Author Archives: Bob Jones - The Lost City of London

About Bob Jones - The Lost City of London

My name is Bob Jones and I am a writer on the history of London.

Hackney Church

Another in the series on the historic churches of the out-parishes 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. There were a further twelve  in the out-parishes of Middlesex (north of the river) and Surrey (south of the river).

Hackney Church was originally built  sometime before 1275, possibly on the site of an older, Norman or even Saxon church.  It was originally dedicated to St Augustine, but subsequently rededicated to St John sometime between 1660 and 1790. Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, is thought to have been buried here in 1604, after having died, possibly of the Plague, at nearby King’s Place.

The surviving tower of the old church
A painting of the old church in c. 1795
A seventeenth-century grave in the old churchyard

The church was substantially demolished between 1797-98, after a  new church dedicated to St John was built nearby.  Of the original church, only the tower survives.

St Giles in the Fields

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.

St Margaret Westminster

The last 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 Margaret Westminster was originally  built in the late eleventh century, and subsequently rebuilt in the fourteenth, and again in the late fifteenth to early sixteenth, between 1482-1523 (although it has been much modified since).  As Stow put it, in his “Survey of London” of 1598, the church, “sometime within the abbey, was by Edward the Confessor [r. 1042-66] removed, and built without, for ease of the monks. … [It] continued till the days of Edward I [r. 1272-1307], at which time the merchants of the staple and parishioners of Westminster built it all of new, … and … remaineth now a fair parish church”.

It became the unofficial the “parish” church of the House of Commons in 1614.   In 1647, under the Puritans, the wardens were fined for celebrating Christmas!  Among those buried here are William Caxton (d. 1491/2) (whose printing press was nearby, at the sign of the “Red Pale”), Walter Ralegh (d. 1618) (who was executed nearby, in New Palace Yard), John Pym (d. 1643) and Wenceslaus Hollar (d. 1677).  And among those married here, Samuel  Pepys (in 1655) and John Milton (in 1656) – not to mention Winston Churchill.  

St Mary Savoy

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 Mary Savoy was the name given to the chapel attached to the Savoy Hospital when it was used as a parish church in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, after St Mary-le-Strand had been demolished by Protector Somerset in 1549 (St Mary-le-Strand was rebuilt in the early eighteenth century).

The Savoy Hospital was built y a bequest from Henry VII between 1510-16, on the site of the Savoy Palace (see below).   It became a military hospital in 1642, when it was used to treat some of the wounded from the Civil War.  Parts of it later   became a military barracks and prison.  Large parts  of it were damaged by a fire in 1864, and subsequently demolished, making way  for the construction of the Savoy Theatre in 1881 and the Savoy Hotel in 1889. 

Only what is now known as the Savoy Chapel survives.  

The Savoy Palace, incidentally, was built by Henry III’s uncle, the Count of Savoie or Savoy, in 1324 – hence its name. It was later given to Edward I’s younger brother, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, and passed down from him to Henry, Duke of Lancaster, who accommodated King John of France there after the latter’s defeat at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. It then passed down to John of Gaunt in 1361, and was burned down during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

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.

St Paul, Covent Garden

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 Paul, Covent Garden was originally built by the Palladian architect Inigo Jones for Francis Russell, the Fourth Earl of Bedford, between 1631-5.  According to legend, on being  told by Russell,  “I would not have it  much better than a barn”, Jones is reputed to have retorted,  “You shall have the handsomest barn in England”.   The cleric and theologian John Wesley, who preached here in 1784, described the church as “the largest and best-constructed … that I have preached in for several years”.

The church was undamaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666, lying beyond its western limit. However, it had to be rebuilt, by Thomas Hardwick, following another fire, in 1795-8. And it has been further modified still more recently. 

Situated in the heart of the West End, the church has had a long association with the theatre and arts.  The artist Peter Lely was buried here in 1680, the master wood-carver Grinling Gibbons in 1721, the composer Thomas Arne in 1778, and the actress Helen Terry in 1928.  The artist Joseph Mallord William Turner was baptised here in 1775, and the librettist William Schwenk Gilbert – of Gilbert & Sullivan fame – in 1837.  The Tuscan portico provided the setting for George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”, written in 1913. 

And it was in the neighbouring piazza in Covent Garden that Samuel Pepys witnessed “an Italian Puppet Play” in 1662. The event is commemorated by a Puppet Festival held here every year on the second Sunday in May.

