Category Archives: Lost Wren churches

The second Great Fire of London

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On this day in 1940, an air raid by the German Luftwaffe led  to the so-called “Second Great Fire of London” (see  M.J. Gaskin’s “Blitz”, published by Faber & Faber in 2005;  see also September 16th, 2015 posting on “The London Blitz, and the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps“). Tens of thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped, and the small individual fires that they set off soon coalesced into a great conflagration that threatened the entire city centre.  Over 200 people were killed, and damage to property was on a then unprecedented scale.  The area around St Paul’s was essentially razed to the ground, and although the cathedral itself miraculously survived essentially intact, due to the heroic actions of the firefighters of the St Paul’s Watch, a number of other Wren churches were seriously damaged, and two, St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, were substantially destroyed.  Remarkably, St Mary Aldermanbury was rebuilt, out of salvaged material, and according to Wren’s original design, in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1966 (as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech there in 1946).

The sites of St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street are visited on our “Lost Wren Churches” themed special.  Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.  Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

These and other sites associated with the raid are visited on one of the walks organised by our friends at “Blitzwalkers” (http://www.blitzwalkers.co.uk).

The “London Stone”

The London Stone at 111 Cannon Street

The “London Stone” goes on temporary exhibit at the Museum of London today, while the site on which it formerly stood, at 111 Cannon Street, undergoes redevelopment.

The London Stone at St Swithin's

Previously, from the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it had  been  incorporated into the south wall of the church of St Swithin London Stone, and was preserved when the church was demolished after having been damaged in the Second World War, according to a stipulation in the conditions for the redevelopment of that site.

Previous to that, throughout the Medieval and post-Medieval periods, it had stood in the middle of the street, as indicated on the map of 1520, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements, being evidently richly endowed with  symbolic significance.   During the failed rebellion of 1450 that ended with the “Harvest of the Heads” of the leaders, one of the same, Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  struck the stone with his sword, and declared himself to be “Lord of this City”.  In 1189, the first Mayor of London was one Henry Fitz-Ailwyn de Londonestone, who evidently  lived nearby.

Indeed, the  recorded history of the stone extends back even beyond the Medieval period and into the Saxon: it is referred to in a document of Athelstan, the first  Saxon King of All England (924-39).

And it is possible, although not proven, that before that, it  was associated in some way with the Roman “Governor’s Palace” complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station (it has  been postulated, plausibly, that it served as a milliarium, or centre-stone, from which Roman roads radiated and distances were measured).

According to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one which Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”.

As Leo Hollis put it, in his book “The Stones of London”: “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.

The London Blitz, and the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps

Picking up on  the Second World War theme of yesterday’s posting  …

The London Blitz

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the German bombing of London, colloquially known as the Blitz.  What may be thought of as the first phase, involving attacks by night-bombers dropping high explosive and incendiary devices,  lasted more-or-less non-stop from September, 1940 until May, 1941.  Following this was something of a lull in the intensity of bombing that lasted for around three years.  The second phase of intense bombing, involving attacks by V1 pilotless aircraft or flying bombs (“doodlebugs”) and supersonic V2 rockets, lasted from June, 1944, just after D-Day, until March, 1945, just before the end of the war.  (The V1 attacks lasted from June, 1944 until August, 1944, when Allied troops captured the fixed launch sites in the Low Countries; and the V2 attacks from September, 1944 until March, 1945, when they finally forced the mobile launchers out of range of London).

Readers interested in finding out more about this dark but fascinating chapter of London’s history could do a deal worse than book themselves onto  one of the many excellent Blitz-themed walks organised by our friends at Blitzwalkers (http://www.blitzwalkers.co.uk).

The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps

By the end of the war in Europe in May, 1945, nearly 30000 Londoners had been killed in air raids, 50000 sufficiently seriously injured as to require hospitalisation, and 90000 less seriously  injured.  And 120000 buildings in the capital had been destroyed or damaged beyond repair (ten times as many as during the Great Fire of 1666), 290000 seriously damaged but reparable, and 1400000 less seriously damaged.

In the aftermath, the London County Council undertook a detailed survey of the bomb damage in the capital, essentially to assist in the planning of the post-war reconstruction.

bomb-damage-mapThe result was a series of maps showing buildings colour-coded according to the severity of the bomb damage they had sustained, from yellow, orange and red for damaged but reparable, through magenta for damaged beyond repair, to  black for totally destroyed.  The maps are as poignant as they are beautiful, none more so than that of the area around St Paul’s, which provides a stark illustration of just how many buildings were lost there (mercifully, the cathedral itself was saved essentially intact: some would say due to divine intervention; others, due to the heroism of the St Paul’s Watch).

The original maps are housed in the London Metropolitan Archives.

51sb65VRbLL._SX361_BO1,204,203,200_Now, one of the Principal Archivists there, Laurence Ward, had written a book featuring high-quality reproductions of the bomb damage maps, contextualised by equally high-quality contemporary photographs and an admirably  clear and readable introductory text.  He has done a great service.  His book is an essential although at times heart-breaking read, and should be on the shelves of every lover of London and its long and chequered history.

