Category Archives: London Churches

Two Cornhill Churches – St Peter and St Michael

A church that was not rebuilt after the 1666 Great Fire along with the churchyard lost in the late 19th century was the subject of last week’s post. For today, I want to take a look at two churches that have survived, both very old churches, and at the eastern end of Cornhill in the City.

In the following extract from John Rocque’s 1746 map of London I have circled St Peter-upon-Cornhill (red) and St Michael Cornhill (orange):

Map of Cornhill

Both churches are partly hidden behind other buildings that face onto Cornhill, and have the appearance of churches from an earlier period of London’s history, when the built space was very crowded, and every available plot of land was utilised for building.

This is the view of St Peter, from Cornhill, with a lunchtime queue at the food shop that is on the small wedge of land between the body of the church and the street:

St Peter Cornhill

Only the main entrance to St Peter is on Cornhill, and when the doors are open, the entrance appears to offer a rather mysterious portal between the food shops to an older London:

St Peter Cornhill

St Peter-upon-Cornhill is in an interesting location, as it is at roughly the highest point in the City of London. Whether this has anything to do with the church’s location is doubtful, however it has been a religious site for very many centuries with Stow claiming the second century as the date for the founding of a church on the site.

The website of the church is even more specific as it states ” 179AD when Lucius, the first Christian King of Britain”, and that St Peter was the first church in the City of London. It was built on the site of the Roman Basilica.

Stow refers to a tablet in the church which had an inscription about the original founding of the church, and this reference also appears in other accounts of the church, however it seems this tablet dated to the 14th century, so a considerable gap of many centuries with the alleged second century date of the original founding of the church.

The earliest written records for the church date to 1127, however a church was probably on the site for many centuries before the 12th century, but whether back to the 2nd century is impossible to confirm.

The church has had a number of rebuilds and additions over the years. In the 15th century there was a school attached to the church.

In common with many other City churches, it was very badly damaged during the 1666 Great Fire. It was rebuilt by Wren between 1677 and 1684, and this is the church we see today as it survived the blitz without any damage – although there have been a number of restorations since the 17th century.

It was the post fire rebuild that shortened the church. Ten feet of the eastern section of the pre-fire church was demolished to make way for a widened Gracechurch Street.

I found one reference to the church of a type that I have not seen before. It goes back to the 25th of January 1783 and is a newspaper report about a fire in Fenchurch Street, and states that:

“There was a great scarcity of water for some time, but the reservoir belonging to St Peter’s Cornhill, being opened, a good supply was obtained, which was the means of its being got under.”

I have not seen a reference to a City church having a water reservoir. Whether this was an open body of water, or a large tank or conduit, it is impossible to tell. It could perhaps have been a service that the church provided to the parish.

Walking through the dark portal of the church from Cornhill reveals a surprisingly light church interior:

St Peter Cornhill

The last major restoration of the church was in 1872, and although everything above ground is Wren and later, below ground there are much earlier remains as during an excavation in 1990 it was found that Wren had used the medieval pier foundations of an earlier version of the church which probably dated to around the mid 15th century.

The most recent additions to the church are some stained glass. These were created by the stained glass artist, Hugh Ray Easton, and date from 1960.

The military significance of the windows is that the church was Regimental Church of the Royal Tank Regiment, between 1954 and 2007.

stained glass artist, Hugh Ray Easton

They are a strange mix of war and religious imagery, with in the following window, a group of soldiers are standing on a tank and are witnessing either the Ascension or the Resurrection:

stained glass artist, Hugh Ray Easton

As can frequently be found in City churches, there are a number of historical relics, including the following dating from 1710 which was probably carried in a procession by representatives of Cornhill and Lime Street Wards:

St Peter Cornhill

What also adds to the view of an earlier London is the building to the right of the entrance to the church. This is numbers 54 – 55 Cornhill:

54 - 55 Cornhill

The building has a food outlet on the ground floor, but look at the terracotta upper floors, and there are details that you would not expect to find on a commercial building in the City:

54 - 55 Cornhill

Some very grotesque creatures peer down at those walking along Cornhill.

This strange building was designed by Ernest Augustus Runtz, and dates from 1893. Apparently (although I can find no contemporary confirmation), Runtz’s original plans for the building strayed onto land owned by St Peter. The vicar objected, Runtz had to rework his plans, and added the figures as an insult to the vicar.

 Ernest Augustus Runtz

The Vicar may have had the last laugh though as Runtz was declared bankrupt in 1912 following financial problems and the failure of his business.

He has though left a most unusual building on Cornhill.

