St Mary Lambeth - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Mary Lambeth

• The deconsecrated parish church of St Mary-at-Lambeth is adjacent to Lambeth Palace on the south bank of the River Thames.

• From the entry in Domesday Book we know that there was a church dedicated to St. Mary in Lambeth before the Norman Conquest and that it belonged to the Countess Goda, sister to King Edward the Confessor. The church was granted or confirmed to the see or priory of Rochester by the early Norman Kings and included with the manor in the exchange made between the Prior, Convent and Bishop of Rochester and the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1197. Since that time it has been within the gift of the Archbishop, but close contact has always been maintained with the see of Rochester

• The Church of St. Mary, Lambeth, because of its proximity to the London residence of the Primate, has a unique interest among the parish churches of the London area. It was for many centuries almost an adjunct of the palace, and many of its rectors have been chaplains or household officers of the Archbishop and often men of considerable eminence. Its bells rang out whenever royal personages came, as they frequently did up to the Stuart period, to visit the Archbishop. At its door was the landing stage of the Horse ferry to Westminster.

• Of the mediaeval church, only the tower now survives. The body of the church was rebuilt in flint and stone between the years 1374 and1377 and the tower soon after. The older tower, built in 1243, was of wood. Lysons, writing in 1791, says that only the tower remained of the 14th century church, “the other parts of the present structure appear to be about the age of Henry VII, and most probably were built at several times, in the latter end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries. In the list of benefactions to the church, we find some who contributed to the building of the north aisle in 1504, others to that of the south aisle in 1505. Archbishop Warham was a principal contributor to the building of the west end in 1522. The east end was probably rebuilt before the list of benefactors commenced. Howard's and Leigh's chapels were built in 1522.”

• The church originally housed the 15th and 16th century tombs of many members of the Howard family, including now-lost memorial brasses to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk (died 1524), his wife Agnes Tilney, Duchess of Norfolk (died 1545) and is also the burial place of Queen Anne Boleyn's mother Elizabeth Boleyn, formerly Howard.

• Few records of the church during the Commonwealth period have survived, but a long series of entries in the burial register give melancholy proof of the number of royalist prisoners who died during their incarceration in Lambeth Palace.

• Lysons' remarks, combined with the many entries in the accounts of subsequent alterations, indicate that little of the 14th century church can have survived in 1851, when the whole building, except the tower, was pulled down and the present church erected from the design of Philip Charles Hardwick.

• St Mary's, which was largely a Victorian reconstruction, was deconsecrated in 1972 and was scheduled to be demolished. In 1976 John and Rosemary Nicholson traced the tomb of the two 17th century royal gardeners and plant hunters John Tradescant father and son to the churchyard, and were inspired to create the Museum of Garden History. It was the first museum in the world dedicated to the history of gardening.

• The museum's gallery is the main body of the church. The collection comprises tools, ephemera and a library. A 17th century style knot garden was created in the churchyard, planted with authentic plants of the period.


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