Category Archives: London Churches

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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Baynard’s Castle, A Roman Monument And The Last Working Crane In the City

I was recently scanning some negatives of photos I had taken in London in 1982 and found a series of photos of archaeological excavations around St. Peter’s Hill and Upper Thames Street, all in the region of the church of St. Benet which I covered in a post a couple of weeks ago.

In the early 1980s a site was needed to relocate the City of London School and the site chosen was adjacent to St. Benet and unusually across the new routing of Upper Thames Street which was in the process of being boxed into a tunnel and onto the embankment of the Thames with space left for a new Thames Path.

As well as the foundations of the Victorian warehouses that ran along this part of the river and an enormous range of finds from the 1st to the 18th centuries, the excavations found two significant finds:

  • A corner of Baynards Castle
  • The foundations for a significant Roman monument

But before discussing these finds, let’s start with a view of the area facing the Thames.

I took the following photo standing on the new White Lion Hill, looking along the area that had already been cleared ready for construction of the City of London School. The concrete tunnel on the left is the new routing of Upper Thames Street, the school will soon be built over this tunnel.

baynards2
An interesting feature of this photo is the crane at the far end of the cleared area. This was the last working crane in the City and operated by the company LEP (Lanstaff, Ehremberg and Pollak) who ran their Transport and Depository business from the white building behind the crane which was LEP’s Sunlight Wharf building, which would soon be demolished in 1986. the crane was dismantled earlier in January 1983.

The Sunlight Wharf building was originally constructed on an area owned by and for Lever Brothers (now Unilever). Plans for the new warehouse were submitted in 1903 and the warehouse was completed in 1906.

Sunlight Wharf specialised in the unloading and storage of furs, silk and tinned fruit. Sunlight Wharf also carried on the tradition of this small area of being the landing point for stone destined for St. Paul’s Cathedral. The original landing point used by Wren during the construction of St. Paul’s was the adjacent Paul’s Wharf. During later repairs to the cathedral, Sunlight Wharf was used with one of the last sailing barges to carry stone to central London arriving at Sunlight Wharf in August 1927 after a five day voyage from Dorset carrying a cargo of 50 tons of Portland stone,

Before the war there were four swinging cranes along Sunlight Wharf. After the war as the number of barges decreased, these were replaced by the crane in the photo which was a ten ton Butters crane, able to lift a larger load and place this directly onto a waiting vehicle. A clear sign of why the docks in central London were not able to continue in business.

Although the Millennium Bridge which is now adjacent to where this building stood is a relatively recent construction, plans for a bridge between Southwark and St. Paul’s stretch back to 1851 and almost came to be built following the Bridges Bill of 1911. Needless to say, the occupiers of the area including Lever Brothers strongly opposed the building of the bridge. An architectural competition was held in 1914, but the outbreak of the first world war prevented any further progress and immediate plans for the bridge came to an end.

At the bottom of the above photo can be seen a fence. Looking down into this fenced off area we can see the base of the 15th century tower at the south east corner of Baynard’s Castle.

baynards3

Note the no expense spared sign to inform onlookers:

baynards4

The original Baynard’s Castle was built just after the Norman conquest and takes it’s name from Ralph Baynard who came over with William the Conqueror. Baynard’s being the castle at the west end of the City with the Tower of London at the east end.

The excavated tower is the east end of the castle which extended back along the Thames river front towards Puddle Dock. The following extract from Agas’ Plan of London from 1563 shows Baynard’s Castle at the centre of the frontage along the Thames.

baynards map

The original castle burnt down in 1428 and was rebuilt by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and it is these foundations that were discovered in 1982. After Humphrey’s death, the castle passed to the crown and was made a royal residence by Henry VI.

The following gives an impression of the appearance of Baynard’s Castle.

baynards old picture

Henry VIII spent a large sum to turn the castle from a fortress into a palace, and after Henry’s death it was in Baynard’s Castle that the council was held which confirmed that Mary would be Queen of England, for her short lived and generally unpopular reign from 1553 to 1558.

Queen Elizabeth I occasionally used the castle, but royal usage declined and the castle was taken on by the Earls of Shrewsbury until the castle became one of the casualties of the Great Fire.

The area of the photo is now fully occupied by the City of London School. I walked along White Lion Hill to try and take a photo from the same position, but all you would see is the wall of the school. The Millennium Bridge is the best vantage point for a view of this area now. I took the following photo which is looking from the bridge (at the far end of the original photo) towards White Lion Hill which is at the far left of the photo. The school, along with the Thames Path occupies the area at the front of my original photo and continues back over the Upper Thames Street tunnel.

baynards13

Now let’s move back up to Queen Victoria Street to the area now occupied by the school, adjacent to St. Benet’s. In 1982 I took the following photo from Queen Victoria Street overlooking the excavations towards the corner of St. Benet’s. The other side of the Upper Thames Street tunnel to that shown in the previous photo can be seen.

baynards6

I could not take a photo of this area from the same position as it would be looking straight into the walls of the school. The following photo is my 2014 photo from Queen Victoria Street which shows the school to the left and is looking towards the church. The black and white posts in the 2014 photo are along the same line as the fencing on the right of the above photo which protected the site from St. Bennet’s Hill, the side street running past the church.

baynards12

I have marked some of the features that can be seen in the following photo. Upper Thames Street originally ran directly past the church. The redevelopment seen in these photos relocated this street slightly to the south, closer to the river. The original route of Upper Thames Street is marked in yellow in the photo below.

The majority of the foundations that can be seen in this photo are of the Victorian Warehouses that covered this area (see my post on St. Benet’s to see a photo of this area as it was), however what excited much interest during this excavation was the find of a large monumental base from the Roman period. This is highlighted in blue in the following photo.

baynards7

There was not that much Roman activity in this area in the 1st and 2nd centuries as the area was at the far south west of the main Roman settlement. This area was at the bottom of a hillside extending back up away from the river, with terraces being cut into this hill. The monumental base was found on the lowest terrace and was of limestone blocks and ragstone masonry and was built on a raft of oak piles and rammed chalk.

Although only a small part can be seen in the above photo, the actual size of these foundations extended 4m along the western edge and possibly 8 meters along the southern edge. What was built on these foundations was not clear. Other excavations produced evidence of what could have been a temple in the area. A Roman altar was found rebuilt into a wall at Blackfriars and fragments of a monumental archway and a Screen of Gods were found in the riverside wall a short distance to the west, so it may have been possible that a temple was built on these foundations facing the river and being cut back into the hillside. These were dated from the third century.

There is also evidence that Upper Thames Street in it’s original route prior to the 1980s redevelopment had strong connections with remaining Roman structures. It may have been possible that the southern terrace constructed in the Roman period was still visible in the 11th Century when development of this area started to get underway again. St. Benet’s being one example of this as the first mention of the church is from the year 1111, when it was built up against the original Upper Thames Street. Reference is made to a wall next to the river at the end of the ninth century when King Alfred made two grants of property to the Bishops of Worcester and Canterbury with the wall being described as the southern boundary of the property.

