St Olave Hart St, City of London, and its sculptural interest

St Olave Hart Street, with gateway.

The little City Church of St Olave Hart Street has a small but interesting and important collection of monuments from the 17th Century. The building itself is largely 15th Century, and retains an intimate, medieval atmosphere. Definitely worth a visit if in the area; it is very close to Fenchurch Street.

St Olave (Olave or Olaf Haraldson) was an 11th Century Norwegian who fought on the side of the English (Saxons, then, under Ethelred) against the invading Danes. He returned to become King of Norway, and apparently fell after promoting Christianity too vigorously for the tastes of his countrymen. The church we see today is largely 15th Century, but underneath, though I have not seen it, is a late Norman crypt, from the 13th Century, and within it the remains of a more ancient well which would presumably have been from the Saxon building once on this site. The church escaped the Great Fire, but was damaged in WW2, and was restored by Glanfield in the 1950s, who added the south porch.

Our best view of the exterior is from the corner of Seething Lane and Hart Street. We can see 15th century stonework and windows, and some more modern exterior cladding which will look fine in a hundred years or so, and the brick upper part to the little tower, which dates from 1731-2, by the architect John Widdows, according to Pevsner. On the Seething Lane front is the entrance gate to the tiny churchyard, a macabre construction with three skulls in the pediment and two more on the corners, dating from 1658. Back round the corner in Hart Street, the modern frontage round the entrance has two spandrel figures of angels with trumpets, and next door, on the Rectory, built in the 1950s replacing an 18th Century building lost to WW2 bombing, is a modern stone panel depicting King Olave with axe etc, and a head by his feet.

Inside, the church gives an instant impression of medieval closeness, a little cramped, with many monuments and furnishings to see, a warmly coloured oak ceiling (a modern copy, I believe, of the destroyed original), most of the floor filled with pews, and clustered columns of some ancient limestone separating the narrow nave from the aisles. Pevsner suggests these pillars are probably reused from the 13th Century church. Most of the furnishings survived WW2, including the 17th Century pulpit from St Benet Gracechurch Street, attributed tentatively by some to Grinling Gibbons, the panelling, and sword rests.

Andrew Riccard, and by comparison, Lord Mordaunt in Fulham Church (see text).

The monuments are significant, including those to the famous London diarist Pepys and his wife, and various other 17th and 18th century personages, among whom is a high official of the East India Company. We note several of them, starting with the latter:

The church also holds some notable brasses from the 18th Century, but these are not the subject of these pages.

With thanks to the Church authorities for permission to include photos from inside the church; their website is

16th Century - Peter Cappone monument, d.1582.

Top of page

Go west and north up Mark Street to the tower of All Hallows Staining // Or north to St Katharine Cree // or St Gabriel's churchyard // and thence to St Andrew Undershaft

City Churches // London sculpture // Sculptors // Introduction to church monuments

Angel statues // Cherub sculpture


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