December 29th – On this day, or rather night, in 1940, an air raid by the German Luftwaffe led to the so-called “Second Great Fire of London” (*). Thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped, and the small individual fires that they set off soon coalesced into a great conflagration that threatened the entire city centre. Over 200 people were killed, and damage to property was on a then unprecedented scale. The area around St Paul’s was essentially razed to the ground, and although the cathedral itself miraculously survived essentially intact, due to the heroic actions of the firefighters of the St Paul’s Watch, a number of other Wren churches were seriously damaged, and two, St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, were substantially destroyed. Remarkably, St Mary Aldermanbury was rebuilt, out of salvaged material, and according to Wren’s original design, in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1966 (as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech there in 1946).
The former sites of St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street are visited on our “Lost Wren Churches of London” walk, and also incidentally on certain of those organised by our friends at “Blitzwalkers” (http://www.blitzwalkers.co.uk).
(*) Readers interested in further details of the “Second Great Fire of London” are referred to M.J. Gaskin’s Blitz (Faber & Faber, 2005).