The second church, St Michael Cornhill, is a very brief walk from St Peter, and demonstrates how densely populated the City once was with churches, and again shows how buildings once surrounded City churches, as with St Michael, only the tower is visible from Cornhill, with the main entrance to the church being through an ornate entrance in the base of the tower:

St Michael Cornhill

St Michael is again an old church, however there are no firm records of just how old. The usual references where “tradition points to a church in Saxon times”, however the first written reference, according to “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkinson (1917) is from 1133 when the church was in the possession of the Abbott of Evesham, and the “living granted by him to Sparling the Priest”.

The tower of the church seems to feature in the majority of references to, and illustrations of St Michael.

There are no illustrations of the original church, however a copy of an illustration of the fourteenth century tower, which was destroyed in 1421, has survived and shows the “Symilitude of the old Steeple 1421”:

St Michael Cornhill

The church was badly damaged during the 1666 Great Fire, but was rebuilt between 1670 and 1671 by Wren, who included the surviving tower into the reconstruction. The tower was weakened by the fire and survived for a further fifty years and was then taken down “as wanting in stability”.

Pevesner states that the new tower was probably designed by “William Dickenson who was in charge of winding down Wren’s City Church Office”, although other references state that it was to Wren’s original design.

The following print illustrates the appearance of the tower in 1850, again with only the tower being visible from Cornhill. The body of the church is behind the buildings on the left  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Michael Cornhill

The tower in the above print is the same tower that we see today, however it was missing one vital feature, the ornate entrance to the church at the base of the tower.

This ornate, Gothic entrance would be built between 1857 and 1860 when the church was the first in the City to be remodeled to high Victorian taste by Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The following print has a penciled note dating it to 1857. It may actually be a couple of years later, however it does show the new porch soon after it had been added to the church, and although today the stone is blackened with dirt (another feature of older City churches), it does look much the same today  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Michael Cornhill

The interior of the church is mainly from the 17th century, post Great Fire rebuild with mid 19th century and later restorations:

St Michael Cornhill

Pevsner states that the organ has been “much rebuilt”, so it is probably not that old, although there may be some surviving parts from the original Renatus Harris 17th century organ. It still looks very impressive with gleaming, gold, organ pipes occupying a corner of the church:

St Michael Cornhill

Looking back towards the base of the tower:

St Michael Cornhill

The majority of City churches have plenty of old monuments, pulpits, sword rests etc. and St Michael Cornhill is no exception. In St Peter I wanted to highlight the stained glass windows as a different feature, and in St Michael there are coats of arms on the sides of the pews. The majority appear to be City Livery Companies, however there are some I cannot identify. The following photos show a sample.

The Merchant Taylors:

Merchant Taylors coat of arms

The Drapers:

Drapers coat of arms

This one is rather strange. I cannot find a similar set of arms being used by a Company. The crossed swords may indicate the Cutlers who usually have three sets of crossed swords on their arms, however I cannot confirm that they use the images on the right of the shield:

Coat of arms

The Clothworkers:

Clothworkers coat of arms

Another I cannot identify, or find anything similiar:

Coat of Arms

I thought I had a reasonably good understanding of the arms used by City companies, and have also been through the book “The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London”, but the following is a mystery as well:

Coat of Arms

The Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom – apparently this were placed on the pew at the front of the church in anticipation of a visit by Queen Victoria. Unfortunately she failed to visited the church.

Royal coat of Arms

The arms of the City of London:

City of London

When researching many of my posts, I am struck by the number of times there is a reference to a serious fire at or near the subject of the post. It is incredible just how many fires there were in 18th and 19th century London. Even after the building regulations put in place after the 1666 Great Fire, serious fires still continued.

When searching for stories about St Michael, I found the following print which shows a serious fire in Cornhill on the 25th March, 1748, with the tower of St Michael in the background  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cornhill fire

The print is fascinating for the detail it portrays. There is presumably a property owner on the right, apparently rescuing something from the burning building.

There is a very early fire fighting pump on the left, sending a jet of water at the building.

The print references the engine as “invented by my late Uncle, Richard Newsham”, an inventor who held two patents for fire engines, taken out in 1721 and 1725. Newsham appears to have dominated the mid 18th century market for fire fighting equipment.

The following photo shows the earliest known fire engine by Newsham purchased in 1728, and photographed at St Giles Church in Great Wishford, Wiltshire. The photo is almost identical to the one in the 1748 print:

fire engine by Newsham

Source: Trish Steel, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A quick visit to two Cornhill churches. They are an interesting pair of churches to visit as they demonstrate what City churches must have looked like in previous centuries. Surrounded by buildings on the main street, a small churchyard behind, but only an entrance to the street.

That they are also a very short distance apart is a reminder of how densely populated the City was with churches, before the loss of churches caused by the Great Fire, 19th century church closures, and bombed churches not being rebuilt after the last war.