 

The second Great Fire of London

On this day in 1940, an air raid by the German Luftwaffe led  to the so-called “Second Great Fire of London” (see  M.J. Gaskin’s “Blitz”, published by Faber & Faber in 2005;  see also September 16th posting on “The London Blitz, and the London County Council Bomb Damage Maps“).  Thousands of incendiary bombs were dropped, and the small individual fires that they set off soon coalesced into a great conflagration that threatened the entire city centre.  Over 200 people were killed, and damage to property was on a then unprecedented scale.  The area around St Paul’s was essentially razed to the ground, and although the cathedral itself miraculously survived essentially intact, due to the heroic actions of the firefighters of the St Paul’s Watch, a number of other Wren churches were seriously damaged, and two, St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, were substantially destroyed.  Remarkably, St Mary Aldermanbury was rebuilt, out of salvaged material, and according to Wren’s original design, in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in 1966 (as a memorial to Winston Churchill, who had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech there in 1946).

The sites of St Mary Aldermanbury and St Stephen Coleman Street – and the ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars and St Alban Wood Street – are visited on our “Lost Wren Churches” themed special.  Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.  Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

These and other sites associated with the raid are visited on one of the walks organised by our friends at “Blitzwalkers” (http://www.blitzwalkers.co.uk).

 

“How fine this would have been” (Vita Sackville-West, 1926)

On this day in 1926, Vita Sackville-West wrote, in a letter to Virginia Woolf:

“… What I think of when I walk down the Strand is: how fine this would have been if Wren’s plans for rebuilding London after the Great Fire had been adopted.  Steps to the river, and all that – and a broad thoroughfare … ”.

Wren's plan for the rebuilding of London - Copy

Wren’s grandiose plans for the redesigning of the layout of London after the Great Fire of 1666 (see above), if implemented,  would have given it a radically new look and feel, much more like  that of the great European cities of the day, with their uniform architecture, broad boulevards and open piazzas.  But they  were soon essentially abandoned on the grounds of practicality and expendiency in favour of  one involving much less legal wrangling and groundwork, and much more like the old one.   So in some ways the City that might have been never came to be, and  that that had been would come  to be again:  for the most part neither  particularly beautiful nor harmonious, but, rather,   “lived in”  and fractious; and yet, familiar and loved.

Wren’s plans are reviewed on various of our walks, including the “Great Fire … ” and “Lost Wren Churches” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

The Battle of Flodden Field, and the bizarre tale of the King’s Head

James IV

James IV

September 9th –  Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field, one of the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, between the English and the Scots, which took place in 1513.

According to John Stow, in his “Survay of London written in the Year 1598(* see below for the relevant extract), sometime after the battle, the decapitated head of the defeated Scottish King, James IV, ended up being buried in  the church of St Michael, Wood Street, just off Cheapside.

The church was later  burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt  by Christopher Wren between 1670-75, and modified  in 1887-88, only to be demolished in 1897. Nothing remains of it at its former site, now occupied by the “Red Herring” public house.

St Michael Wood Street (as rebuilt by Wren post-fire)

St Michael Wood Street (as rebuilt by Wren post-fire)

(*) The relevant part of the text reads more-or-less in full as follows:

“There is …  , … without any outward monument, the head of James, the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field, 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 of his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to her majesty [Elizabeth I], … 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 of that church to bury it amongst other bones … “.

The site of St Michael Wood Street  is visited on our “Lost Wren Churches of London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

St Swithin London Stone

St SwithinThe last in the series on churches built by Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 that have been lost  since …

St Swithin London Stone was originally built sometime before 1291.  It was burnt down  in the Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt by Wren in 1677-86, using materials from St Mary Bothaw, only to be  severely damaged by bombing in 1941, and subsequently demolished in 1957. John Dryden was married to Lady Elizabeth Howard in the church in 1663.  

St Swithin London Stone parish boundary marker

St Swithin London Stone parish boundary marker

Essentially only the so-called “London Stone” that was built into the south wall of the church in 1798 still survives at the site, as stipulated in the conditions for its redevelopment (see below for additional information on the London Stone).  There are parish boundary markers on Cannon Street and in Oxford Court (and another just off  Walbrook).  

St Swithin’s Church Garden also survives,  between Salters Hall Court and Oxford Court (and near where Henry Fitz-Ailwyn or FitzAlywn de Londonestone, the first Lord Mayor of London between 1189-1213, once lived).   The pulpit of 1682 salvaged from the church is now in All Hallows Barking.  Swithin was Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century.

St Swithun's church garden

St Swithun’s church garden

The London Stone 

London Stone (in there somewhere)

London Stone (in there somewhere)

In the Medieval period, “The London Stone” stood in the middle of the street, as indicated on the map of 1520, and on the “Agas” one of 1561-70, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements, being evidently richly endowed with  symbolic significance.   Its recorded history extends as far back as the twelfth century, when the first Lord Mayor of London, from 1189-1213, was one Henry Fitz-Ailwyn or FitzAlywn de Londonestone; and it  is possible, although not proven, that before that, it  was associated in some way with  the Roman Governor’s Palace complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station.  Indeed, according to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one from which King Arthur drew the Sword Excalibur, and possessed magic powers; and according to another, it was the one Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”.  As Hollis put it, “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.

London Stone

London Stone

The site of St Swithin Londonstone is visited on our “Lost Wren churches” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).