The Old Church is the only surviving Elizabethan Church in London and one of the oldest in the country to have been built as an Anglican church.
It owes its origins to Stoke Newington’s sixteenth century Lord of the Manor, William Patten. In 1563 he decided to rebuild the old parish church, which had become almost derelict. You can see the date, and the motto ‘ab alto’ (‘from above’), above the main door. The main surviving structure from Patten’s time is the south aisle which appears to have been designed as a private chapel for himself and his family. The red brickwork on the walls and the arcade separating the chapel from the nave date from Patten’s time.
The Old Church was heavily bombed during the London blitz of October 1940 but repairs were quickly carried out and services, including weddings, were held here from Christmas of that year.
Further post-war repairs included the removal of most of the nineteenth century box pews. A few remain to this day – so you can experience how uncomfortable they were to sit in!
The inside of the church was remodelled in 2013. Toilets and a kitchen were installed so it can now be used as a flexible arts and community space.
The graveyard contains monuments to people who were prominent in the fight against the slave trade. James Stephen, William Wilberforce’s brother in law, and a chief adviser on the anti-slavery bill, lies in the south-eastern part of the churchyard, just to the right of the path that leads round the east end. Wilberforce’s sister and daughter are also both buried here. Wilberforce himself expressed a wish to be buried here, but in the end his friends decided that Westminster Abbey was more fitting. The poet, proto-feminist and abolitionist Anna Barbauld’s tomb is to the right of the path leading up to the main south door.
The most elaborate tomb inside the church is that of John Dudley, who succeeded Patten as Lord of the Manor. You can see it behind the pulpit. Dudley held a number of offices at the court of Queen Elizabeth. The memorial to the Hartopp family at the end of the north aisle commemorates some of the descendants of Charles Fleetwood, Oliver Cromwell’s son-in- law, who lived in Fleetwood House in Church Street.