You can read another of my posts about Cornhill, the Cornhill Water Pump, here.

alondoninheritance.com

Cloak Lane, St John the Baptist, the Walbrook and the Circle Line

One of the pleasures of wandering around London streets are the random memorials and objects that have survived from previous centuries, and how they can lead to a fascinating story of an aspect of the City’s history. Perhaps one of the strangest can be found in Cloak Lane, to the west of Cannon Street Station, between Dowgate Hill and Queen Street.

The ground floor of one of the buildings on the northern side of Cloak Lane has a number of arches with metal railings, and a large memorial occupying one of the arches:

Cloak Lane

A closer view, and the railings have signs that imply that there is perhaps more to discover:

Cloak Lane

The monument provides some information:

Cloak Lane

The contrast between letters and stone is not that high in the above photo, so I have reproduced the text on the monument below:

Cloak Lane

There is much to unpack from the inscription on the monument, and it does not tell the full story.

The church of St John the Baptist upon Walbrook was one of the City churches that was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666, and not rebuilt, so after the fire, only the churchyard remained.

I have circled the location of the surviving churchyard, at the junction of Cloak Lane and Dowgate Hill in the following extract from William Morgan’s, 1682 map of London:

St John the Baptist upon Walbrook

According to “London Churches Before The Great Fire” (Wilberforce Jenkinson, 1917), St John the Baptist upon Walbrook was “Founded before 1291, and enlarged in 1412, and ‘new-builded’ around 1598. The west end of the church was on the bank of the Walbrook, hence the title.”

The Walbrook is one of London’s lost rivers, and in the following map I have marked the location of church and churchyard along with the Walbrook which made its way down to Upper Thames Street which was the early location of the Thames shoreline (© OpenStreetMap contributors):

Walbrook and Dowgate Hill

The book states that the west end of the church was on the bank of the Walbrook. This is possibly an error as the eastern end of the church would have been on the Walbrook, or it should have read that the church was on the west bank of the river.

It is possible that the Walbrook ran further to the west than shown in the above diagram, however all the references I can find are to the river running roughly on and alongside Dowgate Hill.

The text on the monument mentions the District Railway, and the title for the blog is about the Circle Line. I will explain why I have used the Circle Line later in the post, however stand next to the railings alongside the monument, and a grill can be seen in the floor. Wait a few minutes and the sounds of an underground train can be heard coming up through the grill.

Cloak Lane

After the 1666 Great Fire, the church was not rebuilt, the churchyard remained, and would do so for the next 200 years. Buildings alongside did encroach on the churchyard, however it was still there in 1880. In the next few years there was some major construction work in Cloak Lane which would result in the loss of the churchyard.

This construction work was for an underground railway that in the newspapers of the time was referred to as the Inner Circle Railway. The following article from the East London Observer on the 31st May 1883 provides some background:

THE INNER CIRCLE RAILWAY. With much less outward demonstration than might have been expected, considering the importance and magnitude of the works, there is now being contracted in the City of London an underground railway which, by uniting the Metropolitan and District systems, will complete the long looked for Inner Circle Railway, and be of immense service to the travelling public and the metropolis.

The Acts of Parliament under which these works are being carried out were obtained in the names of the joint companies – that is to say, the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District. They authorised the construction of a railway to commence by a junction with the District line at Mansion House Station, and to run under some houses south of the thoroughfare known as Great St Thomas Apostle, crossing Queen Street, then going along the south side of Cloak Lane, across Dowgate Hill, to the forecourt of the South-Eastern Cannon Street Station. Here is to be made a station.

The line is then to pass under the centre of Cannon Street, crossing King William Street, and is then to swerve slightly south. Between this point and Pudding lane is to be a second station, which will serve the busy district around it, including Gracechurch Street, Lombard Street and Billingsgate. By arrangement with the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board of Works, the narrow thoroughfares of East Cheap and Little Tower Street are to be widened on the south side, and Great Tower Street on the north side. The railway is to pass under the centre of the roadway, and will be constructed simultaneously with the new street. the line will then branch slightly to the north, and between Seething Lane and Tower Hill, another large station is to be built.

The line is then to pass by Trinity Square Gardens, joining the piece of railway already constructed.”

So by joining existing lines at Mansion House and Tower Hill, the new line would form what we know today as the route of the Circle and District lines between Mansion House and Tower Hill.

The Railway News (which also called the line the Inner Circle line) on the 18th of August 1883, provided additional technical information on the new line:

“From the Mansion House station to Tower Hill, there is no part of the line on a curve of less than 10 chains radius; the length from Cannon Street to King William Street is straight. The successive gradients are from the level at the Mansion House to a descent by a gradient of 1 on 100, followed by a rise of 1 in 355, then 1 in 100, next to 1 in 321, for 334 yards and then a fall of 1 in 280 for the remainder.”

