St Leonard’s Priory was originally a flourishing Benedictine nunnery with records dating back to 1122, referenced in The Canterbury Tales. When the church standing on the site received a direct hit from a bomb in 1941, the only part to have survived the explosion was the How Memorial Gateway, erected in honour of the one-time Parish Rector Rev. G. A. How in 1894.
Once full of fishponds and orchards, and serving 30 nuns, by the time of the Suppression in 1536 St Leonard’s Priory was already in decline. Its buildings and land were sold to Sir Ralph Sadler who served as a Privy Councillor for King Henry VIII. The medieval church was truncated for use as a parish church for Bromley-by-Bow and the churchyard still has a number of 17th century Huguenot burials. Attempts were made to repair the church in 1842 but the medieval walls collapsed. A new Victorian parish church was built in 1893. The church remained standing until a WWII bomb hit in 1941, and the churchyard was then cleared. In 1969, the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach Road was built up against the site.
Currently on the At Risk register, the gateway has spalling stonework and has lost its finials and part of the crucifix on top. Restoration work will include cleaning of the stonework, repairs to missing and eroded areas, re-carved stone and repointing all stonework. The churchyard will be restored as an attractive
park for local residents.
THANKS TO HOLT...
HOLT has given a grant towards the restoration of the archway and has run Proud Places to the site over the last three years. Local young people have learned about damage to historic stonework and will be involved in the restoration project starting early 2024.