St Mary-le-Bow is a historic church in the City of London, off Cheapside. There has been a church on this site dating back to before the arrival of the Normans in 1066. In 1469 the first reference to Bow bells were made in relation to the building of the steeple. In 1631 the poet and Minister John Donne (1572-1631) died and left a bequest for the upkeep of Bow bell. John Donne wrote the famous poem 'For whom the bell tolls' (No man is an island)! The current building was built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1670 and 1680, after the Great Fire of London destroyed the previous church.
Dick Whittington - Lord Mayor of London!
Dick Whittington, who the famous children's story and pantomime is based on, was a real person (1350 - 1423). He was a Mercer (a dealer in cloth) and was elected Lord Mayor of London four times. In the children's story Dick Whittington leaves London with his cat but is called back by the sound of the ringing of Bow bells.
The Bow bells are important to the traditions of London and it is said that to be a true cockney you must be born within hearing distance of the sound Bow bells. Based on this fact there were no Cockneys born between 11th May 1941 (when the bells were destroyed in a World War II German air raid) and 21st December 1961 (when the Bells rung for the first time after 20 years of restoration work). The BBC used the peal of the bells of Bow at the start of each broadcast to occupied Europe during World War II.