This is a yard and narrow alley that snakes around the sides of a City of London church that’s over 800 years old. The church, of St Mary Abchurch dates to at least the 12th century, and as its name suggests, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Abchurch is unclear but thought to be the name of an early vicar.
The patronage of the church belonged to the convent of St Mary Overy, Southwark, until around 1455, when it passed to the master and chaplains of the college of Corpus Christi at the church of St Laurence Pountney. Later, Archbishop Parker persuaded Elizabeth I to grant the church to his college, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which has appointed the incumbent ever since.
The medieval church was improved in 1611, which was unfortunate timing, as it burnt down in 1666, along with pretty much everything else around it during the Great Fire of London.
The church was rebuilt in 1681-86, pretty much on the same plot as it had occupied before, so the alleyway that runs around the side of the church was preserved. What was likely the graveyard originally was not reused and became the large courtyard that sits outside the church to this day.
So what you have is a mix of a large courtyard that then compresses down to a crack of an alley between the church and the other buildings in the far corner.
Down the alley, there’s a rather odd bollard stuck off to one side of the passage, and there are some metal bars sticking out. There used to be a metal barrier around the church, and this could be a remnant of that.
A bit further down the alley ends in Sherborne Lane, but have a look at the side of the church, where you can see a small piece of ironmongery saying F.Smith and St M A 1841. It’s an early form of fire hydrant, although these days, in some irony, the hole for the hosepipe is now used for cigarettes.
The church is usually open from 11am until 3pm, from Monday to Thursday. It’s also the home to the Friends of the City Churches group, which opens up churches around the city for people to visit.
The alley, is a convenient shortcut through this part of London, although apart from its age, it’s pretty unexciting.