The lost church of St Botolph Billingsgate is one of four that were dedicated to that Saint; the other three still remain. The churches to St Botolph at Aldersgate , Bishopsgate and Aldgate all stood just outside gates in the old Roman walls of the city. These gates were only demolished in the 1760s. However the ‘gate’ of Billingsgate may have simply been a wharf on the banks of the Thames. Legend has it that King Belinus, constructed a fortified water gate there in 390 BC, hence the name “Belinus’s Gate” becoming “Billingsgate” but this may just be myth.
All four churches were dedicated to St Botolph also known as Botwulf, who was a 7th century Anglo Saxon Saint. He was revered as the patron saint of trade and travel. So the logical position for these buildings was near a departure point – on land or water. Travellers setting off on a journey could ask for a blessing at the church, so that God would look favourably on their venture.
We know roughly what the church looks like from the Copperplate Map of 1555. Unlike the other three churches, St Botolph Billingsgate was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 which started in nearby Pudding Lane where the Monument stands today. The parish was united with the church of St George Botolph Lane which was itself later demolished in 1904. Both parishes ended up combined with St Mary at Hill. A stained glass window in St Mary at Hill commemorates St Botolph Billingsgate.
The only visible remains of St Botolph Bishopsgate is its former churchyard. This was at the small open area called One Tree Hill on the corner of Botolph Lane and Monument Street. Even the commemorative blue plaque shown in the photo has been lost.
But that is not quite the end of the story. In 1982 Billingsgate Fish Market was relocated to Canary Wharf. The market building was listed and so still exists today, but the lorry park next door could be developed. The photo shows Billingsgate Fish Market today and the modern dark glass building to its left was built over the old lorry park – the site of St Botolph Billingsgate.
Excavations on that lorry park revealed the remains of the old church. There is a documentary video on YouTube showing the excavations you can see here. One remaining wall of the church was uncovered showing a checkerboard pattern, which was much beloved in medieval times. So if you want to imagine what the church could have looked like the checkerboard patterns of medieval buildings in the City like St Bartholomew the Great or Charterhouse will give you some impression. During the excavation an Angel Corbel belonging to the church of St Botolph Billingsgate was unearthed and mistakenly dumped with the spoil in Thurrock from where it was later luckily saved.
One last coda to the story is the excavation near of One Tree Park when Monument House was built. This uncovered a Roman Culvert beneath churchyard! Had the gravediggers of St Botolph Billingsgate in medieval times dug a little deeper the Roman sewer would have been filled with bodies. Details and photos of that excavation can be seen here – another example of the extraordinary layers of history in the City of London.