St Clement Danes

The first in a 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 Clement Danes on the Strand was originally built in wood in the Saxon period, according to legend by Alfred the Great in the late ninth century, and subsequently rebuilt in stone in the Viking period, by Cnut in the early tenth. It was rebuilt again in the – later – Medieval period, at the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow noted that the church was “So called because Harold (surnamed Harefoot) King of England of the Danish line and other Danes were here buried”.  He added, “This Harold was the base [i.e., bastard] son of King Canut … and was first buried at Westminster; but afterwards Hardicanut, the lawful sunne of Canut, … commanded this body to be digged out of the earth, and to be throwne into the Thames, where it was by a Fisherman taken up and buried in the Churchyard”.

Despite having survived the Great Fire of 1666 undamaged, lying beyond its western extent, the church was rebuilt yet again by Wren in 1677-86.  It was later  damaged during the bombing of the Blitz of the Second World War, and restored in 1955-58. 

The crypt was used for burials until 1853. During the restoration of the late 1950s, the 1956, the remains there were cremated, and the ashes were interred under the south stair. Two surviving coffin plaques shows the spot.

Parish boundary markers feature an anchor, Clement having been martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown overboard from a boat to drown.

Holy Trinity Minories

The last 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. 

Holy Trinity Minories was founded after the Dissolution of the Monasteries on the site of the thirteenth-century Convent of the Spanish Franciscan Nuns of the Order of St Clare, or “Sorores Minores”,  or “Minoresses”.   In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow wrote: “there was sometime an abbey of nuns of the order of St Clare, called the Minories, founded … in the year 1293. … . This house was surrendered by Dame Elizabeth Salvage, the last abbess there, unto King Henry VIII. in the 30th year of his reign, the year of Christ 1539. In place of this house of nuns is now built divers fair and large storehouses for armour and habiliments of war, with divers workhouses, serving to the same purpose [the Tower of London lay but a short distance to the south]: there is a small parish church for inhabitants of the close, called St. Trinities [sic]”.

The church was undamaged by the Great Fire of 1666.  However, it was subsequently rebuilt in 1706, having by then fallen into disrepair, only to be damaged  in a fire in the late eighteenth century, and eventually closed down in the nineteenth, when the parish was merged with that of St Botolph Aldgate.  The remains were entirely destroyed by bombing during the Blitz of the Second World War. 

Only the name lives on, in “Minories” and “St Clare Street”.

St Thomas, Southwark

The Hospital of St Thomas in Southwark (“70” on Wyngaerde panorama of 1543) was originally founded by Richard, Prior of Bermondsey, sometime around the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  The foundation was suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the early sixteenth century.  However, the hospital  buildings, which had come to be owned by the citizens of London, remained in use for the accommodation of “poor, impotent,  lame and diseased people”, and the chapel, as a parish church  (Stow, “Survey of London”). 

The hospital survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and the Great Fire of Southwark in 1676, but was  nonetheless rebuilt, by  Wren’s master mason, Cartwright,  in 1702.   It was subsequently substantially demolished, and its  facilities relocated to Lambeth, in 1865.    Only the church building remained.

It currently houses the  Old Operating Theatre Museum …

… and Herb Garret).

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St Sepulchre without Newgate

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 Sepulchre without Newgate was originally built in the early twelfth century, on the site of an earlier Saxon church dedicated to St Edmund, and originally known as St Edmund and the Holy Sepulchre, after the “Knights of the Holy Sepulchre”, who had a home here from 1103-73.  It was subsequently rebuilt in the fifteenth century, in around 1450.  In his “Survey of London” of 1598, Stow referred to it as “a fair parish church, … , newly re-edified … about the reign of Henry VI. or of Edward IV.”, and added “that “[o]ne of the Pophames [in fact John Popham, the Treasurer to Henry VI] was a great builder there, namely of one fair chapel on the south side of the choir, as appeareth by his arms … in the glass windows thereof, and also the fair porch … towards the south”.

The church was “very much damnified”   in the Great Fire of 1666, “with only the outward walls and tower being left standing”.  Nonetheless, it proved possible to repair it, using the surviving structure and materials,  between 1667-74.

A Watch-House was added in 1791, to deter “resurrectionists” from robbing the graves in the churchyard and selling the cadavers to nearby St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

The west tower and south porch still survive essentially intact from the fifteenth century. 

Among those buried in the church were  Roger Ascham, tutor to Queen Elizabeth,  who died in  1569; and  Captain John Smith, citizen, cordwainer, merchant-adventurer and founder of  Jamestown in Virginia, who died  in 1631. 

On the stroke of midnight on the day of the execution of a prisoner from  nearby Newgate Gaol, the church sexton would ring his handbell and recite lines urging the condemned man to repent his sins, ending with the words “And when St Sepulchre’s bell in the morning tolls, The Lord above have mercy on your soul”. The  same handbell is on exhibit in the church.