St Martin in the Fields

Another in the series on historic churches in the City of Westminster …

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. There were a further five in the City and Liberties of Westminster.

St Martin in the Fields was originally built at least as long ago as the twelfth century, and subsequently rebuilt in the sixteenth, around 1544.  It was referred to as “S. Martinus in Campis” in Pope Nicholas IV’s “Taxatio Ecclesiastica” of 1291, and as St Martin by les Mewes in the fifteenth century, the mews where the royal falcons were housed being nearby.  In the sixteenth century, it was still surrounded by an abundance of open space, with “the Convent Garden [Covent Garden] on the east side”.

The present structure, by  James Gibb,  dates to  1721-6. 

Some of the memorials salvaged from the earlier church are preserved in the crypt. Charles II’s mistress “pretty, witty” Nell Gwynne was buried in the church in 1687.

Martin was a soldier who converted to Christianity in the fourth century.  He is known for sharing  his cloak with a beggar, an act commemorated on the lamp-posts around the church.

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