The first church of St George the Martyr in Southwark was built at the beginning of the 12th century. It was not mentioned in the Doomsday Book but in 1122 it was presented to the Abbey of Bermondsey by Thomas Ardern and his son.
Little is known about the medieval church except that it was rebuilt at the end of the 14th century. Two stones, which may have come from this second building, are embedded at clock level in the inside wall of the 18th century tower. Transcriptions of the stones read:
‘Edward, Lord of Hastings, caused me to be made AD 1438’
‘O! Here I will set up my everlasting rest’.
15th century ‘letters of indulgence’ were granted from Rome to persons helping the guild of St George the Martyr, Southwark. This guild, founded for the maintenance of one priest, was still in existence during the Reformation and was worth £6 2s 8d per year. On St George’s Day 1529, Henry VIII made a gift of 13s 4d to the fraternity.
No accounts or minutes have survived prior to 1619 by which time the building was in a poor state of repair. In 1629, the ‘Church steeple and gallery repaired and newly pewed and beautified and the South Aisle enlarged by the Parishioners….. and other good Benefactors’ – the latter including most of the greater City Livery Companies.
By 1732 the building was once again in such a bad state that it was considered ‘dangerous for the inhabitants of the Parish to attend the Worship of God therein’. An Act of Parliament authorised a new building of brick and the new Georgian style building was designed by John Price, who died in 1726, not having lived to see St George’s completed. The foundation stone was laid on St George’s Day, 1734 and the main part of the structure completed by 1735.
In 1899, the Crypt was cleared and 1,484 coffins were removed and re-interred at Brookwood Cemetery.
The foundations of the south wall were strengthened in 1938 and helped save the building from collapse during the Second World War, when the damage from enemy action was considerable.