Category Archives: London Churches

Smith Square – Architecture, History, And Reformers

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

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

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

The view looking down Lord North Street:

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

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

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

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Variations in style:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real start of tabloid journalism!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The church from the edge of the square.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Original two storey houses along Gayfere Street.Smith Square 28

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

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

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Chelsea Old Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The inscription reads:

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

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

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

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Monuments and plaques from the 16th century onwards:

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

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

Sir Thomas More’s first loving wife lies here

For Alice and myself this tomb I rear

By Joan I had three daughters and one son

Before my prime and vig’rous strength was gone

To them such love was by Alice shown

In stepmothers, a virtue rarely known

The world believed the children were her own

Such is Alicia, such Joanna was

It’s hard to judge which was the happier choice

If piety or fate our prayers could grant

To join us three we should no blessings want

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

And Death grants that which Life could never give

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

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

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

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The 1969 statue of Sir Thomas Moor.

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

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

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

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

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

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St Clement Eastcheap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stowe states in his 1603 Survey of London that:

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

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

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

St Clement Eastcheap 10

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

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

St Clement Eastcheap 6

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

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

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

St Clement Eastcheap 5

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

St Clement Eastcheap 8

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

St Clement Eastcheap 9

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

St Clement Eastcheap 7

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

The plaque on the building on the left reads:

Here lived in 1784

Dositey Obradovich

1742 – 1811

Eminent Serbian man of letters

First Minister of Education

in Serbia

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

St Clement Eastcheap 13

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

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

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

St Clement Eastcheap 4

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

St Clement Eastcheap 3

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

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St Mary At Hill And Lovat Lane

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

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

st mary at hill 1

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

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

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

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

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

st mary at hill 7

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

st mary at hill 8

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

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

st mary at hill 6

From the information sheet;

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

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

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

st mary at hill 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

st mary at hill 11

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

st mary at hill 12

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

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

The sources I used to research this post are:

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

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The St. Paul’s Watch

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s start with:

The St. Paul’s Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firewatcher document 2

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

Firewatcher document 3

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

st pauls corridor 1

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

st pauls corridor 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firewatcher document 13

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lecture class given in the Stewards Office:

Firewatcher photo 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

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

Another photo showing stretcher lowering being tested:

Firewather photo 2

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

And another similar photo:

Firewatchers photo 7

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firewatchers photo 8

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

Water Riser 1

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

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

Firewatcher photo 4

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

St Pauls bomb damage 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

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

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

Firewatcher document 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

Firewatcher document 4

 © The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

Firewatcher document 5

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

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

Godfrey Allen 1

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

Christmas Greetings

© The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral

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

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

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

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© 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

 alondoninheritance.com

 

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.

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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.

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Note the no expense spared sign to inform onlookers:

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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).

2014 st bennetts 11

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.

2014 st bennetts 8

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.

2014 st bennetts 7

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:

2014 st bennetts 17

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.

2014 st bennetts 18

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.

2014 st bennetts 12

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.
2014 st bennetts 1

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.

2014 st bennetts 15

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:

2014 st bennetts 16

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.

2014 North 1

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.

2014 North 2 old

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.

2014 North 2

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.

2014 North 3 old

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.

2014 West 4 old

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.

2014 West 4

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:

2014 West 5

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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