St Ghastly Grim
The City of London is awash with ancient churches - but they don't get any better than St Olave's on Hart Street, at the junction with the wonderfully named Seething Lane. The old Navy Office where Samuel Pepys worked was on Seething Lane; he lived on this lane; this was his local church - 'our own church' as he described it in his diary; it's where he was buried.
The church contains memorials to Samuel and to his wife Elizabeth. Indeed, it's almost as if they are looking into each other's eyes from opposite sides of the church nave.
St Olave's was one of the few City churches to survive the Great Fire of 1666, of which Pepys was such a telling chronicler. It didn't fare as well during the Blitz but was magnificently restored in the 1950s, with the help of the Norwegian government. St Olave (or Olaf) is the patron saint of Norway - king as well as saint, in the tradition of the martyr monarchs of that period. He and his troops fought alongside Ethelred the Unready and in 1014 succeeded in evicting the Danish army from London. He eventually was overthrown as King of Norway and died in battle in 1030.
This church was established within decades of Olave's death, and the current building dates back to the fifteenth century. It's much cosier than most City churches, and has a fine array of wood sculpted memorials, as well as a small crypt.
The churchyard attracted the attention of Charles Dickens - he writes of it in The Uncommercial Traveller:
One of my best beloved churchyards, I call the churchyard of St Ghastly Grim. ... It lies at the heart of the City, and the Blackwall Railway shrieks at it daily. It has a small, small churchyard with a ferocious strong spiked iron gate, like a jail. The gate is ornamented with skulls and crossbones larger than the life, wrought in stone; but it likewise came into the mind of Saint Ghastly Grim, that to stick iron spikes atop of the stone skulls, as though they were impaled, would be a pleasant device. Therefore the skulls grin aloft horribly, thrust through and through with iron spears.
And there they are still, fronting Pepys's Seething Lane, much as Dickens described them.
Very much enjoyed this post, Andrew. We stumbled on St Olave's by accident but were very glad to do so - our twin grandsons are at St Olave's School, once (I think) the parish school of Ghastly Grim, now off in leafy Orpington. And my niece's chamber orchestra (Blaze) had a concert there yesterday. Your excellent photos confirm the connection!
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