The following photo gives another view of the site with the monumental base in the centre foreground with the two planks meeting on the top of the base.

baynards5

 

And in the following photo we can just see the end of the monumental base with some of the blocks which were dislodged by robbing when much of the stonework was removed for reuse in building work (just above the three planks).

baynards8The following photo gives some idea of the depth of excavations. After the Great Fire large quantities of fire debris were dumped over this area which had the effect of raising the area by 2 to 3 metres.

baynards9

I took the photo looking down towards the Baynard’s Castle tower foundations from White Lion Hill. I also took the following photo from the same position on this road looking back up towards St. Benet’s and St. Paul’s.

baynards1

And in 2014 from exactly the same point. The big difference again being the school which now occupies the whole area to the right.

baynards11Although small, this is a fascinating area of London and demonstrates the multi-dimensional aspect of London which I find so interesting. In this post I have covered the site of today, along with early Roman foundations and the later medieval castle. If you refer to my post of a couple of weeks ago which can be found here you can also see the streets that once ran across this site and one of my father’s photos showing the original warehouses before demolition.

The London we see today is just one instance of the City. Standing in the same position, there are many different going back for two thousand years and occasionally we can catch a glimpse of what the City looked like at a specific time.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • St. Paul’s Vista (A history commissioned by the Lep Group plc to mark the redevelopment of the Sunlight Wharf site) by Penelope Hunting published 1988
  • Popular Archaeology magazine July 1982
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • Stow’s Survey of London. Oxford 1908 reprint
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940

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The Lost Wharfs of Upper Thames Street and St. Benet’s Welsh Church

This week’s post is about one small area of London which has changed considerably since the 1940s. The following map is taken from Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Great London  published in 1940.

Between Upper Thames Street and the River Thames was a network of streets and wharfs leading down to the river. Small inlets such as Puddle Dock, Wheatsheaf Wharf and Castle Baynard Wharf were part of the central London network of docks where goods were unloaded to the warehouses that stood along this stretch of the river.

1940 map
The following photo is one my father took in 1948 and is one that I was having trouble trying to locate despite the very obvious landmark of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The streets are sloping down from St. Paul’s, a clear sign that this photo was taken from the southern side of St. Paul’s, where the land slopes down towards the river. Apart from the cathedral, the only other building with any distinguishing features is the building further up the road with the white brickwork down the corner of the building.

dads st bennets photo 2

On the building on the left is a small crane located towards the top of the building. A further demonstration of activity in these narrow streets. I imagine that goods being taken to or removed from the warehouse by road would be loaded onto lorries in this side street using the crane to lower from the warehouse. Typical activity that could be found in all the streets and wharfs leading down to the Thames.

Following a walk around Upper Thames Street and Queen Victoria Street, I finally found the location of this photo, however the surrounding area has changed so significantly and the street my father took the photo in does not now exist.

The building with the white brickwork on the corner is the church of St. Benet and the road in which the photo was taken and is running up to the church is Pauls Pier Wharf. I have repeated the map below and circled the area. The church is in the centre of the circle and Pauls Pier Wharf can be seen running down to the river.

1940 map 2

So what is there today? The church remains, but everything else has been lost. When this whole area was redeveloped, Upper Thames Street was widened and rerouted slightly to the south. I could not get to the position where my father took the 1948 photo, however to give some idea of the area now, the following photo is from the elevated Queen Victoria Street. If you go back to the original photo, this is roughly from the same position as from the first floor window of the building at the very top of the street, looking past the church and straight down Pauls Pier Wharf (which is now covered by the building behind the church).

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The cobbled road is the remains of Bennets Hill and where it turns right, behind the church, that is the original position of Upper Thames Street. The whole area south of the church, where once Pauls Pier Wharf, Pauls Wharf and East Pauls Wharf used to be is now the 1980’s City of London School which occupies the entire site.

As part of the development of the entire area, Upper Thames Street was moved slightly south and along this stretch it is enclosed within a concrete tunnel with the school being built across the tunnel and down to the frontage on the Thames. The nearest I was able to get to recreate my father’s original photo was up against the wall of the school looking back up Bennet’s Hill. This shows how much of the original street has been lost. To take this photo I was standing roughly where the person crossing the road in the original photo is standing.

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If you walk round to the other side of the church, it is possible to see the original route of White Lion Wharf. Again, this street has been lost and we are looking down into the concrete tunnel that carries Upper Thames Street (the first road in the tunnel is Castle Baynard Street and on the other side of the concrete wall is Upper Thames Street, also in the tunnel). Castle Baynard Street did not exist and is a creation of the redevelopment. It has continued the use of the Castle Baynard name as Castle Baynard Wharf, which was slightly to the west has also been lost. The eastern extremity of Castle Baynard was on this location. More on this in a future post.

On the right is the elevated White Lion Hill which leads from Queen Victoria Street down to the Blackfriars Underpass. Interesting that the White Lion part of the original street name has been retained but is now a Hill rather than a Wharf.

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If you walk along the Thames Path a short distance in the direction of Blackfriars Station, and look to your right the road coming down from Queen Victoria Street is what was Puddle Dock as shown in the 1940 map. The road still retains the Puddle Dock name.  This is what the old dock looks like now:

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A further example of the re-use of the names of the streets and wharfs along this short stretch of the Thames, the Thames path in this section is named Pauls Walk. There were three wharfs with the name Paul; Pauls Pier Wharf, Pauls Wharf and East Pauls Wharf.

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Returning to the church of St. Benet’s, this is an interesting church and well worth a visit. As with many City churches, first records of the church are from the 12th Century. The original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and the current church is one of Wren’s rebuilds of the City churches (although probably the design of the church was by Wren’s assistance Robert Hooke). Unlike many of the City churches, it was not damaged in the 2nd World War, indeed unlike so much of Queen Victoria Street and the docks onto the Thames, the small area between St. Benet’s and the river did not receive any significant damage. The church is one of the very few in the City that has not changed that much since construction after the Great Fire.

There was a time though when St. Benet’s was almost lost. In the later half of the 19th century there was a wave of church demolition of those that were perceived to be redundant and St. Benet’s was one of the churches scheduled for demolition, however Welsh Anglicans petitioned Queen Victoria for permission to use the church for services in Welsh. This right was granted and since then services have been conducted in the Welsh language. The Welsh connection is a very strong part of the identity of the church.

An old street sign, now stored inside the church:

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The Welsh Dragon as a candle holder:

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The interior of the church is bright, but with plenty of wood panelling and a large carved, but simple reredos behind the altar.

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The 17th century altar / communion table with winged angels supporting a rich cornice and under the table is a figure of Charity with her children:

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The view from the gallery:

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Back outside the church, and standing on Queen Victoria Street we can look down on the church and Bennet’s Hill. The area north of the church was the original churchyard, however this was lost in the original 19th century widening of Queen Victoria Street.
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There is some confusion as to the spelling of Benet in the name of Bennet’s Hill. The church has a single “n” in the name as does the hill in the 1940 street map, however as can be seen below, the modern day street name has “nn”. I have been unable to find whether this spelling change was for a reason or an accident with the new street signs.

