The Making of Modern Bow, 1900–Today

Bow Church Choir 1909 cup
Bow Church Choir, winners of the 1909 Choral Challenge Cup for Poplar. Several of the boys and men of the choir died during the First World War.
St Mary's football team, 1937
St Mary's football team, 1937, with Rector George Ansell and George Lansbury MP
Royal Visit: the Queen visits Bow Church with Rev Prebendary G.F. Ansell after the Church was blitzed; 1951
Royal Visit: the Queen visits Bow Church with Rev Prebendary G.F. Ansell after the Church was blitzed; 1951
St Stephen's Memorial Chapel
Rector Debbie Frazer and men of the Tower Hamlets Rifles hold a Remembrance Service at St Stephen's Memorial Chapel.
West arch
The damage suffered by the western arch during the Blitz is clearly visible today.
Church roof today
The lighting installed in 2011 reveals not only the 1900 double glazing but also the beauty of the coupled rafter roof (obscured and preserved for several centuries by an 18th-century plaster ceiling).

All Change at Bow

The twentieth century was a period of great economic, ethnic and political change for Bow and the East End. Mahatma Gandhi stayed at Kingsley Hall just around the corner, air raids during both world wars caused much damage, and in 1941 the church took a direct hit. In 2012 the Olympic Games came to east London, leading to massive redevelopment of the land that lies east of Bow Church.

During the First World War, Bow Church had a narrow escape in 1916, when a Zeppelin bombed Bromley High Street. The Second World War brought destruction. On the night of 10/11 May 1941 the church was hit in the last major raid of the Blitz (and one of the worst, with 1,400 Londoners killed.) The tower and western part of the church were smashed and the building was closed for seven months, but the eastern part was patched up and opened for worship in December.


In 1949 restoration of the war-damaged church began, when Harry Goodhard Rendell, the church architect, said, ‘Bow church has in no way been destroyed. It still exists, however rickety and wounded’ – though there was still much to do when the Queen (later the Queen Mother) visited the church in 1951. St Mary’s, with its finely redesigned tower and new bells, was rededicated on 30 November 1952.

The years since the War have seen enormous changes: the rebuilding of the parish: motorways and the flyover coming uncomfortably close to the church building : changes in the make up of the local population with the arrival of a large number of Moslem neighbours and increasing ‘gentrification’: new groupings of churches with the Bow Group of Parishes and all the wider changes in Church and society, women priests and new forms of worship among them. In 2006 came the major development of the union of the parishes of St Mary’s and Holy Trinity, Mile End.

Through all these changes the ancient church of ‘Stratford Bow’ has survived. Now with the Leaside Regeneration Plan doing up the area around the church, the building of the 2012 Olympic development, and the energetic use of grants to do repairs and improvements to the old building, St Mary’s can look forward confidently to the future in Bow.

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