St Michael Wood Street

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 Wood Street (not individually identified on sixteenth-century “Agas” map/Map of Early Modern London) was originally built at least as long ago as the twelfth century, the first record of it dating to the reign of Richard I (1189-99).   It was later recorded as “S. Michalis de Hoygenelan” in Pope Nicholas IV’s “Taxatio Ecclesiastica” of 1291. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described the church as “a proper thing, and lately well repaired”. He also noted a number of important burials there, including, bizarrely, “without any outward monument, the head of James the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field [in 1513], and buried here by this occasion:  After the battle the body of the said king being found was enclosed in lead, and conveyed to the monastery of Shene in Surrey.  Since the which time, workmen there, for their foolish pleasure, hewed off his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to his majesty, seeing the same dried from all moisture, and yet the form remaining, with the hair of the head and beard red, brought it to London to his house in Wood Street, where for a time he kept it, but in the end caused the sexton to bury it among other bones”.

The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, although the walls remained standing, and services were able to continue for a while under a makeshift roof.

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It was eventually rebuilt by Wren in 1670-5, and further modified in 1887-8, only to be demolished     in 1897, when the parish was merged with St Alban Wood Street. 

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It is one of the twenty-one “lost” Wren churches, and one of the ten lost between 1860 (“Union of Benefices Act”) and 1900.

Essentially nothing now remains of the church on its former site, although salvaged paintings of Moses and Aaron  survive in St Anne and St Agnes.  

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