The church of St Mary Somerset stood near the banks of the Thames on what is now Upper Thames Street. All that remains to be seen today is the tower shown in the picture here. The name ‘Somerset’ could either be a reference to Ralph de Somery who appears in some contemporaneous records, or to Summer’s Hythe – a nearby landing on the banks of the Thames. The church was first mentioned in 1190 and we have some idea what it looked like from the Wyngaerde panorama of 1543. You can just see the tower outlined in red in the picture below. This building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, along with many others including the neighbouring church of St Mary Mounthaw. The latter was not rebuilt after the fire and its parish was combined with St Mary Somerset when Wren rebuilt the church in 1694. It was one of the last Wren churches to be rebuilt.
One of the interesting points to note is seen on the parish map below. The parishes on the bank of the river extend right to the mid point of the Thames. This is presumably so that could ‘capture’ any of the busy waterfront activity in their tithes (the payments owed to the church). Despite this, St Mary Somerset was a very poor parish and under the Union of Benefices Act, the church was demolished in 1867. Its parish was combined with St Nicholas Cole.
Luckily, the tower was saved shown in this watercolour from the 1850s. Its most interesting feature is the arrangement of pinnacles on the top of the tower. The alternating array of vases and obelisks creates an unusual optical illusion as you walk around it, making the tower almost appear to grow and shrink in size. There is a convenient footbridge over the busy road below where you can try this out for yourself. It is thought that this clever design was the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor who also created the stunning churches of St Mary Woolnoth and Christ Church Spitalfields. In the years before the Second World Wa,r the tower was used as a Ladies Toilet. But it is now a Grade 1 listed building and currently being conversion into a private family home.
When the area around the church was redeveloped, the human remains from the church (and those of St Mary Mounthaw) were reinterred in the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park. If you visit you will find the memorial to both churches pictured below
The Wikipedia page for St Mary Somerset is here