Category Archives: London Churches

Southwark Cathedral

There are a few places in London where I can stand in exactly the same position as my father and the view is almost identical. In Winchester Walk, approaching Southwark Cathedral, the subject of this week’s post, is one of these locations.

My father took the following photo of the Cathedral in 1953 from Winchester Walk.

Southwark Cathedral

My 2017 photo from the same location:

Southwark Cathedral

I managed to get the alignment between these two photos almost exactly the same. The differences between the two are mainly cosmetic and if I had been there early in the morning with no people around and converted to black and white the photos would have been almost identical, amazing considering they are 64 years apart. The roof and air vents on the Borough Market building on the right are identical as is the roof line of the buildings on the left including the railing around the top of the wall at the base of the roof.

When I take photos at places where the view and surroundings are almost identical, knowing who was standing at this exact same place decades ago, it does bring home how quickly time passes and that we are all just very temporary occupants of these streets.

One of the differences between the two photos is the cleanliness of the buildings. It is perhaps difficult to appreciate how clean the buildings of London are today when compared to those of the city when the burning of coal in homes and factories was common across the city, and from the steam trains passing on the railway viaducts adjacent to the market and Cathedral.

Southwark Cathedral is in the background and Borough Market on the right – Borough Market being the reason why there are so many people around this area.

There has been a church on the site of Southwark Cathedral for many centuries, and the location close to the southern end of London Bridge, a river crossing point since Roman times, perhaps explains the importance of this location.

The first church on the site was possibly built around the 7th century, allegedly by a ferryman who used his wealth to fund the construction of the church. Edward Walford in Old and New London includes a story which also refers to a ferryman, but attributes the building of the church to his daughter, Mary Audrey. Old and New London records that this story came from Stow, who chronicled it as the report of the last prior, Bishop Linsted. Walford does then go on to state that this story has been much discredited.

I suspect we will never know who was responsible for the original church, however it was rebuilt in the 9th Century by the Bishop of Winchester and then in 1106 the church was re-founded by two Norman Knights, William Pont de l’Arche and William Dauncey as a priory for Augustine Canons.  The church was dedicated to St. Mary and then later to St. Mary Overie. Walford in Old and New London suggests that Overie is a corruption of the surname of Mary Audrey, however I suspect this is part of the discredited story. The official explanation is that Overie means “over the river”.

In 1424 the church held its only royal wedding when James I of Scotland married Jane Beaufort, the daughter of the Earl of Somerset.

During the reformation, the priory was closed and the church taken by Henry VIII, when it became a parish church, dedicated to St. Saviour.

The church was purchased by the parishioners in 1614 and in 1689 the new tower was completed which is the tower we see today.

In the following centuries the church went through periods of decay and repair. The tower was in jeopardy on a number of occasions , Walford reports that once was due to vibration damage resulting from the ringing of the bells. The south-eastern pinnacle was struck by lightning and fell on the roof of the south transept. The wooden roof of the nave was demolished, followed by the original nave.

The church became Southwark Cathedral in 1905 to recognise the importance of the church and the considerable growth in population south of the river. The full title of the church retains the original dedications as the Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St Mary Overie.

The following map extract from the late 17th century shows the church with the tower looking as it does today. To the left of the church is a small open area into which leads into Stony Street. This is the street from which the 1953 and 2017 photos were taken, however at some point it has changed its name to Winchester Walk. Borough Market now occupies the area south of the Cathedral on what was once Angel Court and the wonderfully named Foul Lane.

Southwark Cathedral

The current name Winchester Walk retains a link the area has had with the Bishops of Winchester. Winchester House or Palace once occupied a large area west of the Cathedral which included a hall of which the circular window can still be seen when walking from the Cathedral into Clink Street.

Views of Southwark Cathedral from Old and New London.

Southwark Cathedral

The top right drawing shows the part of the Priory of St. Saviour’s, the oldest part of the church and dating from the 13th century. This part of the church is still in existence and I will find this during a walk around the Cathedral.

Wenceslaus Hollar also made a number of drawings of the Cathedral including the following showing the south front of the church. The print was published around 1690, although certainly drawn much earlier as Hollar died in 1677. The church in the distance to the left of the Cathedral is St. Paul’s Cathedral so this could be a pre-1666 print. The spire on the tower of St. Paul’s must have been added by Hollar as it collapsed in 1561.

Southwark Cathedral

The future of the church was at risk during the 19th century when the church was still a parish church rather than a cathedral. During the 19th century, railways would cut through the south of London to reach stations along the south of the river such as Waterloo and cross the river to reach stations on the north bank. Walking around Borough Market shows how part of the market is enclosed within railway viaducts, and the impact of these on both the market and the church can really be appreciated from the top of the Shard.

The following photo shows the Cathedral to the lower right with the loop of railway viaduct heading round to the bridge to Cannon Street Station on the north side of the river.

Southwark Cathedral

There were proposals to demolish the church during the planning of the railways along the south of the river, fortunately these did not get put into practice, however the proximity of these viaducts clearly demonstrates the impact of the railway in the area around the Cathedral.

The area to the south west of the Cathedral and within the area enclosed by the railway viaducts is now occupied by Borough Market.

Southwark Cathedral

If you are there during a weekend, I recommend avoiding the crowds in Borough Market and visit the Cathedral instead. The interior of the church is fascinating and well worth a walk around.

The view on entering the Cathedral, looking down the nave towards the Choir.

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The following two photos show some of the medieval roof bosses from the 15th century wooden ceiling, installed following the collapse of the earlier stone ceiling.

Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral

At the end of the nave is the Shakespeare memorial. The carved figure of Shakespeare is from 1912. Sir Walter Besant in London, South of the Thames mentions that Shakespeare’s brother Edmund was buried in Southwark Cathedral.

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The tomb of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes who died in 1625. Andrewes was one of the translators of the King James version of the Bible.

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At the eastern end of the church is the retro choir. This is from the 13th century and is the oldest part of the Cathedral still standing (see the drawing of the retro choir in the drawings from Old and New London above).

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There is an open archaeological excavation outside the main church which I will come to later. This shows a 1st Century AD Roman road and has an information panel which shows that the original Watling Street ran along the eastern edge of the church, just outside the windows that run along the left of the photo above. The road cut through the far corner of the church.

The majority of effigies are carved in stone, however Southwark Cathedral has a rather unusual effigy carved in wood which dates from the 13th century.

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There is also an effigy of the rather shrunken body of Thomas Cure of Southwark who died on the 24th May 1588.

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This superb wooden chest once held all the parish records. Made by German immigrants in the parish, it was given to the church in 1588.

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A wonderful model of the church, although a couple of the pinnacles on top of the tower appear to be missing, perhaps recreating the lightning strike that brought down one of the pinnacles onto the roof of the south transept.

Southwark Cathedral

During my visit the High Altar Screen was partially hidden behind an artwork. The High Altar Screen dates from 1520, but with later added detail. The screen consists of carvings of saints and those who have been connected with the Cathedral.

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Looking down the Nave from the Choir.

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The painted ceiling on the base of the tower.

Southwark Cathedral

An epitaph to John Trehearne, Gentleman Portar to King James the First.

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The epitaph reads:

“Had Kings a power to lend their subjects breath Trehearn thou should’st not be cast down by death. Thy royal master still would keep thee then but length of days are beyond reach of men, nor wealth, nor strength, nor greatmen’s love can ease the wound death’s arrows make. Thou hast these in thy King’s court good place to thee is given. When thou shalt go to ye King’s Court of Heaven.”

A salutary reminder that no matter your wealth or power, there is no escape from death.

Along the northern side of the church is the Harvard Chapel which is named after John Harvard, the benefactor of Harvard University who was baptised in Southwark Cathedral, or St. Saviour’s as it was in 1607.

Southwark Cathedral

John Harvard was born in Southwark in 1607. He emigrated to America in 1637 and settled in Charlestown where he became a minister. He was only there for one year, as he died in 1638. He left his library and part of his estate to the college that had been established two years earlier and which would take his name.

The stained glass window in the Harvard Chapel was given to the church by the US Ambassador in 1907.

Also within the Harvard Chapel is a tabernacle designed by Augustus Pugin in 1851, the year before his death in 1852. It was Pugin who was responsible for so much of the design of the Palace of Westminster, including the Elizabeth Tower.

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The tomb of John Gower. a poet to King Richard II and Henry IV. His head is resting on three books representing three of his greatest works.

Southwark Cathedral

The railway viaduct and market now occupies part of what was the churchyard of the Cathedral. There are some steps in the south-east corner of the churchyard from where the difference between the quiet churchyard of Southwark Cathedral and the crowds of Borough Market can be appreciated.

Southwark Cathedral

There were a fair number of visitors to the Cathedral during my visit, however what most people seemed to miss was perhaps one of the most interesting features. Walk back out the entrance to the Cathedral and there is a corridor where the Cathedral Shop is located. At the end of this corridor is the result of some of the archaeological excavations that took place prior to the building of the rooms on the north-side of the Cathedral in 1999.

The excavations show the layered history of the Cathedral, starting with the remains of a Roman road from the 1st Century AD, 12th Century foundations of the Norman Priory, 17th Century Delft Kiln, 18th Century stone pavement and a 19th century lead water pipe.

The remains of a 1st Century Roman road between the walls of the cathedral and the wooden retaining panels.

Southwark Cathedral

The information panel explains that the Roman road was a smaller road running diagonally across the church and appears to be running up to the river to meet at the same place where Watling Street met the river.

Lower right are 12th Century remains of the Norman church. In the middle is the 17th Century Delft Kiln and at the top is the lead piping and pavement.

Southwark Cathedral

Looking along the excavations with a coffin behind the kiln.

Southwark Cathedral

It is good to see these features in situ rather than as isolated exhibits. They show the layered history of London’s past and how London has always been built on earlier versions of the city.

It is also not just the stones of the city that have a layered history. All those who have lived and worked in the city over the centuries are also part of these layers, and it is this that I feel part of (although on a very much shorter time span) when taking photos in the same locations as those from 60 and 70 years ago.

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The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great

For this week’s post I am in West Smithfield, at the gatehouse entrance to the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great. The photo below is my father’s post war photo of the gatehouse.

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And in the following photo is the same view on a rather damp and overcast January morning.

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The gatehouse building is basically the same apart from some cosmetic differences as is the building to the left. The building on the right is of a similar style to the original but was part of reconstruction work carried out between 1950 and 1952.

The other difference is that road running to the right has been pedestrianised along the length leading out into West Smithfield with an additional large area of paving in front of the gatehouse.

The gatehouse entrance now opens onto the path leading to the church with the graveyard on the left, however originally the church of St Bartholomew the Great covered the area now occupied by the graveyard and path. The stone entrance of the gateway is part of the original 13th Century doorway to the south aisle of the church. The timber framed building above was added in the 16th Century.

The following plan of the original layout is displayed within the church. The nave is the area that once occupied the space which is now the graveyard and the South Aisle is the path from today’s entrance to the church up to the gatehouse, of which the original stonework is shown by the dark green at the left hand end of the South Aisle.

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For many years, the timber framed upper floors of the gatehouse were covered by a later brick and plaster frontage. The timber framework was uncovered when the gatehouse suffered damage from nearby bombing during the First World War. The brickwork was later removed and the gatehouse restored to the condition we see today.

A newspaper report from the Leeds Mercury of the 7th August 1916 titled “A City Improvement” records the change:

“Passing through Little Britain this afternoon on entering West Smithfield it seemed for a moment that I had lost my bearings, for I was confronted with a beautiful oak and plaster facade which I had not noticed before. The phenomenon was not due to the wizard’s magic wand, but to the rector and churchwardens of St. Bartholomew the Great, who have restored the old gate-house above the Norman dog toothed arch by which Rahere’s Church of St. Bartholomew is entered. In the days when Vandalism reigned under the name of improvements the front of the gate-house was modernised and covered with stucco. After much expense and pains the quaint old structure can be seen as the architect left it, for not a single timber has been left disturbed.”

The following photo from Getty Images shows the gatehouse before the First World War with the plaster and brickwork overlay to the original timber frame. The buildings on either side of the photo are the same as in my father’s photo however the building on the right was occupied by the Stationers & Bookbinders Evans & Witt at the start of the 20th Century before changing to the Gateway Tobacco & Confectionery Company by the time of my father’s photo.

Walk through the gatehouse and this is the view of St Bartholomew the Great. This whole area would once have been covered by the original church and the path leading up to today’s entrance was once the south aisle. The raised area on the left, formerly the nave, is now the churchyard.

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As well as the loss of the original nave, the church has been through many major and minor changes over the centuries. The following photo from 1877 shows the same view as above, however in 1877 there was no entrance or porch at the base of the tower and a large window occupied the wall of the church on the left, along with an entrance to the church. (I am fascinated by the steps up to the wooden door into the tower, I wonder why the door was placed in this position?)

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And in 1739, houses in Cloth Fair, the street to the left of the church, formed a boundary along the churchyard.

