St Martin in the Fields

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of Westminster …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. There were a further five in the City and Liberties of Westminster.

St Martin in the Fields was originally built at least as long ago as the twelfth century, and subsequently rebuilt in the sixteenth, around 1544.  It was referred to as “S. Martinus in Campis” in Pope Nicholas IV’s “Taxatio Ecclesiastica” of 1291, and as St Martin by les Mewes in the fifteenth century, the mews where the royal falcons were housed being nearby.  In the sixteenth century, it was still surrounded by an abundance of open space, with “the Convent Garden [Covent Garden] on the east side”.

The present structure, by  James Gibb,  dates to  1721-6. 

Some of the memorials salvaged from the earlier church are preserved in the crypt. Charles II’s mistress “pretty, witty” Nell Gwynne was buried in the church in 1687.

Martin was a soldier who converted to Christianity in the fourth century.  He is known for sharing  his cloak with a beggar, an act commemorated on the lamp-posts around the church.

St Paul, Covent Garden

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of Westminster …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. There were a further five in the City and Liberties of Westminster.

St Paul, Covent Garden was originally built by the Palladian architect Inigo Jones for Francis Russell, the Fourth Earl of Bedford, between 1631-5.  According to legend, on being  told by Russell,  “I would not have it  much better than a barn”, Jones is reputed to have retorted,  “You shall have the handsomest barn in England”.   The cleric and theologian John Wesley, who preached here in 1784, described the church as “the largest and best-constructed … that I have preached in for several years”.

The church was undamaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666, lying beyond its western limit. However, it had to be rebuilt, by Thomas Hardwick, following another fire, in 1795-8. And it has been further modified still more recently. 

Situated in the heart of the West End, the church has had a long association with the theatre and arts.  The artist Peter Lely was buried here in 1680, the master wood-carver Grinling Gibbons in 1721, the composer Thomas Arne in 1778, and the actress Helen Terry in 1928.  The artist Joseph Mallord William Turner was baptised here in 1775, and the librettist William Schwenk Gilbert – of Gilbert & Sullivan fame – in 1837.  The Tuscan portico provided the setting for George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”, written in 1913. 

And it was in the neighbouring piazza in Covent Garden that Samuel Pepys witnessed “an Italian Puppet Play” in 1662. The event is commemorated by a Puppet Festival held here every year on the second Sunday in May.

St Clement Danes

The first in a series on historic churches in the City of Westminster …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. There were a further five in the City and Liberties of Westminster.

St Clement Danes on the Strand was originally built in wood in the Saxon period, according to legend by Alfred the Great in the late ninth century, and subsequently rebuilt in stone in the Viking period, by Cnut in the early tenth. It was rebuilt again in the – later – Medieval period, at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow noted that the church was “So called because Harold (surnamed Harefoot) King of England of the Danish line and other Danes were here buried”.  He added, “This Harold was the base [i.e., bastard] son of King Canut … and was first buried at Westminster; but afterwards Hardicanut, the lawful sunne of Canut, … commanded this body to be digged out of the earth, and to be throwne into the Thames, where it was by a Fisherman taken up and buried in the Churchyard”.

Despite having survived the Great Fire of 1666 undamaged, lying beyond its western extent, the church was rebuilt yet again by Wren in 1677-86.  It was later  damaged during the bombing of the Blitz of the Second World War, and restored in 1955-58. 

The crypt was used for burials until 1853. During the restoration of the late 1950s, the 1956, the remains there were cremated, and the ashes were interred under the south stair. Two surviving coffin plaques shows the spot.

Parish boundary markers feature an anchor, Clement having been martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown overboard from a boat to drown.

Holy Trinity Minories

The last in the series on historic churches in the City of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. To be precise, according to  Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113. 

Holy Trinity Minories was founded after the Dissolution of the Monasteries on the site of the thirteenth-century Convent of the Spanish Franciscan Nuns of the Order of St Clare, or “Sorores Minores”,  or “Minoresses”.   In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow wrote: “there was sometime an abbey of nuns of the order of St Clare, called the Minories, founded … in the year 1293. … . This house was surrendered by Dame Elizabeth Salvage, the last abbess there, unto King Henry VIII. in the 30th year of his reign, the year of Christ 1539. In place of this house of nuns is now built divers fair and large storehouses for armour and habiliments of war, with divers workhouses, serving to the same purpose [the Tower of London lay but a short distance to the south]: there is a small parish church for inhabitants of the close, called St. Trinities [sic]”.

The church was undamaged by the Great Fire of 1666.  However, it was subsequently rebuilt in 1706, having by then fallen into disrepair, only to be damaged  in a fire in the late eighteenth century, and eventually closed down in the nineteenth, when the parish was merged with that of St Botolph Aldgate.  The remains were entirely destroyed by bombing during the Blitz of the Second World War. 

Only the name lives on, in “Minories” and “St Clare Street”.