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Good to see that the original stone carvings above the windows still survive.

Names though do change over the centuries. Stow in 1603 stated that the church was called St. Benet Hude (or hithe) and was up against Powles Wharffe (presumably the same as Pauls Wharf in the 1940 map). Whilst the names change slightly in their spelling it does demonstrate that they have been in existence for many hundreds of years, and for the wharfs and streets they lasted down to the reconstruction of the area in the decades after the war.

Old ghost sign on the side of the church:

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Which seems to read:

CAUTION

Whoever commits NUISANCE against …. church … otherwise injures the WALL will be PROSECUTED ….

One wonders whether the church’s current position, squashed between Queen Victoria Street, the Upper Thames Street tunnels and the elevated White Lion Hill would be considered as committing a nuisance against the church?

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • Stow’s Survey of London. Oxford 1908 reprint

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St James Garlickhythe And A Monument To The Nesham Family’s Struggle

This week, I am visiting the Wren church of St. James Garlickhythe on Upper Thames Street. The following photo was taken just after the war when repairs were taking place to the tower.

St. James did not suffer major damage during the bombing of London unlike so many other of Wren’s City churches. There was some damage to the tower, including the loss of the original 1682 clock that stood out from the tower,  and a very lucky escape when a 500lb bomb fell into the church but failed to explode.

st james - dads

The church today is much the same, however the surroundings have changed considerably with the church now right up against the considerably widened Upper Thames Street. The buildings to the right of the church in the above photo were destroyed to make way for the extra lanes as Upper Thames Street was widened from a single road to dual, two lanes of road to carry traffic  between the east and west ends of the City.

st james exterior 1

Although now up against Upper Thames Street, the church is on Garlick Hill. The church is dedicated to the apostle St James, and the Garlickhythe part of the name is from “hythe” being the Saxon word for a landing place or jetty, with Garlick coming from, as explained in Stow’s Survey of London for both church and hill, “for that of old time, on the banks of the river of Thames, near to this church, garlick was usually sold”. 

A pre-war view of the tower and steeple of St. james Garlickhythe with St. Paul’s in the background is shown below. As was typical of the pre-war city, the steeples of the City churches stand well above the surrounding buildings which cluster close around the church.

old st james 2

A church was first mentioned on the site in 1170, although it had probably stood on the site for some considerable time before this. It was rebuilt in around 1326 by Richard Rothing, Sheriff, who also left money for the maintenance of the fabric.  As with the majority of other City churches, it was then destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire with the current church being built by Wren,  and completed in 1683. A monument in the church records the rebuilding:

plaque 1 There is also one to record the restoration work carried out after the war:

plaque 2

Among the monuments Inside the church, there is one of the saddest I have found in a City church. Whilst we may romanticise  about the London of centuries past, the lost buildings, streets and ways of life, London was a hard place to survive and raise a family. The following monument records the Nesham family who lived in the parish for more than 30 years.

Sarah Nesham lived to the age of 43, “departing this life 30th December 1799”. The monument also records the death of fifteen of their children, the majority of whom did not reach the age of one, with the oldest of the fifteen making it to thirteen.

A sixteenth child was added later, Robert had reached the age of 77 when he died in 1867, one child out of sixteen living past their thirteenth birthday.

plaque 3

The detail of the children are shown in the following photo. One can hardly imagine what Sarah must have gone through in her 43 years, and I am sure that whilst fifteen children may have been the exception, this high level of child mortality was not unusual in London in the 18th Century.

plaque 4

It would also be interesting to know what their Grandson (presumably by their one child Robert surviving to adulthood) was doing in Zurich when he died in 1855 at the age of 40.

The nave of the church is one of the highest in London, large windows provide a very light interior. Up until the war the church had stained glass windows which must have resulted in quite a dark interior. The use of plain glass in the restoration of the church allows light to stream into the interior. Behind the altar is the 1815 painting of the Ascension by Andrew Geddes.

st james interior 1

The accounts for the church record many of the expenses associated with the building and opening of the church, for example in the Vestry Book for July 19th, 1682 an entry records that Mr Thomas Osborn, Churchwarden was to pay Sir Christopher Wren’s two clerks 40s each for “their care and kindness in hastening the building of the church and to do the like for the more speedy finishing of the steeple.”

When the church was nearly finished, of the many items recorded as being paid for are the following:

For Church Bible and Common Prayer Book….£3 3s 0d

Two bottles of sherry and pipes at the opening of the Church ….. 3s 4d

Hire of 3 dozen cushions and porterage….. 13s 4d

Wine when the Lord Mayor and Aldermen were at our Church….. £1 11s 0d

Wax Links to enlighten my Lord Mayor home….. 4s 6d

old st james 1Up until around 1808 there was an open churchyard in front of the church, after this time it was enclosed by iron railings.

The picture to the left shows the church as it appeared in the 1830’s, looking much the same as now, with the railings at the front and the clock on the tower.

The clock was one of the victims of damage sustained by the church during the war. A restored clock was installed  in the same position which is shown in the photo below.

 

 

 

 

st james clock 1

The church is associated with many of the City Livery Companies, including the Vintners’ Livery Company who contributed considerably to the restoration of the clock.

In front of the church is a small statue of the Barge Master and Swan Marker of the Vintners. The Vintners have held the right to own swans for many centuries and continue to hold the annual Swan Upping to count the swans on the Thames.

swan 1

The Scallop Shell is the symbol of St. James and there are many shell symbols around the church including the one shown in the photo below on the exterior of the church.

st james shell 1

We can see how the area around the church has changed by walking across the footbridge over Upper Thames Street. Originally Upper Thames Street was just the two lanes on the right of the photo. The lanes on the left were buildings that faced onto Upper Thames Street. reconstruction after the war and the need to provide routes through the City between east and west resulted in the considerable widening of this road, which took the boundary of the road right up against St. James Garlickhythe.

st james by upper thames 1As with all the City churches, St. James Garlickhythe is well worth a visit and when there spare a thought for Sarah Nesham and her fifteen children. Life was extremely tough and challenging for so many during London’s long history.

St. James Garlickhthe is opened regularly by the Friends of the City Churches.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878

 alondoninheritance.com

St. Mary Abchurch and Grinling Gibbons

If you walk down Cannon Street towards Eastcheap, it is easy to miss Abchurch Lane, however it is well worth a quick detour as a short distance along Abchurch Lane is the church of St. Mary Abchurch, one of Wren’s churches rebuilt after the Great Fire of London and one that has altered least since it was built.

Abchurch square 1

St. Mary Abchurch is not one of the City’s most well know churches and it does not sit directly on one of the main thoroughfares through the City. From the outside, there is nothing to suggest what may be found within, but it is well worth a visit.

