Set in the middle of a busy road in an area which has undergone much change, the church’s architecture echoes this, including a medieval timber roofed nave, revealed in a 19th century restoration spearheaded by CR Ashbee after years under plaster, and a 15th century tower, partly rebuilt in the 1950s by Goodhart Rendel after war damage.
The churchyard is shaded by tall London planes that form a grove leading up to the west door. Although burials ceased in the 19th century, numerous historic tombs survive.
The 14th century rubble-stone north aisle wall is the oldest part; most of the rest of the medieval fabric dates from a major rebuilding of the 1480s-90s. The nave has a panelled tie beam roof of very shallow pitch, probably dating from the later 15th century, with carved bosses. Thanks to CR Ashbee, Arts & Crafts architect and designer and social reformer, the church was saved from destruction and restoration work was carried out in 1896-1900, including the pitched roofed vestry extension, the choir stalls (designed by Ashbee) and double glazing of small panelled leaded glass.
Catastrophic blast damage from a bombing raid on 11 May 1941 brought down the upper half of the tower and shattered the nave. The scholar and architect HS Goodhart-Rendel prepared designs for rebuilding, carried out between 1949 and 1951. The tower was rebuilt in English bond brickwork with stone dressings, surmounting it with a wooden cupola to bear the clock faces, making it possible to judge immediately the extent of the surviving original fabric.
The glass in the east window which, unusually, contains no religious imagery (composed of classical imagery, flaming urns and cute bird and animals) was made by Goodhart-Rendel’s partner, H Lewis Curtis.
St Mary’s eight bells were replaced after the bombing, restoring ‘The great bell of Bow’ in the rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’.
A battered octagonal stone font survives at the west end: it was brought back into the church in the late 19th century, having been discarded in 1624 and installed in the garden of the vicarage! St Stephen’s War Memorial Chapel has curved altar rails and monuments listing the names of the fallen, brought here from the now demolished St Stephen Tredegar Road and also from Holy Trinity, Mile End, when the latter parish merged with St Mary’s in 2006. St Mary’s own Roll of Honour is in the adjacent bay.
The church contains memorials from every century of the church’s life, including George Lansbury (1859-1940).