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St Michael Crooked Lane

St Michael, Crooked Lane

In 1831, St. Michael Crooked Lane (also rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire), fell to another great destroyer of City churches, urban redevelopment, being demolished to make way for King William Street during the rebuilding of London Bridge. The parish was united with that of St. Magnus, and its monuments translated; these include a headstone which now stands in the churchyard, commemorating Robert Preston d.1730, the teetotalling 'drawer' (barman) at the Boar's Head Tavern in Great Eastcheap (where Falstaff caroused with Prince Hal): "Tho' nurs'd among full Hogsheads, he defied the charms of Wine, and ev'ry vice beside. 0 Reader, if to Justice thou'rt inclin'd, keep Honest Preston daily in thy mind. He drew good Wine, took care to fill his Pots, had sundry virtues that outweigh'd his faults. You that on Bacchus have the like dependence, pray copy Bob in Measure and Attendance." (St. Michael's vestry met in the Boar's Head - which stood where the statue of William IV now looks down on King William Street -- and somehow thus acquired the 'Falstaff Cup', surely Elizabethan but hardly that with which the fat knight pledged his troth to Mistress Quickly; it is now on permanent loan to the Treasury of St. Paul's Cathedral.)

 

The earliest mention of an ecclesiastical building on the site is 1271 with the founding of a detached chapel dedicated to the Holv Trinity in a burial ground here. It was replaced by a parish church built in the 14th century by John Lofkin or Lovekyn (Stock-Fishmonger and Mayor of London in 1348, 1358 and 1366). He provided a 'college with master and nine chaplains' to serve the church. On his death there was erected over his tomb, the epitaph: "Worthy John Lofkin, Stock-Fishmonger / Of London, here is lyed, / Four time of this City Lord Major hee / Was it Truth be seyd."

In 1380 Sir William Walworth (Mayor of London 1380-1381 and slayer of Wat Tyler the Rebel) rebuilt the choir and side chapel. When he died in 1385 he was 'buried in the choir, under a fair tomb, with images of him and wife in alabaster'. The tomb was described as being 'most conspicuous' with an epitaph that read: "Hereunder lyeth a man of Fame, / William Walworth called by name; / Fishmonger he was in life-time here, / And twice Lord Mayor, as in Books appere / With courage stout, and manly might / Slew Wat Tyier, in King Richard's sight."

There were two other inscriptions worth noting from the church: "Here lyeth wrapt in clay / The body of William Wray / I have no more to say." And a memorial to Queen Elizabeth I: "She ruled England yeeres 44 and more / And then return to God / At the age of 70 yeeres and somewhat od."

The medieval church survived until the Great Fire of 1666 when it perished in that fiery holocaust. After the fire it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren between 1688 and 1698 at a cost of £4,541 5s. 11 d.

It was to the 17th-century church that John and Charles Wesley came on a number of occasions. John's Diary recalls "Sunday, December 31 1738 6(a.m.) singing, Crooked Lane, prayer and communion". His brother Charles in his Journal wrote "September 25, 1737 (of his sister Hetty), I met her at the sacrament in Crooked Lane". The composer William Shrubsole, sometime organist of St. Bartholomew the Less, Smithfield, and of Spa Fields Chapel, wrote the tune to All Hail the Power of Jesu's Name and named it the Miles Lane Tune after the Dissenting Meeting House in St. Michael's Lane. The Meeting House had been used by the parish while their church was being rebuilt after the Great Fire. The first Minister of the Chapel was the Reverend Matthew Barker who had been the Minister of St. James's Garlickhithe until 1641. He remained at the chapel until 1650 when he was appointed to St. Leonard Eastcheap, where he stayed until 1680 when he returned to the chapel until his death in 1698. In the early part of the 19th century, plans were made to build a new London bridge by the Corporation of the City of London. Part of the plan meant the building of new roadways around either end of the new bridge.

Robert Harrison in the Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society for 1960 wrote "The Vestry strongly opposed the removal of St. Michael's Crooked Lane, in 1831, to assist the Corporation of London to further its plans for the approaches to London Bridge, and addressed the Committee for the New London Bridge an eloquent and moving plea for its retention. After much debate, however, the church was taken down." All the furniture and fittings were offered to the commissioners for building new churches, but there does not seem to be any record of its acceptance. With two exceptions the bells were recast and now hang in River (Kent) Parish Church, and a memorial stone to Mrs. Alcey Litster is now in St. Matthew's Parish Church in Brixton, South West London. The medieval church was one of the thirteen Peculiar Churches of London that were exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London and were responsible directly to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The old fire engine on display belonged to St Michael Crooked Lane. It has only recently been displayed in the narthex having been in store with the Museum of London since 1945.