St Nicholas Cole Abbey
The Church is first mentioned in 1144 and was once known as St Nicholas-behind-Fish Street. Old Fish Street Hill runs along the east end and in Elizabethan times there was a fish tank fed by the river attached to the outside wall.
A later name was Cold Abbey derived from cold harbour meaning shelter for travellers.
Being dedicated to St Nicholas, the Church kept the tradition of electing a boy bishop on St Nicholas' Day up to the Reformation. After Mary's accession, which followed the reign of the protestant Edward VI this was the first Church to celebrate Mass in Latin with a cross and candles on the altar. A century later the patronage belonged to Puritan Colonel Hacker, guard commander at Charles I execution.
After the Great Fire this was the first Church rebuilt by Wren. The churchwardens resisted Charles II's wish to give the site to Lutherans. The bill for the work in 1678 was £5 6s 11d and included items such as 'Dinner for Dr Wren and other Company - £2 14s.0d' and 6d for 'half a pint of canary for Dr Wren's coachman'.
Wren adopted a simple classical design in radical contrast to the still fashionable decorated gothic. The quaint steeple resembles an inverted funnel. It has a balcony and railings at the top. The pulpit, alter rail and font-cover, together with tracery on the west doors and south entrance are all 17th century wood work. So too is the royal coat of arms over the south door.
The Bowyers' Company have links going back over many centuries. There is a brass plaque commemorating the burial, at St Nicholas in 1629, of a benefactor to the company - James Wood.
To the Glory of GOD
and in memory of James Wood of London Citizen and Bowyer
who was buried near this spot on the 23rd of July MDCXXIX
This alter step was relaid AD MCMIII
by The Worshipful Company of Bowyers
in grateful remembrance of his benefactions
and again by the Company 10th May MCMLXII
The front door was on the north side but when Queen Victoria Street was built across the churchyard in 1871 the backdoor became the main entrance with a gilded statue of St Nicholas above the gateway. After this time it was known as St Nicholas Coal Hole due to the blackened interior caused by smoke seeping up from the underground trains below.
The Rector from 1883 to 1900 was the leading Christian Socialist Henry Shuttleworth who made the church a centre for debate complete with a bar. He is said to be the model for the jolly cleric Morell in Bernard Shaw's Candida.
Fire bombs gutted the church in 1941 and in its grim state can be seen in the 1951 film The Lavender Hill Mob where a bullion robbery is staged outside. By 1962 the building was restored with a newer taller spire and dramatic stained glass by Keith New. The Free Church of Scotland occupied the church between 1982 and 2003.