Category Archives: London Churches

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.

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.


Note the no expense spared sign to inform onlookers:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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


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.

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

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.

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

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

An old street sign, now stored inside the church:

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The Welsh Dragon as a candle holder:

2014 st bennetts 13

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:

2014 st bennetts 14

The view from the gallery:

2014 st bennetts 4

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:


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


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

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

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

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

2014 North 1 old

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

2014 North 3

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

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

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

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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

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

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

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

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













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

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

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

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

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

Next morning, Londoners awoke to a very different City.

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


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

The view today is shown in the following photo:


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

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

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

IMG02591- upload

The same view today is shown below:


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

A slightly different view just further to the left.


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

old map st pauls

Compare this 1940 map with the Google map of today:

View Larger Map

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

IWM St Pauls

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

The sources I used to research this post are:

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


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

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

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

old mary le bow 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tower and steeple are best viewed from Cheapside.


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


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

old mary le bow 1

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

cheapside postcard

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

The sources I used to research this post are:

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


St. Vedas and Foster Lane

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

original photo

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

P1020415 And looking back towards the entrance to the church:


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

looking towards cheapside

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

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

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

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

The sources I used to research this post are:

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


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

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

Dads Nicolas Cole

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

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

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

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

The following is my 2014 photo:

2014 St Nicolas Cole Abbey

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

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

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

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

old nicolas

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

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

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

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

Lavender Hill Mob 1

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

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

The sources I used to research this post are:

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

Queen Victoria Street and Upper Thames Street – A Lost Road Junction

Very much like last week’s post, this week’s was initially a bit of a puzzle and I could not locate where the following original photo had been taken.

Dads photo qvs

There are no street names and no instantly recognisable buildings. I could not recall anywhere in central London with two streets joining, separated by a long length of steps. My only clue was the rather dark sign on the right hand side stating Southern Electric and Underground.

After checking the London stations of the Southern Railway I finally found where the photo was taken, but only because the buildings in the middle distance of the photo are still there, the rest of the scene is completely different.

The location is outside Blackfriars Station, looking east up Queen Victoria Street and my 2014 photo from the same position is shown below:


The foreground has completely changed, but what confirms the scene is the church tower (St Andrew by the Wardrobe) and the buildings around the church (the building behind the church is the British & Foreign Bible Society and the taller building behind that is the original Post Office Faraday building, opened on the 4th May 1933 and one of the main hubs for London telephone services).

John Stow in his 1603 Survey of London was rather dismissive of the church of St. Andrew, with the single sentence “then turning up towards the north, is the parish church of St. Andrew in the Wardrobe, a proper church, but few Monuments hath it”.

The “Wardrobe” reference in the church name is to the King’s Wardrobe that was moved out of the Tower of London in the reign of King Edward the Third. This was in a great house built by Sir John Beauchampe, Knight of the Garter, Warden of the Sinke Portes and Constable of Dover. He died in 1359 and his executors sold the house to King Edward the Third. Following this sale, the parson of St. Andrew’s complained to the King that “the said Beauchamp had pulled downe divers houses in their place to build the said house.”

As well as the buildings in the foreground, even the level of the streets has been changed with the level on the right being taken up to that of Queen Victoria Street thereby removing the steps at the road junction. It would be good to think that some part of those steps were left and are buried beneath the current street level adding to the layers of history buried beneath the City’s surface.

This small area is also a good example of how continuous development has reshaped London over the years, not just the buildings, but also the main thoroughfares through the City, and how the City has tried to manage the increasing volume of traffic passing within and through the City.

Queen Victoria Street is the main street on the left of both photos. In the long history of London, this, as the name implies, is a recent road.

It was fully opened to the public on Saturday 4th November 1871 and to quote from “The Face of London” by Harold P. Clunn:

“Queen Victoria Street was constructed by the late Metropolitan Board of Works as a continuation of the Victoria Embankment, with the object of providing London with a new main artery from the Mansion House to Charing Cross. It was the greatest improvement carried out in the City of London during the nineteenth century. Not only did it provide invaluable relief to the enormous traffic of Cheapside, but it completely altered the appearance of the City centre.”

The photos also demonstrate how the City has responded in recent decades when even Queen Victoria Street and the centre of the City were unable to manage the increasing volumes of traffic.

In the original photo there is a road that drops away to the right. This is the original route of Upper Thames Street which, with Lower Thames Street was the main through road running parallel to the River Thames and connected to all the short lanes and wharfs leading down to the river.

The following map is from Bartholomew’s Greater London Street Atlas of 1940, with the area of today’s post identified by the red oval.

QVS Map 1

The original photo was taken in front of Blackfriars Station looking up Queen Victoria Street and the road turning right below the steps can be clearly identified in the map as Upper Thames Street.

In recent decades the route of Upper Thames Street has been relocated to run far closer to the river, and rather than joining Queen Victoria Street, it nows runs underneath the river side of Blackfriars Station, underneath Blackfriars Bridge straight into the Embankment.

The following Google map shows the area as it is now with the re-routing of Upper Thames Street.

View Larger Map

Not clearly visible in the 2014 photo is the road, just past the bus stop, that leads down underneath the complex of buildings around Blackfriars Station to Upper Thames Street. This road is Puddle Dock, a reference to the original dock that was on this site.

Stow names this as Pudle Wharfe in 1603 and states almost against this wharf there is “one ancient building of stone and timber, builded by the Lords of Barkley and therefore called Barklies Inne. This house is now all ruine and letten out in severall tenements”

Puddle Dock was also probably the landing place for the first Baynard’s Castle which was built in this area by William the Conqueror. The role of Baynard’s Castle was to protect the western edge of the city as the Tower of London protected the east. The first Baynard’s Castle lasted from the 11th to the 14th century following which it was replaced by the second Baynard’s Castle further to the east.

Development of the Puddle Dock area started in 1952 when the Corporation of London offered the trustees of the Mermaid Theatre the lease of a bombed warehouse at Puddle Dock. The theatre opened in 1959 and is just under the building to the right on the road named Puddle Dock. The theatre has survived many attempts at closure and redevelopment and is now mainly a conference and events centre.

Returning to the original photo, I find it fascinating to look at the people in these photos. The following is an enlargement of the group of people in the centre.

QVS people

The photo was taken on a weekend but note the very formal dress of the men. They have all probably just arrived on a train into Blackfriars and are heading off into the City. The man on the left appears to have a typical pushchair of the time. The adult and child on the right possibly heading down Upper Thames Street to visit the Tower of London?

The streets around them must have seemed permanent. I wonder what they would have thought of the same location today?

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Face of London by Harold P. Clunn published 1951
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Old & New London by Edward Walford published 1878
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • Stow’s Survey of London by John Stow, 1603 (Oxford 1908 reprint)