About this church
The current church of St Leonard, Shoreditch was built in 1736-40 by George Dance the Elder, Wren's pupil and architect of the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor of London’s official residence.
Previously the medieval church had been the place of worship to Shakespeare's actors (commemorated in a memorial on the upstairs lobby wall), including the Burbage family of whom father James was the pioneer behind The Theatre and The Globe and his son Richard played the first roles of Romeo, King Lear, Richard III and Othello. Shakespeare himself worshipped inside the city at St Helen's Bishopsgate and was a frequent visitor.
Features of the church include an important 1756 organ, the last made by Bridge, with all of its original pipework and its original console, which was played on by Handel. Also situated on the organ gallery is a clock in a finely carved rococo surround from the 1740s, attributed to Thomas Chippendale.
The bells of St Leonard's are the ones made famous by the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons'; when the Duke of Cumberland's army returned to London after victory at the 1746 Battle of Culloden they were greeted by a peal of bells from St Leonard's, after which he granted the ringers the name of 'the Royal Cumberland Youths', which they retain to this day.
Famous worshippers include the poet William Keats, his brother being christened here; the physician and social reformer James Parkinson lived in Hoxton Square and is buried here. On a more sombre note thousands of plague and influenza victims are buried in the churchyard; the funeral of Mary Jane Kelly, whose murder by the Ripper caused an outpouring of sympathy in the street, was held here.
St Leonard's was 'St Saviour in the Marshes' in the BBC's award-winning comedy drama 'Rev', much of the show being filmed in the church and churchyard.