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St Bartholomew the Great was founded in 1123 by Rahere, a prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The story goes that Rahere was originally a Jester or Kings Minstrel, however after the death of the King’s wife and children Rahere traveled to Rome where St Bartholomew appeared to him in a vision and commanded him to build the church. He established the church as an Augustine Priory (possibly on the site of an earlier parish church) along with the adjacent hospital of St. Bartholomew.

Over the centuries the church went through many changes. After the dissolution, the majority of the nave and the north and south aisles were pulled down and the choir was annexed to the old parish church. Queen Mary gave the church to the Black Friars who used it as a conventional church, then Queen Elizabeth restored the church to the parish, although by then the church was in a very poor condition as Stow wrote that the steeple of the church “of rotten timber readie to fall of itselfe.”

The current tower was built in 1628 and for the following centuries the church went through periods of decay, restorations, parts of the building were pressed into different use such as a school and workshops and the buildings of Cloth Fair crowded close up to and sometimes within the fabric of the church.

The church survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz.

The restoration of the church to the state we see today began around 1886 lasting through to the early 20th Century, including the work on the entrance from West Smithfield.

Time to have a walk around the church. My visit was on a wet Saturday in January, the type of day that is much underrated  for a visit to this type of building. They are generally much quieter and the dampness and limited light at this time of year seems to make the history and fabric of the church far more visible.

On the right of the church is the Font which dates from 1404. It was at this font that William Hogarth was baptised on the 28th November 1697. He was born close by in Bartholomew Close. He also was responsible for the magnificent murals along the stairs leading to the Great Hall of the adjacent St Batholomew’s Hospital.

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The tomb of Sir Walter and Lady Mary Mildmay. The founder of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth 1, Mildmay died in 1589 after Mary who died in 1576.

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There are not that many monuments in St Bartholomew the Great, probably due to the many periods of reconstruction, loss of much of the nave and the different uses to which the church has been put, however those that remain are impressive.

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Doorway through to the Vestry, much of which is the original medieval stonework.

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Prior Bolton’s door.

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Prior Bolton was Prior of St Bartholomew the Great between 1505 and 1532 and carried out repair and construction work across the church. As well as being Prior, Bolton was a member of Gray’s Inn and a builder of some considerable success. Bolton was responsible for building work at Westminster Abbey, including construction of the chapel for Henry VII. In his will Henry VII left direction that the chapel should be completed and, “delivered to the Priour of Sainct Batilmews beside Smythfeld of the work of our said chapell’

He continued to work for Henry VIII and was responsible for a number of construction projects in London and across the country. The King’s Book of Payments include records of payment to Bolton of over £5,000 for work on New Hall, near Chelmsford in Essex, a considerable sum of money at the time.

Looking back down the South Aisle. In the original medieval church, this view would have been twice a long, all the way to the gatehouse.

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The Lady Chapel at the east end of the church. After the dissolution, from 1539 all the way to the 1880s this part of the church buildings was used for alternative activities including use as a house and as a printing works. Beneath the Lady Chapel are the remains of the original medieval crypt.

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During the 19th century restoration work, the crypt had to be dug out and restored having been used for a range of purposes including coal and wine cellars. Parts of St. Bartholomew the Great were also used as a blacksmith’s forge and in a 1916 newspaper report on the restoration work there is a comment that one of the pillars still has smoke staining from the forge – I could not find that today.

The High Altar.

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On the left of the High Altar is the tomb of Prior Rahere, the founder of the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great. Rahere died in 1143 and the current tomb dates from 1405.

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The potential for damage during the Zeppelin raids across London during the First World War, and which assisted with the uncovering of the original gatehouse, resulted in precautions being taken to protect many of the ancient artifacts across the City. In St Bartholomew the Great, the tomb of Rahere was sandbagged.

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Another or Prior Bolton’s additions to the church, an oriel window as seen from the Choir.

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On the base of the window is Bolton’s rebus, or personal symbol consisting of a crossbow and a cask.

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Not all of the Prior’s and Ministers of St Bartholomew the Great were as beneficial to the church as Prior Bolton. In the Harleian Manuscripts held by the British Museum there is an anecdote about a minister of St. Bartholomew’s during the reign of Charles II which starts:

“One Dr . Dee, minister of Great Saint Bartholomew, who was a man but of a debauched life, understanding that his Parishioners did disgust him so far as that they had articled against him and ment to prefrre him into the high comission Court, he thus plotted…”

The story continues that the minister offered to resign the living if his parishioners would give him a certificate of good conduct to assist him elsewhere. As they were anxious to be rid of him, they provided the certificate, however he then refused to go. The problem for the parishioners was that they were either open to a charge of falsehood or of collusion with their minister.

Looking from the Choir towards the great lectern, the choir stalls and the organ. Prior to the loss of the nave, this view would have carried on a considerable distance to end parallel with the existing gatehouse.

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Looking back up towards the High Altar from behind the Great Lectern. Given that originally there would have been over half as much again of the church running back towards Smithfield, the original church must have been an extremely impressive medieval building.

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Looking back to the western end of the church. Behind the wooden screen and paintings was the original divide between the Choir and the Nave.

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Colour on a grey and damp day in January.

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I suspect my father took the original photo of the Gatehouse on the day he visited the Butterworth Charity which takes place in the churchyard of St. Bartholomew the Great every Good Friday. I wrote about this in April 2014 and you can read more here. The following two photos are one of my father’s original and my later photo from 2014.

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The gatehouse to the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great demonstrates what an impressive medieval church this once was as this was the original entrance to the south aisle with the nave running to the left.

A sense of what this magnificent church must have been like and the impression it must have had on the surroundings of Smithfield can still be had by visiting the church, even if it is not a damp and overcast day in January.

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St Dunstan In The West And An Honest Solicitor

The church of St Dunstan in the West can be found in Fleet Street on the edge of the City. The current church is not that old having been built between 1830 and 1833, however a church has been here for many centuries.

The original church was dismantled as part of the widening of Fleet Street and the land available for the replacement church was slightly further back and with limited space available, the design and layout of the church is somewhat unusual.

Walking up Fleet Street and heading towards the Strand, the tower of St Dunstan in the West still stands clear of the surrounding buildings.

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Indeed not that much has changed in the past 100 years:

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The first mention of a church on the site was around the year 1170 and the core of the medieval church survived the Great Fire and was demolished as part of the widening of Fleet Street when the new church was built further back as a replacement.

The church was built by John Shaw between the years 1830 and 1832. John Shaw senior died in 1832 and his son, also a John, completed the church. Various books claim that the tower and octagonal lantern were modelled on either St Botolph’s in Boston or All Souls Pavement in York – both are similar and we will probably never know which was the real inspiration.

The church was damaged during the last war, but was fully restored in 1950.

Just to the right of the tower is the clock which was made by Thomas Harris in 1671 for the original church. It was saved by Lord Hertford in 1828 just before the original church was demolished, who then installed it on his villa in Regent’s Park. It was returned to the church in 1935. In a recess behind the clock are two figures either side of a pair of bells.

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To the right of the clock, further back from the road is the oldest statue of Queen Elizabeth I. Made probably around 1586 and therefore during the reign of Elizabeth I, the statue was originally on the Ludgate, one of the gated entrances to the City. The plaque below the statue reads:

“This statue of Queen Elizabeth formerly stood on the West side of LUDGATE. That gate being taken down in 1760 to open the Street, was given by the City to Sir Francis Gosling, Alderman of this Ward who caused it to be placed here”.

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Outside the front of the church is also the Northcliffe Memorial from 1930, who arranged the return of the clock.

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The Book “Fleet Street in Seven Centuries”, by Walter G. Bell. published in 1912 provides an insight into how St. Dunstan’s in the West featured in the life of the city, along with the types of incidents that troubled the lives of those who lived in the area.

The earliest example is from the early years of the reign of Richard II (1377 – 1399) and tells the story of one William Hughlot who, within Temple Bar, in the parish of St Dunstan’s West, Fletestrete entered a shop owned by John Elyngham, a barber and by force of arms, William Hughlot drew his dagger and wounded, beat and maltreated the luckless barber.

Whilst this attack was taking place, the barber’s wife made a great outcry which attracted the attention of John Rote, Alderman who tried to stop the attack, however Hughlot then started to attack the Alderman who would have been killed had not the Alderman “manfully defended himself”.

John Wilman, a constable of Fletestrete seeing Hughnot trying to kill the Alderman arrested Hughnot but was also wounded in the process.

The attack on a city Alderman was classed as “a greater offence against the City’s dignity than would have been a massacre of princes”.

At trial, the judgement was that Hughlot should have his right hand, with which he first drew the dagger and afterwards drew his sword upon the Alderman cut off. This was described as the least punishment befitting such an offence. The sentence was about to be carried out, however the Alderman John Rote “in reverence for our lord the King and at the request of divers lords who entreated for the said William, begged of the Mayor and Alderman that execution of the judgement aforesaid might be remitted unto him”

After nine days of imprisonment Hughlot was released, but had to “carry from the Guildhall, through Chepe and Fletestrete, a lighted wax candle of three pounds weight to the Church of St. Dunstan, and there make offering of the same. And he was to find sureties for good behavior.”

In the 17th century, the church is described as having “gathered a little outlying colony of booksellers, who had their shops in the churchyard”,

During much of the 16th and 17th centuries the wardmote for the southside of the ward of Farringdon Without would meet at St Dunstan’s on St. Thomas’s Day when a grand jury and petty jury would consider local affairs. Example of the affairs brought to the wardmote were:

  • Thomas Smythe, a waterman dwelling in Chancery Lane, resorted to the Temple Stairs and the Whitefriars Bridge to wash his clothes. For that he was presented to the Court of Alderman in 1559 as a common annoyer of all citizens.
  • James Dalton suffered apprentices to play at dice and lose their master’s money and was also judged a common annoyer.
  • In 1560, Hugh Barett, apprentice to Miles Fawcett, cloth worker was whipped, for that he had in a vile manner did hang a cord full of horns at the door of Henry Ewart, an officer of this City and the same on the Church door, the day the said officer was married.
  • A Masterman kept a cellar under the house of Richard Blackman in Fleet Street, “wherein is much figytings, quarrelinge, and other great disorders to the great disquiet of his neighbours”.
  • In 1603 there was presented Joan Spronoy, a woman given to slanderings, scoldings, and babbling, to the great disturbance of her neighbours and others
  • In 1642, Widd Moody from Fleet Street was presented  as she was found to keep a disorderly house, and for that in her widdhood she hath had as is credibly reported two children, and still doth do incontinently

Such was daily life in the area around St. Dunstan in the West.

The church of St Dunstan in the West escaped destruction during the Great Fire of London but was quickly put into good use when it was found to have escaped unharmed as it was soon stacked high with household contents from the houses that had been destroyed by the fire. The year preceding the Great Fire was not a good one in St. Dunstan as in 1665, out of 856 burials, 568 in only three months are marked “P” for Plague.

The following two prints show the original church. The only feature that was carried to the new design that we see now is the clock and the alcove above the clock with the two figures striking bells.

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During the 16th and 17th centuries, the area around St Dunstan was known for publishers and booksellers. Among these was John Smethwicke who had premises “under the diall” of St. Dunstan’s Church and who published “Hamlet” and “Romeo and Juliet”. Richard Marriot, a St. Dunstan’s bookseller published Isaak Walton’s “Complete Angler” and Matthias Walker was one of the publishers of John Milton’s “The Paradise Lost”.

The following print from 1832 titled “New church of St Dunstan in the West” shows the new church when almost complete. There is a queue of people running to the left from the entrance to the church, possibly for the first opening of the new building.

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Time to leave Fleet Street and walk into the church. Immediately on entering the church is a plaque to the memory of the architect of the church, John Shaw. The plaque reads:

“The foundation stone of this Church was laid on the 27th day of July 1831 and consecrated to the worship of Almighty God on the 31st day of January 1833: John Shaw, Architect who died July 30th 1832, the 12th day after its external completion, and in the 57th year of his age. To his memory this tablet is here placed by the Inhabitants of this Parish.”

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Once inside the church, the unusual layout can be seen. With the widening of Fleet Street, there was limited space to build a traditional style of church with a long nave, so an octagonal shape was used to maximise use of the space available and to provide alcoves around the edge of the church for uses such as individual chapels.

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Along the walls of the church are a number of memorials and tablets including the following to Hobson Judkin – The Honest Solicitor.

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Hobson Judkin was a solicitor at the nearby Clifford’s Inn and as well as recording his honesty, the tablet also probably tells us more about how other solicitors of the time were seen if it was significant to record the honesty of one individual. I found the last will and testament of Hobson Judkin in the National Archives, however it was written over two pages of very condensed script and to my untrained eye only the occasional words were legible. I will have to work on this more.

The closing sentence “Go reader and imitate Hobson Judkin” has to be one of the best epitaphs – who would not want to be remembered in this way?