In front of the church is a small paved churchyard, now mainly used for City lunch breaks, whilst the church with its relatively short tower and steeple just manage to hold off the surrounding offices.

Looking around the churchyard and Abchurch Lane are restaurants catering to today’s city workers. This has long been a service provided by establishments in Abchurch Lane, as described in George Cunningham’s London:

Pontack’s Tavern was located in this street. It was a French House, very fashionable and famous for its wines and good dinners. The dinners of the Royal Society were held at Pontack’s until 1746. Evelyn mentions the place in 1683, 1693 and 1694 when he dined with the Royal Society. In 1699 Dr. Bentley asked Evelyn to dinner there to meet Sir Christopher Wren.”

I am sure that many of the City workers entering and leaving the restaurants here today would equally enjoy the “wines and good dinners” of the 17th Century.

A church has stood on the site since the 12th century. As with the majority of other City churches, the Great Fire destroyed the church that stood on the site in 1666. Work on the new church commenced in 1681 with completion in 1686.

According to Stow, the parish church is named after “Saint Marie Abchurch, Apechurch or Upchurch” and in medieval documents the church is referred to as St. Mary Upchurch.

Once inside the church we can see one of the unique features of St. Mary Abchurch, the superb carved reredos (the large wooden screen covering the wall at the back of the altar). The carving on the reredos is the work of Grinling Gibbons, the greatest of decorative wood-carvers and the only known work of his in any London City church apart from St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Abchurch interior 2. rotate

Grinling Gibbons was born in Rotterdam on the 4th April 1648 to English parents. Gibbons moved to England in 1667 firstly to York, then to London. John Evelyn was instrumental in introducing Gibbons to Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. His work was extensive, the King’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, Badminton House, Burghley House, Trinity College Library, Cambridge, Blenheim Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral to name a few, however St. Mary Abchurch was the only City church to include his work during the rebuilding after the Great Fire.

Carving DetailThe dark varnishing of the wood is from the Victorian era. Gibbons carvings were originally in their natural Limewood finish and must have looked fantastic.

The close-up photo to the left shows the carving (although the same dark varnishing as the backing does not make this easy to see) but the gilded Pelican stands out well. Gibbons original 1686 receipt for this work is held in the Guildhall Library.

St. Mary Abchurch as it was pre-war is shown in the following photo.

St Mary Abchurch pre 1940

Look up, and you will see the superb painted dome of the church. It is the dome that gives the large open area of the church, uncluttered by pillars. The dome, which is over 40 feet across rests on the four brick walls which is an architectural achievement as there are no buttresses to support the walls. The whole weight of the dome is supported by and distributed down through the walls. Wren’s use of the dome enabled what is a relatively small space to appear very spacious.

Abchurch ceiling 1

The original painting of the dome was by a parishioner of St. Mary’s, William Snow.

The dome was badly damaged by bombing during 1940, but has been very skilfully repaired.

On the front pews are two ceremonial wrought iron sword-rests used to support the civic sword when the Lord Mayor of London attends a service at the church. The arms on the sword-rests are those of two former parishioners who were also Lord Mayors of London, George Scholey (1812) and Samuel Birch (1814). The first:

Abchurch sword holders 2

and the second:

Abchuch sword holders 1

Sometimes looking at City churches, particularly those rebuilt after the Great Fire, it is difficult to fully appreciate the age and continuity of use of these building. St. Mary’s has a very clear demonstration of both age and continuity. Look at the carved board listing the names of rectors of St. Mary Abchurch.  This details the names of rectors from 1323 through to the present day. Fascinating to stand and look at these names and pick out events that must have been such key events in the rector and parishioners. John Vaughan was rector when Richard III was killed on Bosworth Field in 1485 which resulted in Henry Tudor taking the throne as Henry VII and which ushered in the Tudor dynasty. Benjamin Stone was rector in 1649 when Charles I was beheaded after the English Civil War, and John Gardiner was rector in 1666 when the Great Fire destroyed the predecessor of the current St. Mary’s.

Abchurch rectors 1

Just inside the church, by the entrance is an original Alms Box dating from 1694.

Abchurch poor box

Come back outside the church, turn right and up through Abchurch Yard. This small alley was quiet even during a weekday lunchtime and gives a feel of what much of the City was like when buildings pressed closely together and small lanes ran between the major streets.

Abchurch Alley 1

Just to the bottom left of the above photo is an old hydrant cover from 1841. This is one of the best preserved I have found so far of these. The pipe and outlet are clearly seen in the hole in the centre. Only the cover that was originally across this hole is missing.

Abchurch water and plague 1

I recommend a visit to St. Mary Abchurch, a beautiful Wren church much unchanged since completion.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Stow’s Survey of London – Oxford 1908 reprint
  • London: The City Churches by Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner published 1998

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Post War London from the Stone Gallery, St. Paul’s – The North and West

For this week’s post, we continue on our walk around the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 376 steps and 53 meters from the cathedral floor. We have covered the south and east views and this week it is the turn of the north and south and the first photo is looking roughly due north:

2014 North 1 old

The street on the left is King Edward Street and the street on the right is St. Martin’s Le-Grand. The large buildings that occupy the space between these were General Post Office buildings  with the larger building in the centre of the photo being the headquarters of the General Post Office.

Whilst the roads are still in the same position, the view again is very different. In the following photo, apart from the streets my only reference points are the building on the extreme left of the photo and the church tower of St. Giles, Cripplegate on the right. These appear to be the only buildings that remains from the immediate post war period.

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Now walk a few feet to the left and look out over to Christchurch Greyfriars.

Newgate Street is running left to right with King Edward Street heading north from Newgate Street.

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And the same view today. The body of the church has been left to this day as it was after being destroyed in 1940. Flower beds now occupy the space where the pews once stood. Apart from the church, the building just behind the body of the church also remains.

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The above photos and the ones below are looking down on the area of Paternoster Square and Paternoster Row.

Paternoster Row was mentioned in the thirteenth century when Stow states that it was built around 1282 and that rents from the houses were used for the maintenance of London bridge. Before the war, this area was well-known for book publishing, distribution and warehousing, a fact that contributed to the intensity of the fires that raged in this area. This trade started well before the 20th century. It was in Paternoster Row in 1720 that William Taylor published Robinson Crusoe after Defoe had tried all over London to sell the manuscript. In 1724 Taylor’s publishing business was purchased by Thomas Longman who had founded the publishing firm of Longman, Green and Company also in Paternoster Row. Longman is still an imprint today, owned by the Pearson publishing company.

The following paragraphs are from the book “The Lost Treasures of London” by William Kent and give some idea of the dreadful loss to the long-established businesses that use to thrive in the City.