St Thomas, Southwark

The Hospital of St Thomas in Southwark (“70” on Wyngaerde panorama of 1543) was originally founded by Richard, Prior of Bermondsey, sometime around the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  The foundation was suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the early sixteenth century.  However, the hospital  buildings, which had come to be owned by the citizens of London, remained in use for the accommodation of “poor, impotent,  lame and diseased people”, and the chapel, as a parish church  (Stow, “Survey of London”). 

The hospital survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and the Great Fire of Southwark in 1676, but was  nonetheless rebuilt, by  Wren’s master mason, Cartwright,  in 1702.   It was subsequently substantially demolished, and its  facilities relocated to Lambeth, in 1865.    Only the church building remained.

It currently houses the  Old Operating Theatre Museum …

… and Herb Garret).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is st-thomass-hospital-1225.jpg

St Sepulchre without Newgate

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. To be precise, according to  Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113. 

St Sepulchre without Newgate was originally built in the early twelfth century, on the site of an earlier Saxon church dedicated to St Edmund, and originally known as St Edmund and the Holy Sepulchre, after the “Knights of the Holy Sepulchre”, who had a home here from 1103-73.  It was subsequently rebuilt in the fifteenth century, in around 1450.  In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow referred to it as “a fair parish church, … , newly re-edified … about the reign of Henry VI. or of Edward IV.”, and added “that “[o]ne of the Pophames [in fact John Popham, the Treasurer to Henry VI] was a great builder there, namely of one fair chapel on the south side of the choir, as appeareth by his arms … in the glass windows thereof, and also the fair porch … towards the south”.

The church was “very much damnified”   in the Great Fire of 1666, “with only the outward walls and tower being left standing”.  Nonetheless, it proved possible to repair it, using the surviving structure and materials,  between 1667-74.

A Watch-House was added in 1791, to deter “resurrectionists” from robbing the graves in the churchyard and selling the cadavers to nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

The west tower and south porch still survive essentially intact from the fifteenth century. 

Among those buried in the church were  Roger Ascham, tutor to Queen Elizabeth,  who died in  1569; and  Captain John Smith, citizen, cordwainer, merchant-adventurer and founder of  Jamestown in Virginia, who died  in 1631. 

On the stroke of midnight on the day of the execution of a prisoner from  nearby Newgate Gaol, the church sexton would ring his handbell and recite lines urging the condemned man to repent his sins, ending with the words “And when St Sepulchre’s bell in the morning tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your soul”. The  same handbell is on exhibit in the church. 

Southwark Cathedral

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. To be precise, according to  Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113. 

What is now Southwark Cathedral (“S. Mary owver” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of early Modern London) was originally founded as a nunnery in 606, becoming the Augustinian priory of St Mary Overie in 1106, the  parish church of St Saviour  following the Dissolution in 1540, and the Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie – or Southwark Cathedral – in 1905.  In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described it as  “a fair church … of old time, long before the conquest, a house of sisters, founded by a maiden named Mary; … and then, in the year 1106 … again founded for canons regular by William Pont de la Arche and William Dauncy, knights, Normans”.  He added that “[t]his priory was burnt about the year 1207 [actually, in 1212], wherefore the canons did found a hospital near unto the priory, where they celebrated until the priory was repaired”, and that “this church was again newly built in the reign of Richard II. and King Henry IV. [following another fire in 1390]”.  And that it “was surrendered to Henry VIII., the 31st of his reign, the 27th of October, the year of Christ 1539”.

Being over  the “rie” or river, the church was undamaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and vived the Great Fire of Southwark in 1676, and the bombing of the Blitz of the Second World War. 

Some elements of the present structure are survivors  from the  twelfth century building, although most are from the thirteenth-century rebuild following the fire  of 1212, or from the fourteenth-century rebuild following the fire in 1390. 

The interior contains  many memorials, including those  of an unknown knight who died  in around 1275; …

… of Geoffrey Chaucer’s friend and fellow poet John Gower (d. 1408); …

… of William Shakespeare’s   brother Edmond Shakespeare (d. 1607); …

… and of the cleric Lancelot Andrewes (d. 1626), who was responsible for the translation of the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible. 

The Harvard Chapel commemorates John Harvard, who was christened in the church, and who lived with his family in the nearby Queen’s Head Inn on Borough High Street. Most of the family died in an outbreak of the Plague in 1625, but John survived, and emigrated to the Americas to seek his fortune. The university that he helped to found there, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, now bears his name.

One of the legends surrounding  the foundress Mary Overie is worth recounting.  According to which, her father John Over was a ferryman, and a very mean man.  Indeed, such was his miserliness that one day, in order to avoid having to fork out for provisions, he faked his own death, assuming that his servants would fast for a day to show their respects.   Unfortunately for him, his  plan back-fired when, instead on fasting, his servants feasted.  Enraged by this, he leapt out of his supposed death-bed to confront them, in so doing so alarming them that they beat him to death with a broken oar, thinking his body possessed by the Devil.  Mary was so distressed by this bizarre and tragic turn of events that she decided to dedicate the rest of her life to the service of God, and used her  inheritance money  to found the priory church, eventually being made a saint for her chastity.

