several times, including after a yet another fire in the early hours of 4 November 1995. • Since January 2004 there has been an annual Blessing of the Thames, with the congregations of St Magnus and Southwark Cathedral meeting in the middle of London Bridge.

• The church possesses a fine model of Old London Bridge. One of the tiny figures on the bridge appears out of place in the mediaeval setting, wearing a policeman's uniform. This is a representation of the model-maker, David T. Aggett, was formerly in the police service.

• In 1896 many bodies were disinterred from the crypt and reburied at the St Magnus's plot at Brookwood Cemetery, which remains the church's burial ground.

• Prior to the Great Fire the old tower had a ring of five bells. A new tower was completed in 1704 and it is likely that these bells were transferred to it. However, the tenor became cracked in 1713 and it was decided to replace the bells with a new ring of eight. The bells were removed for safe keeping in 1940 and stored in the churchyard. They were taken to Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1951 whereupon it was discovered that four of them were cracked. After a long period of indecision, fuelled by lack of funds and interest, the bells were finally sold for scrap in 1976. A fund was set up on 19 September 2005 with a view to installing a new ring of 12 bells in the tower in a new frame. They were consecrated by the Bishop of London on 3 March 2009

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