Walter Thornbury writing in Old and New London mentions that in the record of the parish written by a Mr Noble, there is a remark on the extraordinary longevity attained by the incumbents of St. Dunstan. Dr. White held the living for 49 years, Dr. Grant for 59, the Rev. Joseph Williamson for 41 and the Rev. William Romaine for 46. Thornbury makes the telling remark that “the solution of the problem probably is that a good and secure income is the best promoter of longevity”. Then as ever, poverty does not result in a long life.

St Dunstan in the West is an Anglican Guild Church, and is also home to the Romanian Orthodox Church in London and has a superb altar screen that was brought to the church from a monastery in Bucharest in 1966.

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The monument to Cuthbert Fetherston who died on the 10th December 1615, aged 78. Underneath is a plaque recording that his wife Katharine Fetherston was buried nearby in 1622 – “Who as they lived piously in wedlock more than forty years. So at their death desired to be intered together”.

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The magnificent roof of the church, above eight identical windows.

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The premises of the bank of C. Hoare and Co have been opposite the church since 1690 and the bank has had a long association with the church. Several members of the Hoare family are buried in the church, and the bank donated the stained glass windows behind the high altar.

The bank opposite still has the sign of “the golden bottle” hanging outside the entrance – a reminder of when buildings did not use numbers and some visible symbol was used to mark the location of specific people and businesses.

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My visit to the church was on the day when the Friends of City Churches host visitors and I am grateful to the very knowledgeable team who provided considerable information on the history of the church.

I also used a number of books to research the history of St. Dunstan in the West, including the excellent Fleet Street in Seven Centuries by Walter G. Bell. Churches provide a tangible link with Londoners, but so can books.

My copy of Fleet Street in Seven Centuries was originally owned by Enid F. L. Goodall who received the book as a present from her mother in February 1918. Inscribed on the inside cover of the book is “In memory of February 1918 E.F.S.G, C.E.G.G, F. Ln. G in Fleet Street” (the last set of initials were those of Enid’s mother).

On the top of the cover page of the book, Enid has written her name and the date Feb 25th 1918.

Finding the names of previous owners written in books is very common, however what was unusual about Enid is that she used her two middle initials so I wondered if I could track her down.

Enid was born on the 11th January 1890 in Dulwich. In the 1891 census her father Arthur was listed as a Photographer. In the 1939 census she had moved to Lowestoft in Suffolk where she is living with Hilda Allerton (a widow) and Georgina Unwin. Both Enid and Hilda are listed as being of Private Means whilst Georgina is listed as being in Domestic Service. Enid apparently stayed in Suffolk for the rest of her life as her death is recorded in Waveney in 1990, shortly after her 100th birthday. An article and photograph of her 100th birthday is in the Lowestoft Journal, I found the record but not the actual page which is held in the Suffolk Record Office.

So many millions of people have passed through the streets of London over the centuries and every so often it is possible to get a glimpse of an individual. It would be fascinating to know why Fleet Street on the 25th February 1918 was so memorable to Enid Goodall.

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St. Pancras Old Church, Purchese Street, Gas And Coal Works

In my father’s photo collection, there are a series showing a rather misty location in London, looking over the remains of a bombed square. These are some of the earliest photos and the negatives are not in the best condition and were probably from the winter of 1946/47.

I must admit I had not studied these in detail, there was no obvious feature and I included one of the photos in a post covering mystery locations and this was about the only one that was not identified.

I looked at these again recently and the location should have been really obvious – it was my own fault for not looking close enough.

Firstly, let me set the scene. The following map shows the location today. The station in the middle of the map is St. Pancras Station. The green space to the left of the rail tracks at the top is the location of St. Pancras Old Church. Pancras Road runs to the left of the church down towards the station and to the left of this is Purchese Street.

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The same area from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London. St. Pancras Station is without the recent extensions for the Eurostar trains to the Channel Tunnel. There is a Gas Works between the rail tracks leading into both St. Pancras and Kings Cross Stations. Between Pancras Road and Purchese Street is an L.M.S. Coal Depot.

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Having set the scene today and in 1940, here are the photos.

The first is the photo that enabled me to identify the location. On the right of the photo in the distance, behind the trees is a church. The distinctive tower of the church is that of St. Pancras Old Church. Look closely at the church and the results of wartime bombing can be seen with the  damaged roof.

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I took the following photo from Purchese Road, and the lack of a view across to the church today makes it impossible to get to the exact same spot however the view is from roughly the same spot today.

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I believe my father then turned towards St. Pancras Station and took the following photo. The gas holders that are shown in the 1940 map can be seen. The wall running from the right to just left of centre is I believe the wall of the L.M.S. Coal Depot. This is the black line running between Purchese Street and Pancras Road in the 1940 map.

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I am not sure when the L.M.S. Coal Depot was built, but it was after 1895 as the Ordnance Survey map from 1895 shows the area occupied by houses. This also shows the Gas Works along with an example of the many street name changes that have taken place in London across the years, In 1895 it appears that Purchese Street did not exist. Goldington Street and Brill Street were the names allocated to this length of street and in the 1940 map, part of Goldington Street and Brill Street appear to have become Purchese Street. This area went through significant change between 1895 and 1940 with the construction of the Coal Depot and further down the L.M.S. Goods Depot.

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A slightly different view to the above, looking towards the Coal Depot. There are signs on each side of the square on the left, it would be really interesting to know what was written on these signs, unfortunately my father did not take a photo of these.

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Again, impossible to place the exact location, however the photo below shows the view along Purchese Road looking towards where the L.M.S. Coal Depot would have been.

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The following photo was taken looking towards Pancras Road with the wall of the Coal Depot on the right.

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Another view similar to the above, but looking at the Coal Depot wall. The area on the left of the above and below photos shows the state in which cleared bomb sites were left.

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After Purchese Street, i walked over to St. Pancras Old Church. This is the view from the churchyard looking across Pancras Road to the area in my father’s photos. Now very different.

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The site of St. Pancras Old Church is very old. The website of the church states that although difficult to verify, it is believed that it first became a site of Christian worship in 313AD. The book St. Pancras Through The Centuries published in 1935 includes a chapter on the church which explains that the church was built on the site of a pagan “compita” – a rural shrine erected at cross roads in villages.

The site of the church is on a raised area of ground. The River Fleet, (or Holeburne or Holbourne as this tributary of the Fleet was once known) once flowed along the western edge of Pancras Road which would have been at the base of the raised area on which the church was built.

In 313AD, the right of religious freedom was restored in the Roman world which may be why the church website attributes this year to the possible earliest Christian church on the site. There is very little to verify the history of the church in these centuries however a 7th century altar stone has been found in the church and when the old tower was pulled down during rebuilding of the church in 1847-8, Roman bricks and tiles were found in the base of the tower and the lowest courses of the church walls.

The Rev. J. Carter Rendell describes some finds in his book “Story of St. Pancras Old Church” – “When the old tower of the church was taken down in 1847-8 a stone was found buried under it that had once been part of an altar. It is marked with five crosses, and is made of Kentish rag stone hollowed out under for the relics of a saint which are now missing. The form of the crosses is unlike any other but that on the tomb of Ethne who was the mother of St. Columba (died 597). So here is a relic of an altar made in the year 625.” 

It is easy to believe that this is an ancient site when standing looking up at the church on the mound and imagining the River Fleet running along the base of the mound.

The church and tower – a much clearer view than in my father’s post war photo from Purchese Street.

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For centuries, St. Pancras Old Church was in a very rural location. The following prints (©Trustees of the British Museum) from the 18th and 19th centuries show the church surrounded by countryside. This print is “A View of St. Pancras Church” from 1752.

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A closer view of the church showing the ground sloping away towards what is now Pancras Road – “A South View of the Church of St. Pancras in the County of Middlesex” from 1790.

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And finally, highlighting the history to be found in the area to the south of the church, St. Pancras Wells with the church in the background from 1853. The new railway would soon be changing this view significantly

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The isolation of St. Pancras Old Church is illustrated by the following description of the church in John Norden’s Speculum Britanniae from 1593. “Pancras Church standeth all alone as utterly forsaken, old, and weatherbeaten, which for the antiquitie thereof, it is thought not to yield to Paules in London; about this church have bin manie buildings, now decaied, leaving poore Pancras without companie or comfort; yet it is now and then visited with Kentish towne and Highgate which are members thereof; but they seldome come there, for that they have chappels of ease within themselves, but when there is a corps to be interred, they are forced to leave the same in this forsaken church or churchyard, where (no doubt) it resteth as secure against the day of resurrection as if it laie in stately Paules.”

The reference to Kentish Town and Highgate refers to mass being held in these locations for the majority of Sundays in the month with only one Sunday a month in St. Pancras.

The church does not feel very isolated today with trains running close by, to and from St. Pancras Station, a busy road at the base of the mound leading up to the church and housing estates now occupying the areas where the Coal and Goods Yards once stood.

Close to the entrance to the church is the splendid gothic style Burdett-Coutts Memorial Sundial. Designed by George Highton of Brixton it was unveiled in 1879 by Baroness Burdett-Coutts.

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Baroness Burdett-Coutts was the youngest granddaughter of Thomas Coutts, one of the partners of Coutts Bank. When Thomas died his estate passed to his wife, Harriot and when she died in 1837, the interest from a Trust and a 50% share of Coutts Bank passed to Angela Burdett with the condition that she also take the name Coutts, so at the age of 23 she became Angela Burdett-Coutts and also the richest woman in the country, with the title of Baroness coming later.

Burdett-Coutts gave a considerable amount of her time and money to philanthropic activities aimed at helping the poor. This included the building of the Columbia Road Market in Bethnal Green which helped support small traders and provided the poor of the area with a place where they could buy food at reasonable prices.

She funded the construction of the memorial sundial in the churchyard to record the names of many of those who had been buried in the area of the churchyard that was being used for the railway.

Burdett-Coutts died in 1906 at the age of 92 and is buried in Westminster Abbey – a fitting place as she had given away some £3 million of her money (this was the value in the 19th century, it would be a considerably higher sum now).

The majority of the old churchyard is now grass following work in the 19th century to turn the churchyard into gardens. A few memorials remain including the one shown in the following photo. This is the mausoleum of the architect Sir John Soane and his family.

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Sir John Soane was the architect of the Bank of England and Holy Trinity Church on Marylebone Road. The mausoleum was built in 1816 following the death of his wife in 1815. The design of the central feature of the mausoleum influenced Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in his design of the K2 telephone box. The mausoleum is now Grade I listed, such is its importance.

The original large churchyard around the church served St. Pancras and St. Giles-in-the-Fields. It must have been the burial-place for many tens of thousands over the centuries but was closed in 1854. Soon after, a large part of the churchyard was taken over for the construction of railway lines into St. Pancras Station. This involved the exhumation of many old burials and removal of the gravestones and tombs.

The supervision of much of this work was carried out by the author Thomas Hardy. This was before he had started writing full-time and was when he studied architecture under a Mr Arthur Blomfileld of Covent Garden between 1862 and 1867.

This work involved the removal of bodies, headstones and tombs and some of the headstones were placed in the remaining part of the churchyard where an Ash tree has since grown in amongst the headstone.

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The church was damaged during the war and restored in 1948 with a later restoration between 1978 and 1980. The view on entering the church.

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The full view looking down towards the altar.

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The Grey Monument.

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The monument is from the 16th century, possibly around 1530. The outlines on the rear of the monument were occupied by brass inlays which are now missing. They are believed to have shown the figure of a woman and her two husbands, her two sons and five daughters by one husband and three sons and three daughters by the second husband.

Other monuments in the church include the Offley family monument from the 1680s and includes their 18 children, a monument to Daniel Clarke from 1626 who was Master cooke to Queen Elizabeth and King James and an early 17th century stone curtained recess that reveals an Elizabethan woman with a baby.

View of the church looking down towards the entrance.

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St. Pancras Old Church is possibly one of the earliest sites of Christianity in the country with a much earlier history as a pagan / Roman shrine. Surviving through centuries of isolation, the church has now to contend with the encroachment of roads and railways, but is still an atmospheric and lovely place to visit. As with my last week’s post on All Hallows by the Tower, I was the only visitor.

As I walked back to St. Pancras Station, I passed the new building of the Francis Crick Institute which had only just opened.

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In this small area there is one of the earliest church sites in the country which may also be on the site of a much earlier pagan shrine, a new building housing the very latest in biomedical research, close to the British Library, all next to the magnificent architecture of St. Pancras Station which is also the terminal of a train service running under the channel to Europe – this continual development and diversity, but with very deep historic roots is why I continue to find London so fascinating.

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All Hallows By The Tower

There are a few locations in London where it is possible to feel very close to the earliest days of the City, one of these is the subject of today’s post, the church of All Hallows by the Tower.

All Hallows by the Tower, or All Hallows Barking as it was known due to the original association with the Abbey of Barking in Essex who owned the land on which the first church was built-in the late 7th century, is to be found at the top of Tower Hill alongside Byward Street.

The area between Byward Street and the River Thames suffered very badly in the last war and All Hallows by the Tower suffered a direct hit, along with the impact of nearby explosive and incendiary bombs. By the end of the war, the church was an empty shell.

My father took the following photo of the church in 1947.

