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, despite a number having been closed down during the Reformation. 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 Benet Gracechurch, Gracechurch Street (shown at corner of “Gracyous straete” and Fen church street on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built sometime before 1291 (being recorded in Pope Nicholas IV’s “Taxatio Ecclesiastica” of that year). The steeple was subsequently partially rebuilt in 1625. The church was further repaired and beautified in 1630 and 1633.
Church records show that, in 1553, during Mary’s Catholic Counter-Reformation, the sum of 3s4d was paid to a plasterer to remove Biblical texts painted on the interior walls during her late brother Edward VI’s Protestant Reformation. Later that same year, just over £1 was paid to a priest and six clerks “for singing of Te Deum and playing upon the organs, for the birth of our Prince (which was though then to be)” – a reference to one of Mary’s phantom pregnancies.
In 1642, during the Civil War, Puritans – hard-line Protestants – took down the cross from the steeple, sold the “popish altar cloth” and “superstitious brasses”, and paid a workman “for defacing superstitious things in the church”. Also at this time, the rector – Quelch – was sequestered for his loyalty.
The church burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and was rebuilt by Wren in 1681-7, only to be demolished, to allow for road-widening, in 1867-8, when the parish was merged with All Hallows.
It is one of the twenty-one lost Wren churches, and one of the ten lost between 1860 (“Union of Benefices Act”) and 1900.
A Corporation “Blue Plaque” marks its former site.
Its salvaged seventeenth-century pulpit survives in St Olave Hart Street.