“On the night of the 29th December 1940 the bombs rained down here and Paternoster Row was more completely destroyed than any other City thoroughfare of importance. All that remained were a few buildings at the east end. The devastation in respect of books has been indicated by Evan Pughe, the Deputy Chairman of Simpkin Marshall and Co. Ltd:

On the night of the 29th December 1940, Simpkin Marshall, Ltd, the greatest distributor of English books in the world, carrying the largest comprehensive stock, lost approximately four million books when their premises in Ave Maria Lane, Stationers’ Hall Court, Stationers’ Hall, Amen Corner, Paternoster Row and Ludgate Hill, were entirely destroyed by the incendiary bombs of the enemy.

This disastrous fire eliminated everything. All the old records of the business going back a hundred and thirty years were destroyed; and most important of all, the great cataloguing system, the only one of its kind in the world, dating back for a hundred and fifty years. These catalogues were handwritten records of books, cross-referenced, so that books on all subjects could easily be traced. These records could immediately give books that had been published on any subject during the hundred and fifty years covered by them, the publisher, date of publication, the price, the size of the books, etc. They were invaluable and their loss will be felt by the reading public for many years to come.”

As a result of the blitz, Simpkin Marshall went out of business. It is hard to imagine the loss that must have been felt when Londoners returned to their place of work after an air raid and realised not just the loss of the buildings, but also what was held within and long established businesses.

Turning a bit more to the left and peering down we can get a glimpse of the Chapter House and the road that was St. Paul’s Church Yard that closely circled the cathedral.

The five circular shapes just behind the Chapter House are the impressions left by water storage tanks. Access to water was always a problem during the blitz. Damage to water distribution pipes, blocked roads and low tides in the Thames all contributed to the lack of the plentiful supplies of water needed to fight the sheer number of fires that would take hold after a raid. After the Paternoster area was destroyed on the 29th December 1940, the area was quickly cleared and these water tanks were built and kept full ready for the next raid.

Further back can be seen the rectangular shape and surrounding streets of Paternoster Square.

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I was able to frame the following 2014 photo reasonably well using the statue at the bottom right, to take a photo in exactly the same position as my father 67 years ago. The current incarnation of the Chapter House is currently undergoing re-building / restoration work hence the protective covering.

2014 North 3

Now look up again and walk further to the left and out across to the west. In 1947 the Old Bailey with the “Lady of Justice” holding the sword and scales of justice stand well above the surrounding buildings, with the Senate House of the University of London the next tallest building in the distance.

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In 2014, the Old Bailey still stands clear but the rest of the view towards the west is very different. The view of the Senate House is now obscured, and the next tallest building on the horizon is the BT Tower.

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Turning to look further to the left, we can see one of the western towers at the front of St. Paul’s.

2014 West 5 old

And the same view today in 2014:

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Looking at these towers at the front of St. Paul’s, at the Dome, across the different levels of roof across the cathedral, the many small walkways, along with the many stairways leading up to the heights of the cathedral really bring home the complexity of protecting the cathedral during the air raids of the blitz.

The Very Reverend W.R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul’s wrote an account of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Wartime published in 1946. The following extract covering the 29th December 1940 brings to life the challenges that the Fire Watchers faced whilst protecting the cathedral. We join the account after the external water supplies have dried up:

“The Watch was now forced back on their reserves and had to rely entirely on stirrup pumps and sandbags. How we blessed the prescience of our commander, who had insisted on having our supplies of reserve water augmented in case of an emergency like that which we now confronted. Tanks, baths and pails full of water with their compliment of crowbars, shovels and other fire-fighting equipment were now liberally installed in all the vulnerable parts of the building and were so arranged that men approaching the scene of the fire from any direction would be certain of finding the necessary appliances to hand. But for these precautions there might well have been a different story to tell of the fate of St. Paul’s that night.

The action in the cathedral became for a while a number of separate battles in which small squads fought incipient fires at different places on and beneath the roofs. Some of the bombs were easily dealt with, as for example that one which fell on to the floor of the Library aisle and was extinguished by Mr Allen and myself. I have a special affection for the scar left by that bomb on the floor – it represents, I feel, my one little positive contribution to the defeat of Hitler ! But some of these battles were arduous and protracted. Bombs which lodged in the roof timber were very dangerous and hard to tackle. More than one of these took three-quarters of an hour before they were put out and had to be attacked by two squads, one from below and the other from above. The lower squad had the additional discomfort of being drenched by the pumps of their more elevated colleagues”.

The account also makes clear the need for a “head for heights” when working in the roof spaces and above the cathedral floor. It is the bravery of the Fire Watchers that we have to thank for the survival of the cathedral.

Now for the final view from the Stone Gallery in 1947 and we are looking out over the southerly of the western towers across the River Thames to Westminster. We can see Waterloo Bridge along with the Shot Tower on the south bank of the Thames.

2014 West 6 old

And in 2014, the view of the river and Waterloo Bridge remain but there has been considerable change on both banks of the river. In the 1947 photo, the south bank would soon be cleared for the Festival of Britain, after which the site was part occupied by the Shell Centre building then continuous development leading up to the London Eye.

In the foreground in the extreme lower left of the photos is St. Benets, Paul’s Wharf.

2014 West 6

The following map from Bartholomew’s 1940 Reference Atlas of Greater London covers the area to the north of St. Paul’s and shows the streets between St. Paul’s Church Yard and Newgate Street. This was the area shown in the photos covering Paternoster Row and Square and shows the many small streets that were occupied by numerous businesses including that of Simpkin Marshall Ltd. These were soon to be lost with the rebuilding of the area over the coming decades.

map part 2

Compare this 1940 map with the Google map of today:

View Larger Map
That completes our walk around the Stone Gallery. The air raid of the 29th December 1940 destroyed a significant part of the surroundings of St. Paul’s and the area has since changed dramatically.

The air raids destroyed not only buildings but also business that had been operating for many years, not to mention the thousands of lives that were lost. That St. Paul’s remains is thanks to the bravery of those who protected the building as the area was covered by a deluge of bombs.

For Londoners, it must have seemed that their City was changing forever almost on a nightly basis.

The following photo is from the Imperial War Museum collection © IWM (D 6412) and was taken in January 1942 and perhaps typifies the atmosphere that must have pervaded many parts of the city.

bombed london in the snow

The Stone Gallery (and the higher Golden gallery) provide a perfect location to view the wide sweep of London, from Shooters Hill, to Alexandra Palace, the City, Westminster, North and South Bank. The last stone of the cathedral’s structure was laid in 1708 and since that time it has looked down on a City that has changed beyond all recognition and hopefully will continue to do so for many centuries to come.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Lost Treasures of London by William Kent published 1947
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral In Wartime by the Very Reverend W.R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul’s published 1946
  • The Blitz by Constantine Fitz Gibbon published 1957
  • The City That Wouldn’t Die by Richard Collier published 1959
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • The Streets of London by Gertrude Burford Rawlings published 1926
  • And for a detailed minute by minute account I recommend reading The City Ablaze – The Second Great Fire of London 29th December 1940 by David Johnson published 1980

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Post War London from the Stone Gallery, St. Paul’s – The South and East

Soon after the end of the war, my father climbed the 376 steps from the cathedral floor up to the Stone Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral to get the view that only the Stone Gallery can provide of the sweep of London from the City to Westminster. From here he was able to take in what had become of the city that he had grown up in during the long years of the war.