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The photo was probably taken from Beer Lane, a street that once ran from just in front of the church down to Lower Thames Street. The old Port of London Authority building is in the background and the buildings that once ran along the edge of Tower Hill are on the right.

Beer Lane does not exist now, and the area to the south of All Hallows by the Tower is occupied by the recent development, Tower Place. Trying to take a comparison photo of the church is the only time I have been stopped taking a photo in London.

Tower Place consists of two buildings forming the two sides of a V shape. In between the two buildings is a large glass atrium that looks to be part of the open space in front of the church. Walking into this atrium I was swiftly told by the security people who appear to be permanently wandering around the area, that I could not take photos (despite explaining what I was doing and also that the photos were not of Tower Place).

Tower Place (and if I remember correctly the building that was here before the Tower Place development) is an example of how streets such as Beer Lane disappear and become private space.

I wanted to get the old Port of London Authority building in the background, however as I could not get far enough back from the church, the following photo is the best I could get to compare with my father’s photo.

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Only the outer walls of the church along with the tower survived the war. The restored church was reopened in 1957 and although the construction of the church appears traditional, reinforced concrete beams were used to carry the roof. The 17th century tower was capped by a ‘renaissance’ style steeple.

An earlier tower to the one we see today was badly damaged in an explosion caused by gunpowder being stored in some nearby buildings in 1649. The current tower was completed in 1659 and is the only surviving feature on a City church dating from the Commonwealth period after the Civil War. It is this tower from which Pepys watched the Fire of London. His diary entry for the 3rd of September 1666 reads “I up to the top of Barking steeple and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw”.

So many interior features was lost during the blitz, including the original pulpit (1613), reredos (1685), altar table (1636) and a chancel screen from 1705 which had been a gift from the Hanseatic League.

The restoration of the church created the interior we see today. It is remarkable that everything in the photo below is part of the post war restoration with the exception of the exterior wall.

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Whilst my father’s photo shows the view from the outside, it does not fully convey the level of damage within the church. The following photo is from the 1947 publication “The Lost Treasures of London” by William Kent and shows that apart from the tower and the external walls, there is nothing left of the church.

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The original font was destroyed in the war. The new font was carved by a Sicilian prisoner of war known only by the name of Tulipani in 1944 using limestone from Gibraltar and is a memorial to the tunnelers of the Royal Engineers who excavated tunnels in the Rock of Gibraltar during the war.

The font cover is attributed to Grinling Gibbons and from 1682. It is one of the finest of the period.

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The pre-war font. Whilst the font was destroyed in the blitz, the font cover had been moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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The proximity of the church to the Tower of London and the execution place on Tower Hill meant that many of those who were executed were then carried into the church. This includes Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and 26 years later his son, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Lord Thomas Grey (the uncle of Lady Jane Grey), Cardinal Fisher and Archbishop Laud.

The Calendar of State Papers from June 2nd 1572 records the fate of Thomas Howard:

“His head being off, his body was put into a coffin belonging to Barking Church and the burying cloth of the same Church laid on him. He was carried into the Chapel of the Tower by four of the Lieutenant’s men and there buried by the Dean of St. Paul’s, he saying the service according to the Queen’s book without any other preaching.”

The church was also used as a temporary resting place following execution. William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury was executed on the 10th January 1645 and the body was buried in a leaden coffin at All Hallows Barking by the Tower of London. Twenty years later, on July 24th he was then laid in a vault at St. John’s College, Oxford at 10 pm, having been “the day before taken from London, where he was buried.”

All Hallows by the Tower has numerous nautical associations and reminders of these can be seen throughout the church, including some superb model ships.

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The pulpit. This was originally in the church of St. Swithin in Cannon Street and is dated to around 1682. St. Swithin was one of the City churches destroyed by bombing and not rebuilt.

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Looking down the length of the church towards the organ. Remarkable that everything in this photo is from the post war reconstruction. After the war the church was an empty shell with nothing between the outer walls.

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In the Lady Chapel is the following tomb of Alderman John Croke from 1477. It was destroyed during the war, but rebuilt and restored from the remaining fragments.

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The 16th century monument to the Italian merchant Hieronimus Benalius who lived in nearby Seething Lane and died in 1583 and left instructions for Mass to be said for his soul.

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A niche in the wall holds a 17th century wooden statue of St. Antony of Egypt.

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Ornate Sword Rest:

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At the west end of the church is the Saxon arch that was uncovered during the last war by the bomb damage to the church. The date of the arch is variously given as the 7th, 8th and 11th century. The Bradley and Pevsner Guide to City Churches states that an 11th century date is preferred.

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Although I suspect the arch will never be accurately dated, the key point is that the arch is pre-Norman and highlights the antiquity of the church. Also interesting to see Roman bricks within the arch – reuse of building material from much earlier London buildings.

Beneath the church is the Crypt Museum. This is a remarkable place, not just for the exhibits, but for the sense that here, below ground level, we are close to the early years of London.

I was in the Crypt Museum for about 15 minutes and during this time there was no other visitor. This solitude enhanced the sense of the antiquity of the crypt, but it is a real shame as both the church and the crypt museum are superb and deserve support and visitors.

On climbing down the steps from inside the church, this is the view along the crypt museum. On the floor in the foreground is the tessellated pavement from a 3rd or 4th century Roman house. Although this has been recently relaid, there is an in-situ Roman pavement which I will come to later.

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The crypt museum has on display many of the artifacts that have been discovered in and around the church.

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There are also recent exhibits which tell of the history of the church during the 20th century including the remains of the north door, constructed in 1884, but damaged during incendiary bombing on the night of the 29th December 1940.

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Along with the plaque that records the baptism of William Penn, the founder of the US state of Pennsylvania in the church on the 23rd October 1644.

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In addition to the relaid Roman pavement shown above, the Crypt also has an in-place, perfectly preserved floor of a 2nd or 3rd century domestic house. The gully in the centre is thought to be the location of a wall and traces of plaster have been found on the edge. The pavement is cut across by one of the walls of the original Saxon church.

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There are many places in London where Roman remains can be seen, however, looking on at this Roman floor, in its original setting, in a quiet and empty crypt has to be my favourite – those early Londoners who would have walked across this floor feel very close.

Standing here also shows the layers that have built up London. The original Roman floor, the Saxon foundations, wall and arch, elements of the Medieval church which can be found above, along with the 17th century church tower which looked down on and survived the Great Fire, 20th century destruction and restoration – almost 2,000 years of London history in one place.

As well as the Saxon arch, damage during the blitz also revealed a number of other pre-Norman remains that had been embedded in the fabric of the church.

The Rev. P.B. Clayton describes the finds:

“Out of the wall adjacent to the arch great fragments fell, which had for at least 800 years been embedded as the capstones in the strong Norman pillars of that date. Some of these stones were most remarkable. The Keeper of the Medieval Department of the British Museum announced them to be unparalleled. The pillar has preserved them to this age intact, unique, alone and unexampled. They represent a school of craftsmanship whereof we have no other evidence. They form a portion of a noble Cross which once upreared its head on Tower Hill, before the Norman William conquered London.”

The photo below is of the upper half of an original Saxon cross. Dated to the early 10th century. The inscription around the edge reads “Thelvar had this stone set up over here….” the rest of the inscription would have carried on around the missing lower half.

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Part of the shaft of a Saxon cross stands in one of the alcoves. One piece of the shaft was found during clearing of the lower chapels in 1925-27 and the rest of the shaft was found in the rubble of the Nave Pillars following the blitz as described above by the Rev. P.B. Clayton. The shaft includes Anglo-Saxon knot designs along with St. Peter and St. Paul on the side panel. The shaft has an inscription which may read “Werhenworrth”.

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At the end of the Crypt Museum is the Undercroft Chapel. At the far end of the chapel, above the altar can be seen the rough wall of the 14th century church. The altar stones are from Castle Athlit on the coast of what is now Israel. Castle Athlit was a Crusader castle which fell in 1291.

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An unusual relic in the crypt is the original crows nest from Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Quest. A ship that was not well suited to Antarctic exploration, the ship took Shackleton to South Georgia where he died in January 1922. Taking a route via the eastern Antarctic and Cape Town, the Quest finally returned to Plymouth on the 16th September 1922.

It is not known how the Crows Nest came to be in the possession of All Hallows, however the Rev P.B. Clayton used the Crows Nest in his fund-raising activities so he must have acquired it by some means. The Rev P.B. Clayton (who also wrote the earlier extract on finding the Saxon stones) was Vicar of All Hallows for 40 years from 1922 to 1962.

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Ending my visit to the Crypt, I walked back up through the church and outside. I took the following photo of the church from Tower Hill which was as busy as usual with visitors to the Tower of London and to the river boat piers on the Thames. It is really surprising that despite being this close to Tower Hill there were so few visitors to All Hallows and that I had so long in the Crypt on my own.

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View from the east of the church.

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All Hallows by the Tower from across Byward Street, during a brief gap in traffic.

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All Hallows by the Tower encapsulates London’s history, from the earliest Roman times to the destruction of the mid 20th century and the restoration that followed. Well worth a visit, and perhaps one day I will get to take a photo of the church from under Tower Place’s atrium.

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Smith Square – Architecture, History, And Reformers

If you are in Westminster, walk past the Houses of Parliament towards Lambeth Bridge, but turn right before reaching the bridge and you will end up in Smith Square. The relative peace is in sharp contrast to the crowds around Westminster and it is a pleasure to walk here and explore the history of the area.

Smith Square and the surrounding streets still follow much of the original 18th century street plan. A central square occupied by a church, with streets radiating out, some still lined by the original terrace houses from when the square was originally developed.

If you have turned down Great Peter Street from Millbank, then the first turning on the left is Lord North Street. This street is a contemporary with the church of St. John at the centre of the square and is lined with terrace housing built between 1722 and 1726.

The view looking down Lord North Street:

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Whilst the architectural style of the majority of the buildings along the street is the same  – the buildings have timber sash windows, iron railings and the same building materials – there are variations, for example with the decoration around the main door to the street, some being simple with others having a rather ornate door surround as shown in the photo below.

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As well as retaining their original 18th century features, some of the buildings in Lord North Street have features from more recent events:

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Smith Square suffered badly from bomb damage, the church was gutted by incendiary bombs and a high explosive bomb landed in the square also damaging the church and some of the surrounding buildings. The shelters in the basements of these buildings would have offered basic, but much needed protection from everything except for a direct hit.

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Variations in style:

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A plaque at the end of Lord North Street to W.T. Stead, a fascinating character who lived his last years here.

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Stead was originally a journalist and newspaper publisher. His believe was that newspapers should be informative and entertaining and also an “engine for social reform” and pioneered a new form of journalism which led to the tabloid format of the 20th century. His expose of child prostitution in Victorian London was one of the most shocking newspaper articles of the time. He was a peace campaigner, attacking the Boer War and travelling widely to promote his ideas. In later years he developed an interest in spiritualism.

In 1912 he accepted an invitation to speak at the Men and Religion Forward Movement at Carnegie Hall in New York. He would probably have left his home here in Lord North Street to travel down to Southampton to catch the first sailing of the Titanic to attend the conference in New York.

He did not survive the sinking of the Titanic and accounts speak of Stead helping others into lifeboats and passing on his life jacket. His body was never recovered.

A fascinating man of his time, although some recent authors have been rather unsympathetic to Stead. For example, in “The Victorians”, A.N. Wilson writes:

“Stead, and the sort of journalism which he pioneered, was to provide for the lower-middle-class chapelgoers a marvelous substitute for the dramas of the Devils Theatre, the frivolous triumphs and disasters of the Devil’s Prayer Book. He was to redefine the world as a lurid back-drop for a new literary form, every bit as diverting as the three-decker novel from the Satanic circulating libraries.”

The real start of tabloid journalism!

The web site attackingthedevil,co,uk is a dedicated resource on W.T. Stead and is a highly recommended read.

The view looking back down Lord North Street from the steps of the church. Stead’s house is on the left corner of Lord North Street.

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The land around Smith Square was dominated from medieval times by the Abbey and Westminster Palace with vine yards, market gardens, orchards and building moving west from the Abbey and Palace complex. During the 17th century, part of the land between Millbank and Tufton Street was purchased by Simon Smith and his son Henry, and building commenced towards the end of the century.

Smith Square was formed around the church of St. John the Evangelist. This was one of the 50 new churches that had been identified by the Church Building Commissioners to meet the needs of an expanding London and growing population.  Land was bought by the Church Building Commissioners and the church was built between 1714 and 1728.

The church was originally at the centre of a much larger square with a considerable amount of space between the church and the closest buildings. The extract below from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the newly built streets and the church at the centre of a large space.

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The following map extract shows the core area around Smith Square today. The area is still bounded by Tufton Street and Millbank (to the left and right) with College Street to the top of the map and Market Street at the bottom (now named Horseferry Road). Much of Vine Street has disappeared with the remaining section now named Romney Street. The large open space to the top left of the church has since been built over with Gayfere Street connecting Smith Square  to Great Peter Street. Church Street now runs longer from MIllbank to the square and has been renamed Dean Stanley Street. Horse and Groom Yard to the top right of the church has been built over.

