George the Martyr is one of the ancient parishes of Southwark and probably the first church in London to be dedicated to St George. The earliest record of the church is in The Annals of Bermondsey Priory, for the year 1122. It records the gift of the advowson of St George’s to the Priory by Thomas de Arderne and his son.
Little or nothing is known about the original Norman church, which was rebuilt at the end on the 14th century. The second church appears on some early maps and drawings of Southwark and can be seen in William Hogarth’s picture of Southwark Fair in 1733. Almost immediately after this the church was again demolished and replaced with the current structure, consecrated in 1736 (although the architect, John Price, died before its completion).
The church retains its Georgian appearance, though a spectacular new ceiling was designed in 1897, in an Italianate style, by Basil Champneys. During the Second World War, the building suffered blast damage and a major restoration was carried out at the beginning of the 1950s.
In the Middle Ages, the Borough High Street ran south from London Bridge, ending at the church, with St George’s Fields lying beyond. On special occasions the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London would venture out to St Georges to welcome important visitors, as they did for Henry V, on his return from Agincourt.
Amongst the famous associated with St George’s are Peter Carmelianus (the poet and Latin scholar to Henry VII) who was Rector; the poet, John Gower, who was a benefactor; Nahum Tate, author of the carol While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night (who was buried here); Edward Cocker and Edmund Gunther (both mathematicians). Charles Dickens also has a considerable link with the parish and church (see ‘Our Community and other links’ – The Dickens Fellowship).
During the 19th century, the Borough became one of the most densely populated areas in England. The Vestry Meeting, chaired by the Rector, continued to discharge local authority functions for the parish up until the late 1890s, when the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark was established.
There are continuous registers dating from 1602 (although all historic registers are now with the Metropolitan Archive) and records of the Civil Parish and its Vestry Meeting are held at the nearby Southwark Local Studies Library.
Today, the church stands in the midst of an area undergoing considerable regeneration and change. We recently underwent a massive restoration project which put the structure of the building back on secure foundations, and turned the Crypt into an attractive and spacious community resource.
The Organ at St George’s
The Organ has two keyboard and one pedal board and is played from a detached console in the West Gallery. The action is electro-pneumatic and the pipes made by several builders chronologically by Father Smith (1682), Fruin (1808), and Hill, Norman & Beard in re-builds in 1939 and 1967.
The organ contains some 200 pipes that are over 300 years old and are thought to be made by Father Smith. The organ contains a lot of material of interest to organ historians and researchers as few instruments from this period have survived. The church also connections with Abraham Jordon, another celebrated builder and parishioner who may have installed his first organ here.
In 1735, the 8 bells from the old church were repaired and rehung on a new frame. In 1805, a parishioner complained of the “clanking of St George’s candlesticks” and asking for two treble bells and the Great Bell to be re-cast to improve the peal.
Times of WorshipMonday to Friday
Morning Prayer - 8.30am
Evening Prayer - 5pm
Wednesday Eucharist - 12.45pm
Morning Prayer, Saturday 9.00am followed by Open Church until Noon.
Sunday Parish Eucharist - 11am