St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, London

St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch is where John Keats’ three younger brothers were baptised – all on the same day!

The Keats Connection

It is assumed that Keats was born at the Swan and Hoop in Moorgate, and he was certainly baptised at the nearby St Botolph’s in 1795.

By the time their next child was born in 1797, Thomas and Frances Keats had established their own family home in Craven Street, Shoreditch. Three sons were born to them there:

  • George, born on 28 February 1797
  • Tom, born on 18 November 1799
  • Edward, born on 28 April 1801

All three boys were baptised on the same day, 24 September 1801, at St Leonard’s in Shoreditch.

Unfortunately, Edward did not survive childhood, and died in 1802, aged only 20 months.

Rather more happily, a daughter Fanny was born in 1803, after the family had moved back to Moorgate.

Before Then

There’s always so much history associated with these City locations!

St Leonard’s, also known simply as Shoreditch Church, stands where all the Roman roads joined up, including roads from Chester, Bath, Lincoln, York and Colchester. (All roads lead to London, in this case!) The Wallbrook river rose at the site, making fresh water available, though I assume it’s all underground now.

There was an Anglo-Saxon church, which was replaced by a Norman church, with mention of its first vicar in 1185. This Norman building became “the actors’ church”, as it was sited near New Inn Yard, the Theatre, and the Curtain. James, Cuthbert and Richard Burbage were buried in the church, as well as Richard Tarlton and Gabriel Spenser!

Given the nearby river and the high water table, the church was fated not to last. When it collapsed, the current building was constructed on top of it – and the old church that would have been known by Shakespeare became the crypt of the new one.

The current church dates to 1740, and was designed by George Dance the Elder. Its light and airy style was very innovative at the time, and initially wasn’t received well.

The Church’s Wikipedia page states that the font is one of the original 18th century fixtures – and, if so, that means it’s the actual font in which the three younger Keats brothers were baptised.

The font, which I assume is the one used in baptising the Keats boys.

Today

The Church is well worth a visit, though I suppose there’s no denying it has a fairly shabby, lived-in feel to it. That’s kind of refreshing, now I think about it! While pretty much everything but the ceiling needs a fresh lick of paint, the overall light colour scheme with a teal accent is just delightful.

The least shabby part of the church is the gorgeous ceiling!

Details

  • Address: 119 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London E1 6JN
  • Tube: Old Street on the Northern line and National Rail
  • Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 12 noon to 2pm, and for a service on Sunday. Given the restricted hours, it’s best to check ahead, if possible!
  • Tours are available of the crypt and the tower, but only by appointment.

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