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View from the church steps showing original houses along Smith Square.

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The church from the edge of the square.

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The church was designed by the architect Thomas Archer and was one of the few of the “50 churches” that were completed. It was also the most expensive, costing £40,875 to complete.

There are four identical short towers on each corner of the church. These have led to the story that the church was designed after Queen Anne’s footstool as when asked what the church should look like, she kicked over a footstool and said “Go, build me a church like that”. Another myth is that the towers were added to ensure an equal pressure on the marshy ground of the area which caused a number of problems during construction. The towers were though part of Archer’s original design and not added for any other reason.

In 1928 the church was the location for Emmeline Pankhurst’s funeral, despite having earlier been the target of a Suffragette bomb plot.

Following the considerable destruction of the church during the war, it was eventually rebuilt but as a music venue rather than as a church, a role that the building continues to this day.

A print of St. John’s, Smith Square from 1814. The text below the print states “Situated on the West Side of Millbank, is one of the 50 New Churches & was finished 1728, but has since suffered greatly by fire. This Parish was originally part of St. Margret’s. This structure has many beauties notwithstanding the peculiarity of the design, which probably suffered from a settlement while building which prevented the whole from being carried into execution.” The fire that the text refers to was a major fire in 1742 that caused significant damage to the church.

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Looking up from Smith Square, along Gayfere Street to the towers of Westminster Abbey. A high explosive bomb fell in the road to the right of the red letter box during the war causing considerable damage to the surrounding buildings.

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In the 1980s during the time when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minster, Smith Square was often in the news due to the Conservative Party Central Office being located here at number 32. The Conservative Party moved here in the mid 1950s, moving out in 2004.

The building today is, perhaps ironically, the Information Office of the European Parliament.

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Smith Square has had a long association with politicians. The Conservative MP Rab Butler lived in Smith Square as did the Labour MP Oswald Mosley who went on to leave Labour and set up the British Union of Fascists in 1932. Harold Wilson lived in Lord North Street during the early 1970s.

Another building (the photo below – Transport House) in Smith Square was also home to the Transport and General Workers Union as well as the Labour Party.

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There is a rather strange building at one corner of Smith Square. A small part of the old ICI building, Nobel House, the bulk of which is on Millbank and extends to this corner of Smith Square and rather than blend in with Smith Square, the building has used exactly the same decoration as the main frontage of Nobel House on Millbank.

If you look up at the building along Millbank and part of Horseferry Road, the building is decorated with the faces of scientists on the keystone above the window with the name of the scientist across the balcony below. (See my original post covering Noble House). The corner of the building in Smith Square has:

  • John Dalton (1766 to 1844), a chemist, physicist and meteorologist, who was responsible for a wide range of scientific discoveries, and it was his work on Atomic Theory that was his major legacy, and;
  • Marcellin Berthelot (1827 – 1907), a French chemist  who demonstrated that organic substances could be synthetically produced rather than being dependent on some form of “vital spark” over which there was no human control.

The corner entrance to Nobel House in Smith Square with Dalton above the door and Berthelot to the right.

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In the first decades of the 20th century, some of the original buildings around Smith Square were demolished to make way for new office blocks resulting in a range of building styles around the square.

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If you leave Smith Square by Dean Bradley Street (named after George Bradley, who was Dean of Westminster from 1881 to 1902) and walk down to Horseferry Road, the view down Dean Bradley Street provides another view of the church.

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The streets around Smith Square are fascinating. A short walk down Horseferry Road is this building on the corner of Tufton Street. There is an old plaque on the building at ground level.

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The plaque is the foundation stone for one of Mr Fegan’s Homes.

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Mr Fegan was James William Condell Fegan who was born in Southampton in 1852 and moved to London with his family in 1865. He worked in the office of a firm of brokers and in the evening taught at a Ragged School. His experience at the Ragged School of the very poor conditions of many of the children who did not benefit from the school led Fegan to set up a home where children could come and learn in the evening and be given shelter overnight.

Fegan’s homes quickly developed with homes being opened at Deptford, Greenwich, Ramsgate and Southwark. As well as providing education and shelter for children in London, he also supported the emigration of children to Canada where he believed they would have a much better future.

The building in Horseferry Road was built for Fegan when the Southwark building had been outgrown and the new building housed the General Offices, an Enquiry and Advisory Bureau and a reception for new arrivals along with a Working Lads Hostel.

Fegan’s Homes also had a number of properties based in the country to prepare children for living and working in Canada.

Fegan’s Homes have all closed, however Fegans continues to exist as a Christian charity supporting children and their families

Tufton Street has some interesting architectural features. Lansdale House with a second door surround, but with no door, built to provide symmetry to the overall building.

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Plaque in Tufton Street to Siegfried Sassoon (one of the First World War poets):

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And another plaque on Tufton Street to Sir Michael Balcon who was a prolific British film producer. Just a few of the films he produced include The 39 Steps (produced when he was living here in Tufton Street), Passport to Pimlico and The Lavender Hill Mob.

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The architecture of Sir Michael Balcon’s house in Tufton Street is fascinating:

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The Tradesmen Entrance in the centre flanked by two entrance doors to two separate parts of the overall building.

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Above the Tradesmen Entrance is a niche covered by an ornate metal grille which looks like it should have a statue within. At the bottom of the niche is this rather beautifully carved bat. I have never seen one of these before and to find one in the centre of Westminster was an interesting find.

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I have always found plaques such as the blue and green ones found around Smith Square both frustrating and tantalising. They provide a very brief glimpse of a single aspect of a life. Take the following plaque to Eleanor Rathbone in Tufton Street:

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Eleanor Rathbone was the daughter of the philanthropist and politician William Rathbone and a member of a wealthy and nonconformist shipping family.

Her first public roles were as a reformer and feminist in Liverpool, and she was the first woman to be elected to Liverpool City Council. Rathbone was a constant campaigner for family allowances, having published The Case for Family Allowance in 1940 and just lived to see the start of their introduction in 1945, however there were many other aspects to her life.

She was an MP for the Combined English Universities. This was one of the constituencies that did not represent a physical location, but for this position the representation was for the graduates of English Universities other than Oxford, Cambridge and London which had their own MPs.

She was a campaigner for Women’s Suffrage and the impact of war on the dependents of soldiers. She also recognised the danger that Hitler and the rise of the Nazi Party presented, early in the 1930s. In her role as an MP she was an outspoken critic of appeasement with Germany and supported Winston Churchill when he was also warning about the rise of Nazi Germany.

Rathbone denounced the Munich Agreement in 1938 much to Neville Chamberlains displeasure and pressured the Government to take dissident Germans and Austrians along with Jews fleeing from the rise of the Nazis. She also set-up the Parliamentary Committee on Refugees and during the war campaigned for the Government to publish the growing evidence of the holocaust.

Up to 1940, Rathbone lived in Romney Street (just further back along Tufton Street), however this house was badly bombed in 1940 and the building in Tufton Street with the plaque is where she moved to after bombing damaged her Romney Street house.

A remarkable woman. Rathbone moved to Highgate in April 1945 but died suddenly in January 1946.

At the end of Tufton Street at the junction with Great Peter Street is Mary Sumner House.

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Mary Sumner was the founder of the Mothers Union, originally a group of mothers in the village of Old Alresford near Winchester formed by Mary in 1876. For the first nine years the group remained local but after a speech at the 1885 National Church Congress the concept of the Mothers Union grew rapidly across both the UK and the Commonwealth. By the end of the 19th century, the Mothers Union had 169,000 members.

Mary Sumner died in 1921 and is buried with her husband George (who held a number of posts in the church at Winchester) in the graveyard of Winchester Cathedral.

The foundation stone of Mary Sumner House, laid by her daughter in 1923.

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A short distance down Great Peter Street we can turn into Gayfere Street and head back to Smith Square to complete this quick walk around Smith Square and the local streets.

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Original two storey houses along Gayfere Street.Smith Square 28

A short walk around Smith Square and a couple of the surrounding streets, but a fascinating history and architecture. There is mush else I can add, however I apologise for my usual problem of doing justice to a subject within the constraints of a weekly post.

I walked around the area on a Saturday afternoon and the streets were very quiet, they are not that much busier during a week day so avoid the crowds around Parliament Square and much of the rest of Westminster and explore the streets around Smith Square.

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Chelsea Old Church

So many historical buildings were destroyed across London in the last war, however few have been reconstructed with such care, and continue to fulfill their original function as the subject of this week’s post.

A quick look at the following photo and it is another bomb site, however the white monument on the right of the photo confirms exactly where this is, the site of Chelsea Old Church, at the junction of Old Church Street and Cheyne Walk. When my father took the photo, very little of the church remained apart from the chapel on the right. The main body of the church along with the tower had been completely destroyed.

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The same location today, with the reconstructed church. The monument and buildings to the right confirm the location.

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And to confirm how accurately the church was reconstructed, the following photo shows the pre-war church.

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In 1957 a booklet was published to raise money for the rebuilding fund. Titled “Chelsea Old Church, 1941 – 1950” it tells the story of the destruction of the church and the battle to rebuild.

The booklet starts with a paragraph summing up the night on which the church was destroyed:

“On the night of the 16th-17th April 1941, four hundred and fifty German bombers attacked south and central London for nearly eight hours. Civilian casualties were over one thousand killed and two thousand seriously injured, and among the buildings hit were eighteen hospitals and thirteen churches, one of which was Chelsea Old Church.”

Chelsea was heavily bombed that night with a total of five parachute mines, a range of high explosive bombs and hundreds of incendiary bombs. Parachute mines, or landmines were really the same mines as used at sea. They were dropped by parachute and detonated either by vibration or magnetism making them a problem on the ground until they could be safely dealt with.

April 16th had been a fine spring day, much like the day I visited the church, with the sun shining all day long.

The air raid sirens sounded at five past nine in the evening and the residents of Chelsea either headed towards air raid shelters or stayed in their homes and the fire watchers took up their positions ready to deal with any fires caused by incendiaries and to try and deal with any casualties of bombing.

Parachute flares were the first signs of the attack, dropping over the south east of Chelsea and over the Lots Road Power Station. The raid then intensified and the booklet takes up the story:

“By one in the morning about forty trapped casualties had been reported at the Royal Hospital Infirmary. A wardens’ post nearby had dealt with more than that number of walking cases and homeless persons. The Post Warden was conducting his senior officer, the District Warden, on a tour of the area, and they were returning from watching incendiary bombs rattling down on the warehouse roofs across the river when they saw six members of the Old Church Fire Party leave the shadow of the tower and walk away from it along Cheyne Walk towards Danvers Street.

The Post Warden had returned to Cook’s Ground School and was just lowering himself into a chair to make an entry in the Log Book when two heavy explosions occurred close at hand. The time was twenty past one. Everything in the room jumped, dust was shaken down, the noise of breaking glass and splintering woodwork came from elsewhere in the building. Leaving the telephonist in charge of the Post, the Post Warden dispatched all available wardens to investigate and went out himself. The District Warden joined him in the corridor. His windows had been blown in on top of him as he sat in his office, but he escaped injury. As they turned the corner from Gleve Place into Upper Cheyne Row light came from some of the houses; windows and window frames complete with blackout had been sucked out into the road or pushed into the room. Tiles, broken slates, lath and plaster, bits of wood and glass littered the roadway; but this was only the minor damage. Justice Walk was blocked halfway in from Lawrence Street and it was evident that the center of the damage was somewhere on the other side of it. As they ran round the corner into Cheyne Walk they were brought down by a length of garden railing. They saw flames leaping up in a thinning dust haze. Near Danvers Street in a shallow crater in the road a gas main was on fire. And then it came to them both: “The Old Church has gone!” There was a jagged stump of brickwork and projecting timbers silhouetted where the eye had expected the massive square tower.”

The account in the booklet then explains what had happened to cause such destruction:

“About the time the sirens sounded the “Alert”, Mallett and the others on duty had gone up to the top of the church tower, the first time they had been up there, he said. They stayed up there for a time watching the flares and then went down to the embankment. Later on they went back to the room on the first floor of Petyt House (just behind the church) for a cup of tea. After that they were in and out all the time. About one o’clock they went along Cheyne Walk towards Danvers Street and some of them were talking to one of the fire party on duty at the cafe on the corner there. The ack-ack fire had been very heavy and there was a lot of shell casing lying about. 

He had picked up a nose cap which had fallen outside the house with the copper panels on the gates (75 Cheyne Walk). He remembered saying to himself; ‘This is made of phosphorous bronze, expensive stuff to chuck about like this’, and then he heard something fall on the road beside him. It landed with a thump, not very loud, ‘like a fifty pound weight falling on soft ground’. It was not an alarming noise, and he looked round casually  to see what it was. Actually it must have been painted dark green, with the sea green parachute collapsing beside it. Mallett described it as a ‘big thing about seven feet long and as big as you could get your arms round.’

