The 17th and 18th Centuries

Religious turmoil ignited by the Reformation continued well into the 1600s, and became a major cause of the English Civil War in the 1640’s. Non-conformity was rife in the Southwark area, and the parish included at least one congregation of Quakers by the Georgian period, confirmed in the 1725 parish visitation. Indeed, the Acts of Parliament proposed strict guidelines on how to deal with non-conformists, for example when they refused to join local Militia’s on account of their conscientious objections. The 1725 visitation also states there were no ‘papists’ in the parish.

Unlicensed ‘puritan’ preachers would force their way into churches to rage against the corrupt and ‘Roman’ Church of England. On 12th December 1641, St. George the Martyr experienced this when a certain Vincent, a cobbler from Holborn, forced his way into the pulpit to rally against the Book of Common Prayer. As stated, Southwark in the period was a hot-bed of non-conformity, so the incident was probably not an isolated one. During the English Civil War, the Royalist Army placed artillery pieces in the churchyard and in 1660, Charles II prayed in the church as he was returning from exile to restore the Monarchy.

Two interesting anecdotes have survived from the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period, the area of the modern day Borough Tube station was an execution ground. In June 1610, Michael Banks was sentenced to be hanged. His execution was botched, and so he was taken to St. George the Martyr to recover for three hours before being taken out and hung again. The church also had the honour of being the burial place of the oldest man in England. Born in 1620, Richard Griffin died in 1736, supposedly aged 116 years old. At his funeral, according to his grave stone, his coffin was accompanied by 1116 ancient people (perhaps a mistake, and meant to be 116) with the oldest Pall Bearer being 95.