67 years later I climbed the same 376 steps to take in how London had changed over those intervening years.

In this week’s post, the first of two, I will compare the photos he took then with my photos of 2014, however firstly to get our bearings the following Aerofilms photo from before the war shows how St. Paul’s was surrounded by the dense city streets with buildings much closer to the cathedral than they are now. These were not only offices, but also plenty of warehouses with one of the major publishers / book distributors having their office and warehouse just north of St. Paul’s in Paternoster Square. The spires of the city churches still stood clear of their surroundings, but St. Paul’s dominated the area. In view of what was to come it still amazes me that St. Paul’s survived.

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Much of the devastation around St. Paul’s was caused on the 29th December 1940.

Christmas 1940 had been relatively quiet, however on the evening of the 29th December a large bomber force appeared over the City just after 6pm and for just over the next three hours incendiary bombs rained down on the City along with high explosive bombs. This combination caused maximum damage. High explosive bombs would rip buildings apart, exposing their contents to the impact of the incendiaries. During the peak of the raid over 300 incendiary bombs a minute were falling across the City and St. Paul’s quickly became surrounded by a sea of flame, fire crossing over the small streets and debris falling all around.

St. Paul’s was protected by a team of Fire Watchers who had the dangerous job of watching as the bombs fell and getting to an incendiary as quickly as possible to put it out before a fire became established. At one point an incendiary got stuck in the lead dome of the cathedral, where it could not be reached. A moment of danger as a single incendiary could cause a fire that would have engulfed the dome but miraculously it became free as it burned and melted the surrounding lead, and fell away from the dome landing in the Stone Gallery where the Fire Watchers could easily get to it and safely extinguish the danger.

It was not just incendiary bombs that put St. Paul’s at risk. The Fire Watchers also had to deal with a steady stream of flying embers from the surrounding buildings flying across and onto the cathedral. The heat from the concentration of fires stirred up winds that would spread embers quickly to create new fires where bombs had not landed.

The first waves of bombing finished just after 9pm and most of the area around St. Paul’s was ablaze along with many other areas of the City. The Fire Watchers and Fire Fighters worked hard in the dangerous conditions, a low tide not helping with extracting water from the Thames and the constant worry that the next wave of bombers would soon be over. However towards midnight the tide was rising and fog in the channel prevented the next wave of bombers from launching their next series of raids.

Next morning, Londoners awoke to a very different City.

Now join me as we walk around the Stone Gallery. We start looking over towards the south-east of London:

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The remains of the church in the centre of the photo is St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey and just behind is St Mary Somerset. The road between the two churches is Queen Victoria Street. The bridge spanning the Thames is Southwark Bridge and in the distance we can just see the tower of Southwark Cathedral.

The view today is shown in the following photo:

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As with much of the City of London, the church towers provide us with reference points to confirm the location. St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey in the centre of the photo still stands along Queen Victoria Street with the steeple restored on the top of the tower.

Interesting that the River Thames is much more visible in 2014. Most noticeable is that we can now see the rail bridge into Cannon Street Station. The height of the buildings between St. Paul’s and the Thames appear lower than the buildings constructed in the pre-war period. A success of the regulations governing the views of St. Paul’s and surprising that in one area of London at least the buildings are not in a race for height.

Turning slightly to the left, we can now see the full length of Cannon Street Station with the original roof running the whole length from the Thames facing towers through to the station buildings facing onto Cannon Street. The Monument stands clear of surrounding buildings and the tops of the cranes running along the Thames between Billingsgate and Cannon Street can be seen.

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The same view today is shown below:

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Cannon Street has lost the roof and the dominant position it held on the City skyline. The Monument now bravely maintains its position just above the surrounding buildings, but again is not such a prominent landmark on the skyline and all the cranes have been lost along the Thames.

A slightly different view just further to the left.

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And the same view today. the church in the centre of the above photo and just behind the red crane in the following photo is St. Mary Aldermary

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The spire just edging into the bottom of the above photo is the rebuilt spire of St. Augustine, Watling Street and the tower as it was after the war is seen in the following photo from the Stone Gallery.

The building in front of the church in the following photo is the premises of Andersons Rubber Company. One of the buildings that was on the plot to the right of St. Augustine was Cordwainers Hall. In total a succession of 6 livery halls had been on this site from 1440. The one destroyed by bombing was built-in 1909 and was the last on the site as the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers moved to the Law Society in Chancery Lane, then in 2005 moved to the Clothworker’s Hall in the City.

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The view today could hardly be more different. the spire has been restored to the church, the Andersons building has been demolished and not rebuilt and the plot of land immediately to the right of the church are now gardens and pedestrian areas.

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The small road that runs past the church and Andersons in the original photo which is now a pedestrian walkway was the end of Watling Street where is ran straight to the St. Paul’s Church Yard road that ran close around the cathedral. Pre-war, although St. Paul’s was the tallest building in London and so dominated the skyline, it was ringed on all sides by a tight network of roads and buildings. Re-building since the war has opened up the immediate cathedral surroundings.

We continue on our walk around the Stone Gallery, this time we have moved a bit further to the left and are now looking across to the centre of the City.

The tower of St. Mary-le-Bow still stands along Cheapside next to the burnt out shell of the church.

The road running across the photo at the back of the car park is Friday Street. So called due to the fishmongers who had their homes here and serving Friday’s market. A survival from the days when fish was eaten on a Friday. This street has now been lost under the One New Change development.

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The city skyline in the above photo is as it has been for hundreds of years with only the church towers and steeples rising above the surrounding streets. How different this now looks in 2014:

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As well as One New Change in the foreground, the road in front, New Change is a new routing of the original road Old Change that ran directly behind St. Paul’s, so close that it is obscured in the original photo.

In the City, the march of the new towers continues with Tower 42 on the left followed by the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the WalkieTalkie just appearing on the right.

Now for the final photo of this week’s walk around the southerly and easterly aspects of the Stone Gallery and we are looking roughly north-east at St. Verdast alias Foster on Foster Lane.

Note in the top right corner is the shell of the Guildhall. The Guildhall suffered badly on the night of the 29th December when the fire spread from the neighbouring church of St. Lawrence Jewry. The roof was destroyed and the wooden figures of Gog and Magog from 1708 were reduced to ashes, along with about 25,000 volumes from the library.

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And today’s photo of the same area, which I admit I did not realise I took a bit too low and cut of the top of the spire on the church. That is what comes with trying to balance an iPad with the original photos and a camera at the same time and not checking afterwards!

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To get a view of the streets around St. Paul’s and how they have changed, the following map is from Bartholomew’s 1940 Reference Atlas of Greater London. The original Old Change was between St. Augustine and St. Paul’s. This has been re-routed to the right and renamed New Change from which the development that is now on top of Friday Street takes its name. Watling Street and Cannon Street ran straight up to St. Paul’s Church Yard. This junction and the building plot where Cordwainer’s Hall was located are now gardens and pedestrian areas.

