St Mary de Crypt Church
Close to the centre of Gloucester on Southgate Street is the ancient church of St Mary de Crypt. This church is a mixture of styles – its west doorway is Norman, the tower is Gothic (14th century) and the tall east window is Tudor (16th century).
The church is full of Gloucester history both inside and out. Before going inside the visitor should first have a look round outside. See if you can spot the hole in the north buttress of the east window. This is where a Royalist cannonball hit the church during the Siege of Gloucester in 1643. The church was being used as an ammunition factory and store at the time!
Around the edge of the churchyard are numerous tombstones and headstones retrieved from the graveyard. Some of these are beautifully carved and date from the 16th and 17th centuries.
A more modern addition is a wonderful stone seat, carved by local stone masons, celebrating the history of Gloucester. Beside the churchyard are the remaining arches and walls of the 16th century Greyfriars Priory.
The church is one of the oldest in Gloucester. Building started in 1080 and consecration finally took place in 1137.
A number of Gloucester churches were dedicated to Saint Mary and to distinguish this one from the others it was called ‘de Crypt’ because of its two vaults beneath the floor.
The church was rebuilt and extended in the 14th and 15th centuries when the tower was added. It was rebuilt again in the early 16th century.
Inside, the 15th century nave contains an early renaissance pulpit from which the Methodist evangelist George Whitfield preached his first sermon.
Many monuments in St Mary de Crypt bear testament to the famous people associated with the church. The great 16th century benefactors, John and Joan Cooke who founded the adjoining Crypt Grammar School, are buried beneath the chancel floor. Their fine memorial brasses have been moved to the north transept.
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Another very famous Gloucesterian was Robert Raikes (1736 – 1811), founder of the Sunday School Movement. Next to the font on the south side of the church stands the Raikes chapel. The Raikes family lived in the house in Southgate Street opposite the church. Robert Raikes was born in that house, baptised in St Mary de Crypt and is buried in the vault under the family chapel.
There is a monument to Charles Hoare, whose family sailed on the Mayflower, as well as one to Sir Thomas Bell (1486-1566), benefactor and manufacturer of caps – it is said he employed 300 people! His memorial states in detail the terms of his will which make interesting reading.
Crypt Grammar School
As mentioned above, John Cooke (d.1528) and his wife Joan Cooke (d. 1545) built and endowed the well-known Crypt Grammar School. The original schoolroom was built at right-angles to St Mary de Crypt church and can still be seen today.
John and Joan had long wished to provide ‘...a continually free Grammar school for the continual erudition and teaching children and Scholars their (sic) forever’.
When John died he left a considerable fortune with instructions that Joan use some of it to fulfil their wishes.
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