He shouted a warning to the others and started running. They probably saw it first for they were ahead of him and had turned into Old Church Street when a second mine struck and exploded between Petyt House and the Church. the explosion detonated the one which had landed unexploded beside Mallett. How he was not killed, blown to fragments like Michael Hodge and the others caught in the open, can only be guessed at. He said he was running too fast to turn the corner and follow the others up Church Street, and he was kneeling beside the fire alarm post on the corner of the street when the explosion took place. As he was on the far side of the tower and probably below the level of the church yard wall he was protected from the direct blast of the first explosion. There was in fact a fraction of a second’s interval between the two. It may be that the debris of the tower collapsed beside him into the roadway in time to divert the blast of the other mine lying not more than seventy-five yards away.”

The tower and the majority of the church had been complete destroyed. Only the More Chapel at the far end of the church from the tower remained (as can be seen in my father’s photo).

Map of the area in 1940 showing the church just above Carlyle Pier on the river with the street names, Old Church Street, Danvers Street, Lawrence Street, Cheyne Walk mentioned above.

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The following plaque in the entrance to the church records the names of the fire watchers who were killed when the church was bombed.

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Whilst the plaque records their names, the booklet provides some background to help us understand more about the people who died protecting the church:

“There was a leader appointed for each night in the week. Normally Wednesday’s leader was Mr Bottley of Gregory Bottley & Co. Mineralogists, 30 Old Church Street and Mrs Bottley made one of the party, but they had gone away the week before on a three weeks trip to North Wales to obtain geological specimens and their places on the rota were taken by their manager, Mr Fred Winter and optical lens maker Mr. Sidney Sims. Both men had been with the firm since leaving school and were highly regarded. Sims was engaged to be married, Winter was married with two children. With Mallett, Winter and Sims on duty that Wednesday were Mrs. Greene, Michael Hodge and Mr. Franklin. The later was a carpenter employed by the Westminster Carriage Company, 48 Old Church Street, and was not strictly speaking a member of the Fire Party but had attached himself to them for the company and they included his premises in their patrols. Michael Hodge was aged seventeen and very tall for his age. He was waiting to go up to Cambridge but talking of enlisting in the Black Watch. He was staying at the Grosvenor Hotel with his parents and used to come down to Chelsea on Wednesday evening by taxi. Yvonne Greene of 34 Old Church Street, a Canadian and newly married to a Canadian army officer, was a part-time Auxiliary Fire Service driver.”

With the church destroyed, the challenge was now to protect the church site and plan for rebuilding. Anything that could be recovered from the site was quickly recovered and stored, however the site attracted problems during the years after the bombing:

“During the next two years there were no major engagements, though it was necessary to carry on a constant warfare against children who used the site as a playground, scribbling undesirable remarks on the stones and carrying off wood and bricks for their own purposes; and against adults, whom less excusably, stole lead to sell and wood to burn. It was Mr. Stewart Jones who took the initiative by getting the site fenced, and organised a concert to pay for it.”

The challenge for the church was getting approval and the funding needed to rebuild the church. The amount of damage across London meant that both funding and the labor and materials needed were in short supply during, and in the years after the war. There was no automatic assumption that Chelsea Old Church would be rebuilt.

Approval for reconstruction and funding was subject to Diocesan authority and expenditure required the consent of the Diocesan fund. A Diocesan Reconstruction Measure of 1941 placed the church on a list of bombed churches that would not be rebuilt within five years from the end of the war and there was doubt whether the church would ever be rebuilt.

In March 1945 proposals from the Diocesan Reorganization Committee recommended limited reconstruction of the church with just the More Chapel being retained to house the monuments recovered from the church.  The concern was that the remains of the church would be little more than a museum for the recovered monuments. A hard-fought campaign was needed over the following years to convince the Diocesan Reorganisation Committee that the full church should be rebuilt with permission and funding to build to the same design as the destroyed church. Fund raising took place and approval was finally given with the More Chapel reopened for services in 1950 and the whole church reconsecrated in May 1958.

The history of Chelsea Old Church requires a dedicated post to do justice to the church, however the following is a brief walk round the church.

Looking across the church to the More Chapel, the Jervoise arch and the memorial to Lady Jane Cheyne:

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The church is the only one in London with any chained books. In a case within the church are five chained books, presented to the church by the Lord of the Manor, Sir Hans Sloane. The books consist of a Bible from 1717, first and third editions of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs from 1684, a 1723 book of Common Prayer and a 1683 volume of Homilies.

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The remains of the tomb from 1555 of Lady Jane Guildford, Duchess of Northumberland.

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The inscription reads:

HERE LYETH Y RIGHT NOBLE AND EXELLENT PRYNCES LADY JANE GVYLDEFORD LATE DVCHES OF NORTHVBERLAND DAUGHTER AND SOLE HEYRE VNTO Y RIGHT HONORABLE S EDWARD GVYLDEFORD KNIGHT LORD WARDEYN OF Y FYVE PORTES Y WHICH S EDWARD WAS SONNE TO Y RIGHT HONORABLE S RICHARD GVYLDEFORD SOMETYMES KNIGHT AND COMPANION OF Y MOST NOBLE ORDERE OF Y GARTOR AND THE SAID DVCHES WAS WYFE TO THE RIGHT HIGH AND MIGHTY PRINCE JOHN DVDLEY LATE DVKE OF NORTHVBERLAND BY WHOM SHE HAD YSSEW XIII CHILDREN THAT IS TO WETE VIII SONNES AND V DAWGHTERS AND AFTER SHE HAD LYVED YERES XLVI SHE DEPARTED THIS TRANSITORY WORLD AT HER MANER OF CHELSEY XXII DAY OF JANVARY IN Y SECOND YERE OF Y REIGNE OF OWR SOVEREYNE LADY QVEEN MARY THE FIRST AND IN A MDLV ON WHOSE SVLE IF SV HAVE M’CY

Standing in the church and thinking about even the recent history of the church, the words “this transitory world” are so very true for all those who have lived in, and traveled through London.

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Although the bomb blast destroyed the majority of the church, the More Chapel was mainly intact and between the main body of the church and the More chapel, part of the original wooden construction of the church was exposed by the blast. The wooden “King Post” from the pre-Tudor construction of the building was not plastered over during rebuilding and has been left exposed.

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Monuments and plaques from the 16th century onwards:

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A view of the Sanctuary and on the right the memorial to Sir Thomas More.

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Built by More for his first wife and intended by More also for him and his second wife after their deaths. The inscription, written by More describes his life and ends with a tribute to both his wives:

Sir Thomas More’s first loving wife lies here

For Alice and myself this tomb I rear

By Joan I had three daughters and one son

Before my prime and vig’rous strength was gone

To them such love was by Alice shown

In stepmothers, a virtue rarely known

The world believed the children were her own

Such is Alicia, such Joanna was

It’s hard to judge which was the happier choice

If piety or fate our prayers could grant

To join us three we should no blessings want

One grave shall hold us, yet in heaven we’ll live

And Death grants that which Life could never give

Another of the monuments from the original church, the triumphal arch commemorating Richard Jervoise:

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The sundial on the south-facing tower of the church, remade in 1957 and identical to the original (see the pre-war photo at the top of this post to see the original sundial in the same position).

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There are a number of monuments outside the church, including this water fountain built-in 1880 by the widow of George Sparkes of the East India Company:

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The 1969 statue of Sir Thomas Moor.

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Sir Thomas More’s association with the church began when he settled in Chelsea, the owner of a large estate close to the church. When he moved to Chelsea in 1520 he rebuilt one of the chapels and with his family, worshiped at the church when at his Chelsea residence.

Another memorial to a person with a close connection to Chelsea is the memorial to Sir Hans Sloan, who was also involved with the founding of the nearby Chelsea Physic Garden:

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The fact that Old Chelsea Church is still here is a tribute to those who fought hard for the church to be re-built and to the same design as the pre-war church. It also reminds us of those who died trying to protect the area in which they lived and worked during the last war.

To finish, the following photo is an enlargement of a small section in front of the church from my father’s photo. I suspect this is an ice cream vendor cycling round the streets of Chelsea – very different to the busy road in front of the church today.

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A church with a fascinating history and highly recommended for a visit, even if it is not a beautiful spring day in London.

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St Clement Eastcheap

When the 19th century London Bridge was built to replace the original medieval bridge, the new bridge was built slight further west along the river allowing the old bridge to continue in use until the new bridge was completed.

The construction of the 19th century bridge had quite a dramatic impact on the streets on the north bank of the river. I have already covered some examples in my post on the Ticket Porter in Arthur Street which you can find here, and there were more street changes further north.

Today’s post on the church of St Clement Eastcheap provides us with another example.

St Clement Eastcheap is a modest church in Clements Lane almost at the corner with Cannon Street. The church does not have a spire and the church tower is at the same level as the surrounding buildings so unlike many other City churches, you will not find a spire to help locate the church.

The church does though have a fascinating piece of early 18th century graffiti in one of the most unusual locations, more on this later.

So, to start, here is St Clement Eastcheap in Clements Lane taken from Cannon Street.

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St Clement Eastcheap, located in Candlewick Ward, dates from at least the 12th Century, probably earlier and was originally adjacent to the street Great Eastcheap.

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Wren between 1683 and 1687. The church suffered very little damage during the 2nd World War which is surprising given the central City location, so the church we see today is much the same as the original Wren construction.

The following map is from the 1940 Bartholomew London Street Atlas. The street plan is also much the same today. St Clement Eastcheap can be seen to the lower right, just above Monument Station.

Clements Lane today, runs between Lombard Street and King William Street which runs on to London Bridge.

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Much of this street plan was created to provide an efficient route onto the new London Bridge with King William Street providing direct access from the major road junction at the Bank.

The extract below from  John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the street plan when the original London Bridge was still in place.

Here, Gracechurch Street runs to Fish Street Hill then on to London Bridge. Compare this with the above map where Gracechurch Street now curves past Monument Station to King William Street and the approach to London Bridge, highlighting the slight westward move of the bridge.

Just above and to the right of the number 3 in the map below can be seen St Clement. Here, St Clements Lane runs down to Great Eastcheap. Note also how Eastcheap is split into Great and Little Eastcheap, with Little Eastcheap remaining to this day, but now called simply Eastcheap.

Stowe states in his 1603 Survey of London that:

“The street of Great Eastcheape is so called of the Market kept, in the east part of the City, as West Cheape is a market so called of being in the West.

This Eastcheape is now a flesh Market of Butchers there dwelling, on both sides of the street, it had sometime also Cookes mixed amongst the Butchers, and such other as solde victuals readie dressed of all sorts.”

Great Eastcheap was lost when King William Street was built, with Great Eastcheap being included in the end of Cannon Street, King William Street and the Gracechurch Street, Eastcheap section by Monument Station.

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When I visited the church, there was an interesting reminder of the geology of the City. When I entered the church, there was a clear blue sky, however on leaving there was a very heavy rain shower and water was streaming down the narrow Clements Lane, carrying various bits of rubbish in the flow. Whilst today, the water disappeared down the nearest drain, this was a graphical reminder of how much of this side of the City slopes down towards the Thames and how in the past the water and rubbish running down these streets would have been carried straight down towards the river.

On entering the church from the street we look straight at the gilded reredos behind the altar.

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There was some redesign of the interior of the church during the Victorian period and much of the ceiling was renewed in 1925.

The interior of the church has always been relatively simple, Stowe summed up the church as “This is a small church, void of any monuments”, and today the church performs a function which would have surprised Stowe. The pews have been removed and half of the floor space is now office space for charities. A good use and which helps the continued occupation of the church.

Looking back towards the entrance with the charity office space to the left. The original oak casing surrounding the organ appears to have a look of surprise, perhaps because of the current use of the church.

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One of the most unique features of the church can be found in the toilets. Modern toilets have been built up against the original wooden wall panelling as can be seen in the photo below. It cannot be seen in the photo due to the lighting and dark panelling, but on the panelling, just to the left of the small wooden table is some very early 18th century graffiti.

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A close up of the graffiti, dating from the year 1703, carved 15 years after the church was completed. A remarkable survival and very surprising to find this in such a location.

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The church also retains some original Bread Shelves, used to store bread ready for charitable distribution.

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To the side of the church is St Clement’s Court, a narrow lane leading to the small churchyard at the rear of the church.

The plaque on the building on the left reads:

Here lived in 1784

Dositey Obradovich

1742 – 1811

Eminent Serbian man of letters

First Minister of Education

in Serbia

The lane also provides access to some of the office buildings that back onto the rear of the church.

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The remaining churchyard is very small with only a couple of in-situ graves. In 1910, Sir Walter Besant wrote of the churchyard:

“In Church Court we come to the ancient graveyard of St Clement, a minute space with one great shapeless tomb in the centre of the asphalt and a few small erect tombstones on the little border running inside the railings”

Not much has changed in the 105 years since that was written.

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And a couple of gravestones which have been relocated up against the wall of adjoining buildings.

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The church of St Clement, Eastcheap is easy to miss when walking in the area, but well worth a visit, including an essential trip to the toilet to see graffiti from 1703.