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Compare this 1940 map with the Google map of today:

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The following photo by the Daily Mail photographer Herbert Mason taken on the 29th December 1940 looking across Ludgate Hill towards St. Paul’s and now in the Imperial War Museum collection gives an impression of the scene with fires raging around the cathedral (photo © IWM (HU 36220A))

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Join me next week as I continue the walk around the Stone Gallery to view the North and Westerly views.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Lost Treasures of London by William Kent published 1947
  • The Blitz by Constantine Fitz Gibbon published 1957
  • The City That Wouldn’t Die by Richard Collier published 1959
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • The Streets of London by Gertrude Burford Rawlings published 1926
  • And for a detailed minute by minute account I recommend reading The City Ablaze – The Second Great Fire of London 29th December 1940 by David Johnson published 1980

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A Walk In And Around St. Mary-le-Bow

St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside is one of the more well-known of the City churches being home to Bow Bells. The church also has one of the finest Wren steeples which, unlike the church adjacent to the steeple, survived wartime bombing.

My father took the following photo just after the war from Friday Street looking across the ruins of the city towards St. Mary-le-Bow

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Friday Street is now lost under the One New Change development. Friday Street was on the south side of Cheapside, roughly halfway between Gutter Lane and Wood Street on the northern side, and ran down to Watling Street. The tower and steeple appear relatively unscathed from the outside unlike the church to the lower right which, although external walls remain, has been gutted and is now an empty shell. Within the tower fire did cause much damage and as a result the bells crashed to the ground.

As with many of these photos taken just after the war, it is impossible to take a comparison photo today. The space in between is now full of office blocks with no chance to get any view of the church.

St.Mary-le-Bow is now best viewed from Cheapside and the small square adjacent to the church from where the beauty of the spire can be admired.

A Church has stood on the site of St. Mary-le-Bow for many centuries. The church to the right rather than the tower is the original site of the church. Apparently when the church was rebuilt after the great fire Wren brought the tower forward onto Cheapside and connected the tower to the church with the vestibule which can be seen in the above photo as the brick wall between tower and church.

As evidence of the age of the church, below is an 11th century crypt constructed when the church was rebuilt by Lanfranc of Canterbury as his London headquarters.

The crypt, although with some changes resulting from reconstruction of the church above following the great fire and wartime bombing is in fine condition and can still be visited with two entrances, either through the vestibule or through a small set of steps at a corner of the church in the square outside.

Part of the crypt of St. Mary-le-Bow which also extends to the left of the photo.

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Following the great fire, Wren planned the reconstruction of the church. The original tower was not badly damaged and much money was spent on attempted restoration, however re-building was eventually found to be inevitable. This is when the decision was taken to emphasise the importance of the church by rebuilding with a magnificent tower and bringing the tower forward to Cheapside. The former church stood about forty feet southwards of Cheapside and in order to bring the new tower forward to the line of the street the site of a house not yet rebuilt after the fire was purchased.

The accounts for the rebuilding of the tower show the expense that was put into the construction:

To Thomas Cartwright and John Thompson, Masons, for building ye whole Stone wall inside and outside of ye New Tower of Bow from ye pavement to ye top of ye first great cornice with ye winding Staires ye Great Neech Portalls Pillasters windows and carvings according to contract by the great bearing date March  3 1676 – £1600

ffor building from ye top of ye first great Cornice to ye top of ye round Cornice according to Contract signed Septr. 22, 1676 – £2550

from ye Top of ye Cornice over ye Ionick Pillars to the top of ye Cornice under ye Pedestall, ffeb. 27, 1679 – £467, 1, 6

from ye Top of ye Cornice under ye first pedestal to ye under side of ye Spire, June 27, 1679 – £295, 16, 6

about finishing ye Piramids Pinicles and other works of ye Tower, June 8, 1680 – £551, 16, 0

The accounts continue to list in detail the various items and costs for the construction of the Tower which finally amounted to £7,388 8s 7d which must have been a considerable sum in 1680, with a further £8,033, 0s, 5d spent on the church resulting in a combined total of £15,421, 9s, 0d which is by far the most spent on the reconstruction of any of the City churches. For comparison, St. Lawrence Jewry was the next most expensive at £11,870 which really highlights the importance of St. Mary-le-Bow.

The tower and steeple are best viewed from Cheapside.

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And from the small square adjacent to the church, we can admire the detail of the steeple. The steeple is 224ft in height and is second only in height to St. Brides.

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My father also took another photo from roughly the same spot as the first showing the full height of the spire:

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Rebuilding after the war was carried out between 1956 and 1964. The light inside the church along with the white walls, blue panels, gold decoration and stained glass is magnificent:

P1020453Unlike the tower and steeple, the main church building is very difficult to view from a distance. The main church is surrounded by buildings and the best viewing point is from the small square outside the church. The following photo shows the church with the tower to the left. It was possible to get a bit further back, however the tree then obscured much of the church. Even so, you can see from my father’s original photo that although the core of the church was gutted, the walls remain to this day.

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The statue to the left of the photo is Captain John Smith, a former parishioner of the church. It was Captain John Smith who was leader of the Virginia Colony and was the first English explorer to map the Chesapeake Bay area and New England during the British settlement along the east cost of the United States.

As always, I find it fascinating to walk around a building to see what can be discovered on the external walls. Hiding at the top of the walls are these headers to rain water down pipes continuing a long tradition of dating and decorating these architectural features. A visible reminder of the rebuilding of the church after the war.

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There is also a plaque removed from the church of All Hallows, Bread Street commemorating that John Milton was baptised in All Hallows.

All Hallows, Bread Street was a victim of the gradual consolidation of parishes over the centuries. It was not just the Great Fire of London and the Blitz that destroyed the City Churches, there was an ongoing process of consolidation. As well as All Hallows, St. Pancras, Soper Lane was also united with St. Mary-le-Bow.

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On the corner of the tower you will also find the following carving:

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This is nothing to do with the function of the church, they are found carved on buildings, bridges and walls across the United Kingdom.

They are Ordnance Survey Bench Marks carved into structures that are likely to be long-lasting and stable to provide a height reference. The horizontal line is the height reference above the Ordnance Survey datum.  This was used in the re-levelling of Greater London between 1931 and 1934 and established a height of 56.269ft above mean sea level at Newlyn in Cornwall (the Ordnance Survey datum for measuring heights above sea level). So if you now walk along Cheapside, past St. Mary-le-Bow, at least you know the height above sea level !

St. Mary-le-Bow has always been a prominent landmark in Cheapside, a very busy route between Bank and St. Paul’s.  The following view taken from an early postcard shows how the steeple stood well above the surrounding buildings and then as now a clock on the front of the tower kept the busy people of Cheapside well-informed of the time of day.

