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 Bride Fleet Street (“C” on “Agas” map/Map of early Modern London) was possibly originally built as long ago as the sixth century (*), on a former Roman site, and extended in the eleventh, early twelfth (twice), thirteenth to fourteenth, and fifteenth. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow described it as “of old time a small thing, which now remaineth to be the choir, but since increased with a large body and side aisles toward the west, at the charges of William Venor, esquire, warden of the Fleet, about the year 1480”. John Caxton’s apprentice Wynkyn de Worde, who had himself set up a printing-press nearby, was buried in the church in around 1535; Richard Lovelace, the poet, in 1657. Richard Baker, who had died in the Fleet, where he had been imprisoned for debt, was buried here in 1645. He had previously written a chronicle of his times, which had ended abruptly at the start of the Civil War, as follows: “Yet our hope is it will be but a fit and the storme once passed faire weather againe and fairer perhaps than it was before and then with joy we shall resume our stile”. Samuel Pepys was christened in the church in 1633.
The church was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt by Wren between 1670-75. It was then gutted by bombing on the night of 29th December 1940, and rebuilt again in 1955-7. The church is perhaps best known for its steeple of gracefully diminishing octagons, once memorably described by the poet W.E. Henley as “a madrigal in stone”, and said to have influenced the design of the modern wedding cake. It also has many important literary and artistic associations, unsurprisingly in view of its proximity to Fleet Street and its printing presses. John Dryden, John Milton, the “Compleat Angler” Izaak Walton and the antiquarian Elias Ashmole were parishioners here in the seventeenth century; Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, Alexander Pope, Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth, in the eighteenth.
The Saxon and Medieval crypts survive, and are home to a fascinating exhibition of the church’s long and rich history, and its extraordinary eight incarnations.
There is also a rather gruesome charnel house.
(*) There is some imprecisely-dated pre-eleventh century Saxon stonework that has been postulated, although not proven, to date to the sixth century, the church’s purported founder Bride, or Bridget, the Abbess of Kildare in Ireland, living from 450-525.