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St Mary At Hill And Lovat Lane

My posts of last weekend covered some of the extensive damage suffered by the City of London during the war. Fortunately there were areas that escaped with only light, cosmetic damage and have also survived the considerable development in the intervening 70 years. Places remain where it is still possible to get an impression of what London was like as a city of narrow lanes.

The church of St Mary At Hill is best approached not by the road of the same name, but turn off the busy East Cheap / Great Tower Street and head down Lovat Lane. This is the scene which meets you.

st mary at hill 1

Lovat Lane is a narrow lane that heads down to Lower Thames Street and retains the width of many of the city lanes prior to the war. Buildings face directly onto the lane and we can see the tower of St Mary at Hill which, unusually for a City church, still appears to be higher than the immediate surroundings.

The name Lovat Lane is recent. The lane was originally called Love Lane and was changed around 1939 to avoid confusion with the Love Lane further north off Wood Street. This change also appears to have justified the lane being included on maps. In the Bartholomew’s London Atlas for 1913, Love Lane is included in the index and referenced to the correct grid square in the map, however it is not shown. In the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas, the name has now been changed to Lovat Lane and is shown on the map. Various early references attribute the original name as being due to the frequenting of the lane by prostitutes, however this may be wrongly using the same source for the other Love Lane which Stow refers to as being “so-called of wantons”. The new name Lovat was chosen due to the quantity of salmon being delivered to Billingsgate Market from the fisheries of Lord Lovat.

As with many other City churches, a church has been recorded as being on the site since before the 12th century. The church was severely damaged in the 1666 Great Fire and then came under the rebuilding programme of City churches managed by Wren, however it was probably Wren’s assistant Robert Hooke who was responsible for much of the design and reconstruction of the church. The “At-Hill” part of the name is due to the church being located up the hill from Billingsgate and the downwards slope of Lovat Lane is one of the locations where the original topography of the City can still be seen with the streets sloping down from the higher ground down to the river.

Despite the central location of St. Mary, the church survived the blitz, although a fire in 1988 severely damaged the Victorian woodwork, the organ and the ceiling, however the interior has been superbly restored.

Before entering the church, walk past the church and look back up Lovat Lane, again we get a really good impression of what the narrow city lanes would have looked like. Remove the modern-day signage and add some dirt to the road surface and soot stain to the brick walls and we could have travelled back in time.

st mary at hill 7

Although just as we walk back up to enter the church, the modern-day City intrudes:

st mary at hill 8

The church prior to the Great Fire, in common with many other City churches of the time had a spire. These were made of wood and covered in lead. In 1479 the church of St. Mary at Hill paid “Christopher the Carpenter” 20 shillings to take down the spire and 53 shillings to rebuild using 800 boards, two loads of lead, nails and ironwork costing 14s 7d.

On entering the church we can see the following carved Resurrection Panel.

st mary at hill 6

From the information sheet;

“The Last Judgement relief is a very unusual example of late 17th century English religious carving, and most likely dates from the 1670s. Its carver is unknown, but we do know  that the prominent City mason Joshua Marshall was responsible for the rebuilding of the church in 1670-74: his workshop may have produced the relief.  Exactly where the relief was originally positioned is uncertain; most likely it stood over the entrance to the parish burial ground and was brought inside in more recent times.

St. Mary-at-Hill’s relief is one of a small number of Last Judgement scenes carved in later 17th century London.”

We can now enter the main body of the church and a wide space opens up before us, surprising considering the external appearance from Lovat Lane:

st mary at hill 5

The restoration following the 1988 fire created a very simple interior. The original box pews were lost and not replaced leaving a large open space from where we can look up and admire the interior of the roof, restored following the fire of 1988:

st mary at hill 2Again a surprise given the external appearance of the church from Lovat lane.

Within the church before the Great Fire was a large Rood, a cross or crucifix set above the entry to the chancel. In 1426 a new Rood was installed at St. Mary at Hill and cost £36, a very considerable sum at the time. A great stone arch was built to support the Rood, however in 1496 the arch required underpinning to support the weight and to achieve this the church procured three stays and a “forthright dog of iron” weighing 50 pounds.

At the same time the Rood was renovated and we can get an idea of what this must have looked like by the items that were included in the renovation:

– to the carver for making of three diadems, and of one of the Evangelists and for mending the Rood, the Cross, the Mary and John, the crown of thorns and all other faults

– paid to Underwood for painting and gilding of the Rood, the Cross, Mary and John, the four Evangelists and three diadems

It must have been a very impressive sight. The work was funded through a subscription being raised across the parish. Parishioners contributed a considerable sum towards the upkeep and decoration of their church. In 1487 a parishioner, Mistress Agnes Breten paid £27 to have a tabernacle of Our Lady painted and gilded. In 1519 a parishioner provided a large carved tablet to hang over the high altar at a cost of £20. Thirty years later at the time of the reformation the tablet had to be sold and only raised 4s 8d, a time that marked the end of the type of church decoration that had persisted from the medieval period.

Back towards the entrance is the magnificent organ, built by the London organ manufacturer William Hill in 1848. It is the largest surviving  example of his early work and reputed to be one of the ten most important organs in the history of British organ building. William Hill worked for the organ builder Thomas Elliot from 1825 until Elliot’s death in 1832. He had married Elliot’s daughter so on his death he inherited the company. The Hill’s workshop was London-based in St. Pancras and was known for building organ’s of the highest quality, providing organs for many important locations including Birmingham Town Hall and York Minster. The business continued until 1916 when Hill and Son as the company was known amalgamated with another organ builder Norman and Beard of Norwich. The combined company of Hill, Norman & Beard diversified into cinema organs in addition to church organs, however the limited market for these specialist products resulted in the company closing in the 1970s.

st mary at hill 3The organ was restored following the fire of 1988 and rededicated in 2002.

The church has one more secret to reveal. Step through the side door and we are out into what remains of the churchyard. Totally enclosed on all sides and only accessible either through the church or through the small alley at the far end of the churchyard which leads through to the street of St. Mary-at-Hill.

st mary at hill 9A plaque on the wall informs us that “the burial ground of the parish church of St. Mary-at-Hill has been closed by order of the respective vestries of the united parishes of St. Mary-at-Hill and Saint Andrew Hubbard with the consent of the rector and that no further interments are allowed therein – Dated this 21st day of June 1846.” Following closure, all human remains from the churchyard, vaults and crypts were removed and reburied in West Norwood cemetery.

st mary at hill 10The reference to St Andrew Hubbard is an example of the consolidation of parishes after the 1666 Great Fire, The church of St Andrew Hubbard was not rebuilt and the parish integrated with that of St. Mary at Hill.

Looking back towards the doorway we can see, above the round window some of the original fabric exposed .

st mary at hill 11

And at the end of the churchyard, one final look back before entering the short alley that takes us into the street of St. Mary at Hill.

st mary at hill 12

With not too much imagination, Lovat Lane and St. Mary at Hill provide a glimpse of what the City of London was like when many of the City streets were lanes and churches stood tall above their surroundings. Highly recommended for a visit.

St. Mary at Hill is regularly opened by the Friends of City Churches

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • Old Parish Life In London by Charles Pendrill published 1937
  • Historic Streets of London by Lilian & Ashmore Russan published 1923
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • Bartholomew’s London Atlas, 1913 and 1940 editions

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The St. Paul’s Watch

In August of last year, I was standing on the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral on a beautiful sunny day with London looking fantastic in all directions. I had my iPad with me which contained photos my father had taken from the same place just after the war, showing a very different London. I covered these photos in two posts which can be found here and here.

Looking at the devastation caused by wartime bombing, it was remarkable that St. Paul’s survived relatively unscathed. How had this happened, and what would it have been like to have experienced such a dramatic event in London’s history?

I wanted to find out more, and I have written two posts consolidating the results of some research carried out since that August day. I decided to pick one day’s events to provide some focus. The bombing on the 29th December 1940 caused fires of such intensity and scale that it became known as the 2nd Great Fire of London and from a distance it appeared that St. Paul’s would be lost.

I have split this across two posts which I will publish over two days on the 3rd and 4th of January 2015. This post covers the St. Paul’s Watch, the volunteers who protected the Cathedral during the war. The second will cover the night of the 29th December 1940, the 2nd Great Fire of London.

My apologies for the length, however I hope you will find these two posts as interesting to read as I did to research. (Unless otherwise stated, in this post, all photos and documents are from the St. Paul’s Cathedral Architectural Archive).

So let’s start with:

The St. Paul’s Watch

In the months leading up to the start of the 2nd World War, there was much preparation in London for what was expected to be a devastating war from the air. Limited bombing during the 1st World War had shown the possibilities, further developed in the Spanish Civil War and then by the Blitzkrieg or lightning form of mechanised warfare used by Germany in the attack on Poland which was the catalyst for bringing the UK into formal war with Germany.

St. Paul’s Cathedral was considered at high risk from aerial bombing. Unlike today, the Cathedral was by far the tallest building in London, standing clear on one of the two hills that formed the original City. Not only was the Cathedral an architectural masterpiece created by Wren, one of London’s main architects after the Great Fire, it was a central landmark in the life of Londoners and to the nation.

In the month’s leading up to the start of the war, the Cathedral started to prepare. On Saturday, 29th April 1939 one of the regular meetings of the Chapter of St. Paul’s was held, and although a regular meeting, this day’s session was different, it was to start planning for how the Cathedral could be protected.

During the 1st World War, a volunteer watch had been kept at the Cathedral and it was along these lines that planning for the new threat was made, with the creation of a volunteer Watch who would have responsibility for defending the Cathedral against any form of aerial attack.

Mr Godfrey Allen, the Cathedral Surveyor was appointed to command the Watch and preparations were made to put the Cathedral onto a war footing.

One of the first challenges was to find sufficient manpower to mount a fulltime, day and night watch over the Cathedral. This was at a time when the majority of the able-bodied, younger male population was expected to be involved within the armed forces. The Cathedral Watch initially started with 62 volunteers from the Cathedral staff, however this number was not sufficient to maintain a full 24 hour Watch over the Cathedral and many of these volunteers were also approaching retirement and when action was needed across the heights of the Cathedral, in the roof spaces, under the Dome etc. additional support was needed.

At the suggestion of Mr Godfrey Allen, a request by the Dean was made to the Royal institute of British Architects (RIBA) for volunteers to join the Watch. RIBA was a perfect match with members having knowledge of architecturally complex buildings and therefore perfectly suited to working in a building such as St. Paul’s and the age profile of experienced architects probably made a larger pool of people available.

The Dean of St. Paul’s made the following appeal:

“St. Paul’s Cathedral is in urgent need of double the present number of Firewatchers. The average strength at the moment is about 20 men a night. Dr. W.R. Mathews, the Dean, is sending out an appeal for volunteers and his first letters have gone to the Royal Institute of British Architects and to the High Commissioners for each of the dominions. He stated yesterday that the work is interesting and volunteers have the unique privilege of being given the freedom of the Cathedral. They are expected to watch one night a week; but the hours of duty can be adjusted to suit individual requirements. The watchers are required to be at the Cathedral not later than 9.30 PM. Subsistence allowance is paid and bunks, blankets and mess room accommodation are provided.”

I would have thought that being given the freedom of the Cathedral would have been a considerable incentive for anyone interested in the architecture and history of the building.

The appeal was successful as another 40 volunteers came forward, with the first full meeting held on the 15th September 1939 and from the 25th September a regular “night shift” from 9.30pm to 6.30am was maintained.

Whilst the Watch was made up of volunteers, it was far from an amateur operation. Under the guidance of Godfrey Allen the Cathedral was prepared and the members of the Watch participated in an extensive series of lectures, training and exercises to prepare them to work in the expected intense bombing to come.

Many of the original lecture notes and training material remains in the archives at St. Paul’s. The following two pages are the initial Air Raid Precautions documented in November 1939. The level of planning and preparation is very clear and highlights what is needed to protect such a complex building as St. Paul’s.

Firewatcher document 2

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Note the reference to “gas proof area” and “gas curtains” in the following page. This was before any serious bombing had commenced and there was still an expectation that as well as explosive bombing, London would also be attacked with poisonous gas. Exercises included first hand experience of gas. A hut in Cripplegate was used to provide the experience of passing through a chamber filled with tear gas. Fortunately this was to be the only contact that London and the members of the Watch had with the much dreaded gas.

Firewatcher document 3

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The complexity of St. Paul’s, the numerous stairs, small corridors, access to roof spaces, access to the external roofs, access to the interior of the Dome etc. were a considerable challenge for those volunteering and without an in-depth knowledge of the building. Many sessions were held, training the members of the Watch to find their way around the Cathedral. Where to find equipment, water supplies, telephones etc. and to be prepared to do this whilst the Cathedral was in the dark,  being bombed, on fire and with the constant threat of high explosive bombs.

To give some idea of the types of small corridors that connect different parts of the upper building, the following are two photos that I took on the way to the Archive.

st pauls corridor 1

Adding to the challenge of trying to get to the site of a fire, the Watch would probably have to work through these corridors by torch-light whilst carrying tools and buckets of water. Remove the electric lighting, cabling and pipes and these corridors are probably unchanged since the time the Cathedral was originally built.

st pauls corridor 2

There were a number of key factors to be considered when fighting a fire.