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A fascinating church and I have not even covered the story of the Bow Bells, the nursery rhyme , Dick Whittington etc. as these are all well documented elsewhere.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878

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St. Vedas and Foster Lane

This week’s photo finds us in Gresham Street in 1947 looking towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. With the exception of St. Paul’s and the church spires, all the other buildings have been demolished over the years following the war and only the street names and churches provide a tangible link back to the long pre-war period.

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The church in the foreground is St. Vedas on Foster Lane, a Wren church built following the Great Fire of London.

As with many City churches, the core of the church has been destroyed with only the shell remaining, however the tower still stands and fortunately is structurally sound. It was the raid on the 29th December 1940 that caused the majority of the damage in the area around St. Paul’s. As well as high explosive bombs, over 100,000 incendiary bombs created so many fires that the area was devastated. Only the work of many volunteer fire-fighters managed to save St. Paul’s.

My grandfather had experience of incendiary bombs during one of the many raids that hit the area they were living in just to the west of Euston Station. An incendiary penetrated the flat above and armed with buckets of water and a stirrup pump he managed to put it out before a fire took full hold. If you could get to an incendiary bomb quickly you would have a chance. The problem was the sheer number of them that would fall in a raid with limited numbers of fire-fighters to get to them quickly, or they would lodge in inaccessible places and could not be put out. This, along with the risk of high explosive bombs falling at the same time.

The photo was taken from Gresham Street, looking across Gutter Lane to St. Vedas. I spent an hour somewhat optimistically walking around this area trying to get any view of St. Vedas from Gresham Street and surroundings for a comparison photo, however with the degree of new building in the area it is impossible. Coming from the Gresham Street area, you do not realise there is a church until you are almost alongside.

The only place I could get a clear photo of St. Vedas is from the Cheapside / New Change crossing just across from St. Paul’s where St. Vedas still stands proudly in amongst the building of the last 65 years.

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A church was established on the site in the twelfth century dedicated to St. Vedas who was a French saint, Bishop of Arras and Cambray in the reign of Clovis (who lived from 466 to 511) and apparently performed many miracles on the blind and lame. Following the invasions of the region by tribes in the late Roman period, Vedas helped to restore the Christian Church.

The dedication to St. Vedas may have been by the Flemish community in London in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is an unusual dedication for a church in the United Kingdom as there is only one other church that is currently dedicated to St. Vedas which is in Tathwell in Lincolnshire.

Foster Lane was also known in the 13th Century as St. Vedas Lane, which was gradually corrupted over time to Foster Lane (the church has also been referred to as St. Foster).

Foster is evolved from Vedast in such steps as Vastes, Fastes, Fastres, Faster, Faister and Fauster. For 100 years or more prior to the Great Fire, the church was known as St. Foster’s and is now also known as St. Vedas alias Foster.

In the 19th century, the interior of St. Vedas was described as:

“a melancholy instance of ornamentation. The church is divided by a range of Tuscan columns, and the ceiling is enriched with dusty wreaths of stucco flowers and fruit. The altarpiece consists of four Corinthian columns, carved in oak and garnished with cherubim and palm branches. In the centre above the entablature is a group of well executed winged figures and beneath is a sculptured pelican.”

From 1838 there is a reference that the church did not have stained glass, the windows being covered by transparent blinds painted with various Scriptural subjects.

The following photo from “The Old Churches of London” shows the altarpiece  in St. Vedas before destruction in the war, exactly fitting the 19th century description.

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Work on reconstruction of St. Vedas commenced in 1953 and it is now a very bright and simple interior. There is still an altarpiece but without the degree of melancholy ornamentation as in the 19th century description. The following photo is as you enter the church and look down to the altar.

P1020415 And looking back towards the entrance to the church:

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The following picture from “The Old Churches of London” provides an interesting view of the surroundings of St. Vedas looking towards St. Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.

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This was still at a time when the spires of the City churches stood well above the surrounding buildings.

The spire of St. Vedas is unusual when compared to many other Wren churches in that there are no vases to decorate the spire. The contrasting surfaces and cornices, concave and convex, emphasise the angles and on the light and shade across the spire.

It is always interesting to look at the outside of City buildings and on St. Vedas I found two boundary markers just to the side of the main door. Interesting is the use of “alias Foster” as part of the name.DSC_1730

St. Vedas is a lovely church to visit and despite being so close to St. Paul’s and the thousands of people who visit this landmark everyday, and being in the heart of the city, it is a quiet and peaceful church. In the all too brief fifteen minutes I spent visiting the church I was not disturbed by a single person.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878

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St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey – A Bombed Church and Film Location

This week’s photo taken in 1947, is looking across to St. Paul’s Cathedral from just south of Queen Victoria Street.

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The photo clearly shows the devastation that wartime bombing caused to this area of the city and how amazing that despite this, St. Paul’s survived with relatively minimal damage.

The areas that were bombed were quickly cleared of any standing structures to make these areas reasonably safe, with just rubble, foundations and cellars remaining.

The exceptions to this were the churches of the city which, despite suffering terrible damage, were left standing ready for rebuilding.

The church in the foreground is St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street. The rebuilt church still stands, however finding the exact location of the original photo is impossible due to the amount of rebuilding and loss of many of the smaller streets.

The following is my 2014 photo:

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I am not in the exact position, my father’s photo was taken further back towards Upper Thames Street, however I could not get to the point I wanted due to the building that is now across the site.

The view across to St. Paul’s is also totally obscured by building with the exception of the very top of the dome.

As with the majority of City churches, it has been a location for a church for many centuries as the original St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey was founded before 1144. The church on the site was destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Wren as the first rebuilt after the Fire. The name of the church is somewhat misleading as it was never the site of an abbey. Some sources attribute the name to a derivation of coldharbour.

This is what St. Nicholas Cole Abbey looked like in the 1930s (from The Old Churches of London by Gerald Cobb):

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Interesting to compare the 1930s drawing with the rebuilt church of today and admire how accurately the steeple on top of the tower has been rebuilt after complete destruction during the war.

St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey has also featured in film. The excellent Lavender Hill Mob released in 1951 was filmed in a number of London locations, including the bombed landscape between St. Paul’s and the river. The theme of the film is a gold bullion robbery which takes place outside of St. Nicholas when the van carrying the gold is hijacked and driven to a warehouse on the edge of the river.

This film is very well worth purchasing, not just for the story, the excellent Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway along with a very early appearance by Audrey Hepburn, but also for the many scenes shot in the City just after the war and prior to the start of any rebuilding.

The following still from the film shows the hijacked van with the gold bullion being driven past St. Nicholas:

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And approaching the warehouse with St. Nicholas very clear in the background:

Lavender Hill Mob 2The area is so different today, however fortunately as across the City, the Wren churches continue to provide landmarks to the earlier topography of the City.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Old Churches Of London by Gerald Cobb published 1942
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • And the film “The Lavender Hill Mob” released 1951 (and currently available on a remastered DVD)

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