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Listed Building
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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Tower Hamlets (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 35278 80743


788/23/809 THE HIGHWAY E1 29-DEC-50 (South side) Church of St Paul

II* 1817-20 by John Walters. Remodelling, mostly internally, in 1848 by William Butterfield. E end remodelling 1931 by W C Waymouth

MATERIALS: Stock brick, limestone plinth and parts of the spire, stucco dressings.

PLAN: Nave, chancel, W tower with circular upper stage and with flanking vestibules.

EXTERIOR: The façade of this Classical church most frequently seen is that on the N facing The Highway. The nave has two tiers of six rectangular windows, reflecting the internal presence of a gallery. E of the nave is a short, one-bay projection for a chancel, with rectangular windows, one above the other. The S side is a mirror image of the N. The E end has three equal-height round-arched windows formed in 1848. Below is a tall rectangular doorway blocked at the same time. There are stuccoed pilasters at the corners of the chancel, on its E face and at the angle between it and the nave. The nave and chancel have tall plain parapets with parts of them bare brick, others stuccoed as no doubt they would originally all have been. The W end of the church has a stuccoed pedimented gable, four stuccoed pilasters, the centre pair of which frame a large rectangular W entrance approached up six steps. To the sides are a pair of round headed niches and, above the level of these and the doorway three recessed panels stating 'J. Walters Architect, Rebuilt Anno Domini MDCCCXX; J. Streather Builder'. The most striking feature of the exterior is the spire which forms a significant local landmark. The base is square with diagonally projections which carry paired Corinthian angle columns: in between these are single, round-arched belfry windows. Above the projections stand plinths with urns. These in turn surround a circular tempietto which has Corinthian columns and which supports an obelisk top-stage rising from a series of volutes.

INTERIOR: The interior character is defined by the galleries on three sides, the shallow saucer dome over the nave and the narrower space of the chancel which has a shallow curved ceiling and, on the either side, internal vestries at ground-floor level. At the W end, beyond the nave, stairways lead up to the gallery either side of the tower. The brick crypt has been turned into a community centre

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The galleries run round the W, N and S side of the nave and are carried on Tuscan timber columns. The fronts to the galleries are extremely plain (they were once colourfully decorated) and, behind them, much of the original seating survives. In the centre of the W gallery is the organ, early 19th-century but with large parts of it dating from 1714 and one of the few surviving works of Abraham Jordan. Two benefactions boards are mounted on the walls of the tower recording gifts between 1711 and 1848. The font is a survival from the 17th-century church on the site and has an octagonal bowl and stem. Otherwise the furnishings on the ground floor have been almost entirely stripped out. The glass in the E window is by John Hayward and dates from 1964.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: Facing the W end of the church is the large and imposing stock brick St Paul's Institute (separately designated at Grade II), originally a church school. It dates from the early- mid-19th century, has three storeys in the centre and predominantly round-arched windows. Between the churchyard and The Highway is a very fine set of early 19th-century iron railings: these incorporate, at the entrance to the churchyard, a pair of openwork square piers from the top of which spring curved lamp brackets: the piers are decorated with roundels. There are further iron railings around the entrance platform to the church on which stand a good pair of cast-iron lamp standards. To the E and S of the churchyard is a high brick wall, the latter separating the churchyard from the River Thames a few yards away. To the E, S and W of the church are some plain table tombs, mostly with illegible inscriptions. In the NE part of the churchyard there is a timber crucifix on a stone base and which was erected as a First World War memorial.

HISTORY: The present church replaced Shadwell's chapel of 1656 (an unusual Interregnum foundation). Following a petition to Parliament in 1669 it was given its own parish the following year, the first to be carved out of the vast parish of St Dunstan, Stepney, since Whitechapel in 1338. It is often referred to as `the sea captains' church' due to the fact that 75 ship's captains are said to be buried in its churchyard. It claims Captain Cook as an active parishioner, who had his son baptised here.

Rebuilding took place in 1817-20 at a cost of £14,000 and is the only one of three east London churches by the architect John Walters (1782-1821) to survive. Walters lived and practised in Fenchurch Buildings, London. He was an able architect and could work in a variety of styles: Palladian for the Auction Mart, Bartholomew Lane, London (1808-9, demolished); Perpendicular for St Philip's chapel, Stepney (1818-20, demolished); and Classical as at St Paul's. He was also much interested in naval architecture.

Changing tastes in early Victorian times led to William Butterfield (1814-1900) being called in in 1848. He had recently established his reputation as a church architect and would go on to be responsible for some of the foremost achievements of the Gothic Revival, for example, All Saints, Margaret Street, and Keble College, Oxford. Butterfield rearranged the interior, removing an eastern gallery, opening the tripartite E window, and building a wall across the E end of the nave with an arch in the middle to the E of which a sanctuary was formed. Butterfield¿s arch and vault were removed in 1931 by W C Waymouth. War damage led to the nave ceiling being replaced in fibrous plaster. The character of the building has been profoundly affected by almost complete replacement of the ground-level furnishings at the end of the 20th century.

SOURCES: Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 1995, p 1020. Basil F L Clarke, Parish Churches of London, 1966, p 157. Bridget Cherry, Charles O'Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 5: East, 2005, p 518-19.

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The church of St Paul is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * It is a building of considerable importance as a church of the immediate post-Waterloo period whose external appearance remains scarcely altered. Its fine tiered spire is an important local landmark. * It also retains significant work from the early 19th century in terms of three of its galleries, the form of the nave roof (although the fabric is renewed), and organ, despite internal clearance. * The church has strong associations with the maritime history of the Port of London. * The entrance gates and railing are particularly good.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 25 October 2017.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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War Memorials Online, accessed 25 October 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 25 October 2017 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

Images of England

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Date: 17 Oct 2007
Reference: IOE01/16982/25
Rights: Copyright IoE Mr Anthony Rau. Source Historic England Archive
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