Large quantities of water could do damage to the fabric of the building. There was a balance to be achieved with using the right approach to extinguish a fire without causing undue damage to what is an architecturally complex and delicate building.

There was the issue of access to difficult locations. In a building as complex as St. Paul’s with many small, hidden locations, access to a large quantity of water was just not possible.

And availability of large quantities of water was always a concern as would be demonstrated on the night of the 29th December 1940. Water would be required not just for St. Paul’s, but also to protect all the buildings in the City. Storage was a problem, the River Thames was tidal and bombing could also damage the pumps extracting water from the river and the complex pipes and hoses bringing water up from the river along the City streets.

One of the key tools in use by the St. Paul’s Watch was the Stirrup Pump. The following photo from the Imperial War Museum collection © IWM (FEQ 864) shows a typical Stirrup Pump in use by the St. Paul’s Watch:
Stirrup Pump

The Stirrup Pump was in such great demand as a fire fighting tool that at one stage, just a single factory in 1941 was producing 10,000 a week. As with all other areas of the Watch, there were detailed instruction and training in the use of the Stirrup Pump.

Firewatcher document 13

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

It is interesting to read in one of the introductory lectures that the Cathedral was classified as a “business premises” with the Dean and Chapter being the occupier. As the occupier, their responsibilities were clearly defined as:

  1. for organising the fire watch;
  2. for supplying equipment, appliances and water;
  3. for the instruction and training of fireguards;
  4. for keeping a register of all attendances and defaults;
  5. for giving directions as to the place and time the fireguards are to perform their duties;
  6. for providing sleeping accommodation, bedding, adequate sanitary arrangements and lighting;
  7. for providing facilities of access to all parts of the building, except such parts as may reasonably be excluded

As well as the Watch, St. Paul’s was also prepared for the possibility of direct bombing by the removal of all that was possible to remove and the protection of anything that could not be removed.

The Grinling Gibbons Choir Stalls were dismantled with the more valuable pieces being sent out of London, the rest being stored in the crypt. The ironwork gates by Tijou along with Wren’s model of the Cathedral were also sent out of London. The rarer books were sent from the Library to the National Library of Wales.

Statues and busts which could be moved were relocated to the crypt. For anything that could not be moved, for example the memorial tablets to the Wren family, they were bricked in to provide some degree of protection.

There are a number of photos in the Cathedral Archives that show the Watch. These appear mainly to be posed photos, possibly for newspapers and magazines, however they provide a very good record of the Watch and their working conditions.

A lecture class given in the Stewards Office:

Firewatcher photo 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The following photo shows Stretcher Practice in the Dome galleries. In preparing for any bombing, there was a very real concern that the Watch could suffer injury. The Watch would not have waited until bombing has ceased to go out and fight fires, the Watch would have been across the roofs, in the Dome etc. looking out for damage, fighting fires and checking for incendiary bombs that had lodged in hidden parts of the Cathedral in the middle of raids.

Bringing those injured down the long stairs from the upper reaches of the Cathedral was not considered practical, therefore arrangements were in place and tested to lower casualties on stretchers over the edge of the upper areas (for example the Whispering gallery) and lower them down to the ground floor of the Cathedral. I am not sure what would have been more frightening, the external threat from bombing, or being lowered in one of these from the great heights of the Cathedral.

Firewatchers photo 3© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Another photo showing stretcher lowering being tested:

Firewather photo 2

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The risk of injury or death was not just when on Watch in the Cathedral. The journey into the Cathedral was just as intense. From St. Paul’s Cathedral in Wartime by the Dean of St. Paul’s:

“Many of our members came from distant parts of London and the task of getting to St. Paul’s on many a noisy night might have daunted the stoutest heart, but it did not daunt the Watch. They came through darkness, falling shrapnel from our guns, and the debris of wrecked buildings, sometimes having to throw themselves on the ground when a bomb fell near, on foot or on bicycle when other transport failed, they came to keep their Watch, whilst those they relieved made similar nightmare journeys home. Men at the look-out posts on the roof glanced occasionally towards their homes and offices wondering what they would find there on the morrow. Some saw their homes go up in flames, but they did not flinch”

This rather puts the modern-day irritation of a delayed train on the way home in context.

The following photo shows members of the Watch at one of the advance locations around the Cathedral:

Firewatcher photo 5© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

And another similar photo:

Firewatchers photo 7

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Locations were set-up around the Cathedral that could be used as waiting and reporting points and to control specific areas of the Cathedral. Each was equipped with a telephone to enable reporting back to the Control Station in the Crypt of the Cathedral.

These photos also show the ages of the Watch. In 1939 conscription covered males of between 18 and 41 and by 1942 this has been extended to the age of 51. This would have limited the pool of men available to the Watch only to those over the age of conscription.

The remainder of 1939 and the first half of 1940 was relatively quiet for the Watch. Training progressed, exercises were performed and the Cathedral was prepared as best as possible for what was still a threat that whilst imagined had not yet been experienced.

Bombing of central London of any intensity started in August 1940 when on the 24th there was some limited bombing of the City with two bombs near the Cathedral. The first air attack took place on the 7th September when an attack was concentrated on the London Docks. Members of the Watch experienced this first major raid from the high points of the Cathedral. From the Dean’s book:

“It was a golden, peaceful evening and, as the light faded from the sky, the angry red glow in the east, diversified by leaping flames, dominated the prospect, while from time to time the peculiar thud of bursting bombs punctured the silence. We were a silent company as we gazed upon the apocalyptic scene, each no doubt pondering many things. We noted, without remark the apparent absence of defence – an observation which we were to make often in the next few weeks. We wondered how long it would last before the attack moved westwards to the heart of London. We feared that the whole port of London was being annihilated. At last someone spoke, “It is like the end of the world,” and someone else replied, “It is the end of a world””.

For the Watch training and preparation continued. Note the Watch members assigned medical tasks in the following photo with the cross on the white helmet.

Firewaychers photo 6
© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Axes and hoses were key components of equipment, however hoses were very dependent on having a readily available source of water under pressure.

Firewatchers photo 8

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The availability of water was a constant issue for the Watch team. As would be found on the 29th December 1940, when water from the River Thames could not be relied on. Damage to pumps and pipes was always a risk, but also low tides in the river which took the main body of water below the level of the intake pipes.

The Cathedral had then as well as now a riser system providing distribution around the Cathedral:

Water Riser 1

However in the event of mains supplies of water failing, these would be of little use. The Watch team prepared the Cathedral by storing supplies of water in all areas of the Cathedral using any form of container that could hold water. This would be invaluable in fighting the fires on the 29th December.

The area to the immediate north of the Cathedral was destroyed in the raid of the 29th December. In the following months the buildings were cleared and water storage tanks installed. The outlines of these were still visible in the photos my father took from the Stone Gallery after the war. The following photo taken from the Cathedral shows the tanks in place, a couple of which can be seen in the lower right of the photo.

Firewatcher photo 4

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Following the initial raids, the St. Paul’s Watch settled into a routine of periods when there would be intense activities, raids almost daily for a number of months, followed by periods of quiet, a time to regroup and repair damage.

The Watch were critical in protecting the Cathedral from fire and the huge amount of incendiary bombs that fell on the City. The Cathedral suffered a few direct hits from high explosive bombs during the war. The following photo shows bomb damage in the North Transept caused by falling debris.

St Pauls bomb damage 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Cathedral had a very narrow escape on the 12th September 1940. The night had been one of intermittent attacks and in the early morning a high explosive bomb fell very close to the South West Tower. It narrowly missed the tower by a few feet and penetrated deeply below the road surface. The bomb did not explode, but due to the soft clay beneath the surface, the bomb gradually sunk deeper, eventually to reach a depth of 27 feet 6 inches below the surface.

The bomb was removed on the 15th September and taken to Hackney Marshes where the bomb was blown up, it left a crater 100 feet in diameter. Had the bomb exploded on impact it would almost certainly have taken out the whole of the South West Tower and much of the West front of the Cathedral.

There was very little that the Watch could do with an explosive bomb. If one hit the Cathedral it would explode on contact, any bomb that did not explode, either due to a fault or a delayed action fuse, was left to the professional bomb disposal teams.

Emphasis for the Watch was always on the roofs of the Cathedral, the Dome and the risk of fire.  The following memorandum from Godfrey Allen in September 1941 details the duties and procedures to be used in an emergency.

Firewatcher document 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Dome patrol was critical to ensure that a fire could not get hold in the timbers supporting the Dome. The Dome must have been a strange place to be during the height of a raid. In his book, W.R. Matthews recorded that:

“The Dome was not a healthy place in the height of a blitz and the patrol was changed at half-hourly intervals. Men have told me of the awesome feeling they experienced when carrying out their patrols in the darkness of the Dome while the battle ranged around them and of how the din seemed to be magnified by the Dome, like the beating of a drum. If they had any compensation it was perhaps that of witnessing from their lofty perch of the Stone Gallery the spectacle of the Battle of London as few others can have seen it.” 

Training continued throughout the war, the types of threats continued to evolve and updates from the appropriate authorities provided the Watch with information on the threats they may have to face.

The following two pages are an Intelligence Notice from the Corporation of London detailing new models and versions of bombs.

  • A 1Kg Anti-Personnel Bomb
  • Parachute Bomb
  • Jet-Propelled Glider Bomb
  • A new version of the Phosphorus Incendiary Bomb

Firewatcher document 4

 © The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Firewatcher document 5

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

In researching the work of the Watch, one name keeps recurring, whether as the author of much of the training materials and instructions for how the Watch should operate, to the very limited number of books that have been written about the Watch. Godfrey Allen was the Surveyor of the Fabric before the War (he held the post from 1931 to 1956) and took on the command of the Watch for the duration. It was not only his intimate knowledge of the construction and layout of the Cathedral, but also his organisational abilities in moulding the Watch into the team that protected the Cathedral during the height of the blitz. He was also responsible for the immediate repairs needed to those parts where bomb damage had been suffered, both the immediate repairs to protect the building from the elements, but also the long-term repairs.

Before the war, Godfrey Allen was also responsible for the St. Paul’s Heights policy. These were put together in the 1930s following the construction of The Faraday Building and Unilever House, which started to obstruct the views of St. Paul’s. The Heights Policy has remained in force ever since and is now part of the Local Development Framework of the City of London.

Mr Godfrey Allen (in the white hat) in the crypt control room.

Godfrey Allen 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

The Dean of St. Paul’s wrote at the end of the war “If any one man could claim to have saved St. Paul’s, that man is Mr Allen”.

The Christmas and New Year card sent by Godfrey Allen to members of the Watch for Christmas 1940, during and continuing into the peak period of the London Blitz.

Christmas Greetings

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

During the latter stages of the war, there were no threats to the Cathedral (apart from the period of V1 and V2 rocket attack), however the Watch still maintained a nightly vigil. To help with the monotony of nightly exercises the Watch organised a series of lectures and the following provides an example of the lectures from one week in January 1945:

C.A. Linge The Preservation of Durham Cathedral
J.D.M. Harvey Time
J. Steegman Iceland to Istanbul n Wartime
R.M. Rowett Women in Poetry
P.B. Dannett Some Lantern Slides, Record and Pictorial
Basil M. Sullivan The People of India

The Watch continued until the very end of the war in Europe. The “stand down” of the Watch was arranged and an act of worship planned for the final meeting of the Watch on the 8th May 1945. By coincidence, this was also the day that the German forces surrendered, VE day and the Cathedral was crowded all day long with frequent services held from early morning to dusk (an estimated minimum of 35,000 people attended the services during the day along with countless others who called into the Cathedral to mark the day’s events). The final meeting of the Watch took place at the end of the day’s public events.

thanksgiving 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

One of the closing paragraphs from Godfrey Allen’s reply to the Dean during the Service of Thanksgiving sums up what the members of the Watch must have felt at the end of such an intense period in their lives as well as in the history of St. Paul’s and London.

“To many of us, I am sure, these years will prove to be the most memorable of our lives and when we recall them in the quiet of our homes we shall think, not only of the horror and waste of those dreadful days and nights, but also of the great building which bound us all together and for which we fought with all our might.”

To provide a lasting reminder of the work of the St. Paul’s Watch, the following tablet was set in the floor by the western end of the Cathedral:

floor plague

In tomorrow’s post I will cover the night of the 29th December 1940, the impact to the area around St. Paul’s Cathedral, and how the Watch protected the Cathedral from the surrounding devastation.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • I am very grateful to Sarah Radford, Archivist at St.Paul’s Cathedral for providing access to the documents covering the St. Paul’s Watch
  • The Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral during the war, the Very Reverend W.R. Matthews published a comprehensive account titled St. Paul’s in Wartime published in 1946 (this article only scratched the surface of the work of the Watch. I recommend this book for a detailed and very readable account)
  • St. Paul’s In War and Peace published by the Times Publishing Company in 1960

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