Another in the series on historic churches in 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. There were a further twelve in the out-parishes of Middlesex (north of the river) and Surrey (south of the river).
St Giles in the Fields began its life as a chapel attached to the “hospital of St Giles outside London” (Hospitali Sancti Egidii extra Londinium), a leper colony, originally built in around 1117, at the behest of Queen Matilda. The location of the hospital, quite literally “in the fields” in between the City of London and Westminster, was deliberately chosen so as to allow a degree of isolation, and yet at the same time to provide the opportunity for the inmates to beg for alms from the occasional passers-by (there would be up to fourteen inmates at any given time). The hospital was administered by the City of London until 1299, and by a “lazar house” in Leicestershire after that date. It remained in use even after leprosy essentially died out in the later Middle Ages, but was closed down during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the post-Medieval period, at which time the chapel became a parish church. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow wrote, “At this hospital the prisoners conveyed from the City of London towards Tyburn, there to be executed for treasons, felonies or other trespasses, were presented with a great bowl of ale, thereof to drink at their pleasure, as to be their last refreshing in this life”.
The church was subsequently rebuilt in the early seventeenth century, and again in the early eighteenth, by Henry Flitcroft. The poet Andrew Marvell, who died in 1678, is buried here.