The Church Interior

Internally the church has changed a great deal since 1715. Built to seat 1,000 people, there were galleries, box pews, and a large three-tiered pulpit. In 1876 William Butterfield, influenced by the Oxford movement, carried out a re-ordering of the interior of St. Mary's. Butterfield designed an altar worthy of being the focal point of the building and painted the church in vivid colours. Marble steps were built, and choir stalls were created from the old gallery fronts. The box pews were cut down to size, and the pulpit dismantled. The present pulpit is the surviving top deck of the original. Wrought iron screens were constructed from the old 18th century hat racks!

The reredos, carved by Joseph Wade (whose memorial cartouche is in the south aisle), had copies of old master paintings installed in 1925. Above the reredos, the east window is filled by a representation of the Assumption of Our Lady. The 16th century German glass was brought to Rotherhithe in the early 19th century, possibly taken as a prize of war during the Napoleonic wars.

The smaller reredos of the sacrament chapel was brought to St. Mary's when the Clare College Mission closed in 1966. It is a woodcarving depicting the Epiphany, made in Oberammergau. The links with Clare College were created in 1730 and continue to this day. The College arms are shown on the notice board, and there is a list of Rectors on the north wall under the organ gallery.

The organ at St. Mary's was built and installed in the 18th century, and is one of England's musical treasures. Its beautiful tonal qualities have been faithfully preserved over the intervening centuries.

The rererdos is decorated by Wade's carvings.


Composite picture, illustrating wood carvings:


The Nave and East end of St. Mary's

The Chancel arch

The arch is decorated in gold with Bishop's mitres and Royal crowns symbolising Church and State.

The interior, viewed from the organ gallery

The East Window, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary

The Arms of Charles II

A finely carved shield of the Royal Arms of the time of Charles the Second, which was moved from its original position over the Chancel Arch in 1876 and is now sited over the entrance to the vestry.

An assurance of loyalty to the Crown in politically uncertain times.


The Reredos of the Sacrament Chapel

This small reredos is a wood carving depicting the Epiphany. It was made in Oberammergau, and was originally sited in the Clare College Mission, which closed in 1966. Links with Clare College have existed since 1730.

The West end, the Organ and Font

The organ is a unique musical instrument of historic importance.

The clock on the front of the gallery was installed in 1765. It was made by a local clockmaker, G Gulde of Lower Road.

The Crypt
Parts of the earlier building are visible in the approach passage to the three large vaulted spaces which make up the main crypt areas.

The last burial in the crypt was in1850. The remains of some 2000 bodies and coffins were covered with quicklime, and sealed over with a layer of what is now a rather crumbly cement mortar.

There are long standing plans to remove the remains and re-inter them in a sensitive fashion, and afterwards to convert the space into a centre providing much needed resources for local people. But for lack of funds this project would have been commenced long ago. Whatever the difficulties, St Mary Rotherhithe must remain in the service of present generations, the successors of those by whom and for whom the church was built.


The Pulpit and portable font.

The original pulpit was formed of three tiers, and was dismantled in the 19th century.

The top tier was used to make the present pulpit.

The Choir Stalls.

These were constructed from materials salvaged from the Gallery taken down in the 19th century.When the interior of the church was re-ordered (1876), choir stalls were created from the old gallery fronts. The carvings on the Rector's stall were also part of the salvaged woodwork (top right). Box pews were cut down to modern size. At one time pews could be rented by wealthier families, and were designated by numbers. A relic of this system survives, a numbered and reused pew end (bottom right).

The Rector's stall decoration
A relic from the day's of rented pew's

The Lectern
Carved oak lectern, presented to the church in the19thcentury, during the restoration of the interior


'The Bishop's Chair'

This unusual chair (one of two) was made from timber salvaged from 'The Fighting Temeraire', a 98 gun ship of the line which fought at the battle of Trafalgar (1805). The ship was broken up in 1838 at the yard of John Beatson (a Churchwarden). Two episcopal chairs and the altar in the sacrament chapel are made of wood which was salvaged from it.

The artist J M W Turner made this British ship the subject of his picture 'The Fighting Temeraire towed to her last berth', which is on view in the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square. One evening in 1838 Turner was boating off Greenwich Marshes with friends, in the region known as Blackwall Reach, when the old ship was towed past them on her way to the breaker's yards at Rotherhithe. The artist Clarkson Stanfield is reported to have said 'There's a fine picture, Turner', and Turner went home to paint it!

The artist shows the ship on a calm sea, set against the symbolic backdrop of a setting sun as she is towed to the breaker's yard. This visual metaphor for transience and decay should perhaps be weighed against the response of local craftsmen, who made items of church furniture (and probably much else beside) from some of the ship's timbers. The Bishop's chair is a surviving example of their work, a relic of which the appearance still seems to suggest its maritime origin. (Temeraire; Reckless)