St Olave Southwark

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. To be precise, according to  Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113. 

St Olave Southwark (“S. Tovolles” on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as the late eleventh century, that is, not long after the martyrdom of St Olaf in 1030.  At this time it was  owned by the Warenne Earls of Surrey and later by the Priors of Lewes.  It was subsequently repaired after having been damaged by a flood in 1327. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow referred to it as a “faire and metely large church”.  By then, though, it had been stripped of many of its treaures during the Protestant Reformation, by which time they had come to be seen as superstitious or  idolatrous.    As Richard Tames put it, in his estimable “Southwark Past” (Historical Publications, 2001), “ …  between 1546 and 1552 [during the reign of Edward I], … books in Latin, a fine monstrance and much plate were sold off, and images of saints, the rood screen and the churchyard cross were taken down.  Altars were replaced by a communion table”.  And later, “A final stripping of the altars  followed under … Elizabeth”.

The church was unaffected by the Great Fire of London of 1666, and by the Great Fire of Southwark in 1676 (it is not known whether or not it was affected by two earlier fires in Southwark, in 1212 and 1390). However, it suffered a partial collapse in 1740, and had to be substantially rebuilt afterwards, in the Classical style, by Henry Flitcroft. 

The rebuilt church was then almost destroyed by a  fire in 1843, and itself had to be rebuilt after that, only to be demolished in 1926. 

The art deco St Olaf House stands on the site today. On the south-west corner of the building is a mosaic depicting a slimline Olaf, who in his lifetime was known as “the Fat”.

St Giles Cripplegate

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. To be precise, according to  Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113. 

St Giles Cripplegate was originally  built in around 1090, by one Alfune, later the first Hospitaller of St Batholomew’s Hospital (possibly on the site of an even older, Saxon, church); and subsequently partially rebuilt in 1360 or 1394 (sources differ), by John Balancer; and again, following a fire,  in 1545; and repaired and altered in 1623 and 1629. It was referred to as “S. Egidius extra Crepulgate” in Pope Nicholas IV’s “Taxatio Ecclesiastica” of 1291.

In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described it as “at first a small thing, stood in place where now standeth the vicarage-house, but … since at divers times much enlarged, … and at length newly built in place where now it standeth. But the same new church being large, strongly built and rich with ornaments, was in the year 1545, by casualty of fire, sore burnt and consumed, notwithstanding it was again within a short space of time repaired, as now it showeth”.

The church was essentially unaffected by the Great Fire of 1666, although the churchwardens’ accounts do record some heat-damage to the windows.  It was nonetheless altered in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and repaired, following another fire, in the late nineteenth.    It was then severely damaged by bombing on the nights of 24th/25th  August and 29th December, 1940, and substantially rebuilt by Godfrey Allen in 1960-6.  

The walls are in part original, fourteenth-century. 

Inside are memorials to the the explorer Martin Frobisher, who died at sea, fighting the Spanish, in 1594; …

… the map-maker John Speed, who died in 1629; …

… and the poet, man of letters, and statesman of the Civil War and Commonwealth eras, John Milton, who died in 1674.

John Foxe, the author of “Acts and Monuments“, otherwise known as “Fox’s Book of Martyrs“, was buried in the church, in 1597. Oliver Cromwell was married there in 1620.

A stained-glass window commemorates the sometime parishioner, church benefactor and Shakespearean-era actor Edward Alleyn, who was famed for his performances in the “Fortune Theatre”, which stood nearby.

Giles or Egidius is the patron saint of cripples, indigents and social outcasts.

St George the Martyr, Southwark

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of London …

By the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666, there were over a hundred parish churches and other places of Christian worship within and immediately without the walls of  the City. To be precise, according to  Parish Clerks’ records, there were 97 churches within the walls of the City, and 16 without, making a total of 113. 

St George the Martyr, Southwark was originally built in the twelfth century,  and subsequently rebuilt in the fourteenth. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described it as “sometime pertaining to the priory of Bermondsey, by the gift of Thomas Arderne and Thomas his son, in the year 1122”. He added that “There lie buried in this church William Kirton, esquire, and his wives, 1464”. Edmund Bonner, sometime Bishop of London, was also buried here, in 1569. Bonner was deprived of his bishopric by Henry VIII, but later restored to the See by Mary, only to be deposed again by Elizabeth. He died in the nearby Marshalsea prison, and was buried with other prisoners in the dead of night.

The church was rebuilt again in the eighteenth century, in the Neo-Classical style, by John Price. 

Part of the wall of the second Marshalsea prison may be seen in the churchyard. The second Marshalsea was built in 1811, and Charles Dickens’s father was imprisoned there in 1824. Dickens made extensive reference to it in his novel “Little Dorrit“, published in serial instalments between 1855-57.