St Michael Cornhill

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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 Michael Cornhill (“27”  on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as the Norman period, the earliest written reference to it dating to 1133, and possibly as long ago as the Saxon period. It was subsequently rebuilt, in the Gothic style, probably in the fourteenth century, and the tower was rebuilt in the fifteenth, and furnished with six bells, one of which came to be nick-named “Rus”, after William Rus, an alderman and a great benefactor of the church. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow, who was a parishioner of the church, described it as “fair and beautiful, … but of late years, since the surrender … to Edward VI., greatly blemished”. He also recorded a number of important burials in the interior, including those of “Robert Drope, mayor [in 1474]”, and “Robert Fabian, alderman, that wrote … a Chronicle of England … [published in 1516, after his death]”, whose monument was missing. During the Civil War in the middle of the seventeenth century, the Rector, William Brough, was “sequestered” for his Royalist views.

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The church burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and was rebuilt by Wren’s office  between 1669-72, probably incorporating  parts of the Medieval Gothic building that were still standing after the fire. It was then rebuilt again, in the Gothic style,  by Hawksmoor in 1715-24, modified by Sir George Gilbert Scott, in the Victorian Gothic style, in 1857-60, and repaired after having been  damaged  by an IRA bomb in 1993.  Some pre-Great Fire memorials survive in the interior, including those to John Vernon (d. 1615) and William Cowper (d. 1664).  The octagonal font dates to 1672, and the Renatus Harris organ to 1684. 

Pelican in Piety

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