I never fail to be impressed by the accuracy achieved in measuring and building these early lines, without the surveying equipment that we have available today.

Look through the grills and some of the monuments from the old churchyard have been mounted on the wall behind:

Cloak Lane

The new railway was just below the surface and was partially built using the cut and cover technique where the ground would be excavated to build the railway, which would then be covered over, with roads or buildings then completed on top.

Where cut and cover was not used, the railway would be tunneled underneath buildings, undercutting the foundations, bit by bit, with arches being built as the tunneling progressed to support the building above.

Railway News provides some detail:

“Near the western end of the line 200 feet of girder-covered way has been built between Queen Street and College Hill, and a large portion of the side wall has been advanced to Dowgate Hill. In this vicinity an important work, viz, a diversion of the main outfall sewer, has been successfully completed. It was lowered about 14 feet, and the length of this work from north to south being about 600 feet. The north side wall for the Cannon Street station, is also built, and rapid progress is being made with the excavations.”

The total distance of the new line between Mansion House and Tower Hill was 1,266 yards.

Behind the grills – an 1892 Walbrook Ward boundary marker:

Cloak Lane

The above extract refers to a diversion of the main outfall sewer in the vicinity of Dowgate Hill, which possibly was the sewer running down Dowgate Hill that carried what was left of the Walbrook river.

During excavation work for the new railway, there were a number of finds, which add to the question of the original route of the Walbrook.

In the book “London – The City” by Sir Walter Besant, he quotes from the notes of the resident engineer of the works, Mr. E.P. Seaton: “At the west end of the churchyard was found a subway running north and south. The arch was formed of stone blocks (Kentish rag) placed 3 feet apart, the space between filled up with brickwork. The flat bottom varied from 2 to 4 feet in thickness and was formed of rubble masonry.

A portion of the arch had been broken in and was filled with human bones. the other parts of the subway or sewer were filled with hand-packed stones. this is supposed to be the centre of the ancient Walbrook (this supposition is quite correct) and made earth was found to a distance of 35 feet from the surface. Clay of a light grey colour was then found impregnated with the decayed roots of water plants.

The foundations (it is a matter of regret that no plan of the foundations was taken; the opportunity is now lost forever) of the old church of St John the Baptist were discovered about 10 to 12 feet from the surface and composed of chalk and Kentish ragstones. They ran about north-north-east to south-south-west. Piles of oak were found which seem to denote that the church was built on the edge of the brook, which must have been filled up during Roman occupation, as numerous pieces of Roman pottery were found.

The bottom of the Walbrook valley was reached at 32 feet below the present street level, and is now 11 feet below the level of the lines in the station. During the excavations the piles and sill of the Horseshoe bridge which crossed the Walbrook hereabouts were also found near the churchyard, together with the remains of an ancient boat. These were unfortunately too rotten to preserve, but a block of Roman herring-bone pavement, formerly constituting part of a causeway of landing-place on the brook, is now at the Guildhall Museum. It was found beneath the churchyard 21 feet below the present level of the street.”

Besant can at times be unreliable, however as he is quoting from notes by the resident engineer, and the works were not long before the book was published, they should be an accurate record of finds during the work.

The finds imply that the Walbrook did run to the west of the church, so was further west of the route shown in the earlier diagram and was slightly further west of Dowgate Hill, or perhaps it was a separate channel or ditch.

There is another reference to the Walbrook, and its route in a report on the construction of the railway in the Standard on the 21st April, 1884, which refers to the sewer along Dowgate Hill that ran along the route of the Walbrook, needing to be lowered to make space of the railway. After completion, the sewer and Walbrook ran under the new rail tracks. The report describes the Walbrook as “flowing into the sewer down a flight of steps”.

These layers of history and archeology below the current surface of the City are really fascinating. We really do walk on London’s buried history when we walk the streets, and Besant’s description hints at what has been lost over the centuries, particularly during significant construction works of the later 19th and early 20th centuries, when these sites did not have an archeological excavation before construction commenced, and before the preservation techniques were available, that would have been needed to preserve the boat and wooden piles that were found.

Another of the memorials behind the metal grill – I wonder what John (died in 1804) and Uriah (died in 1806) Wilkinson would have thought if they knew their memorial would be hidden behind a metal grill, and above an underground railway?

Cloak Lane

The extract from Besant’s book mentions the “Horseshoe bridge which crossed the Walbrook hereabouts were also found near the churchyard”. The bridge also has a connection with Cloak Lane.

According to Henry Harben’s Dictionary of London (1918), the name Cloak Lane is of relatively recent origin, with the first mention being in 1677. Prior to this, the street was named Horshew Bridge Street after the bridge over the Walbrook.

A possible origin of the name Cloak Lane is from the word “cloaca” which is a reference to a sewer that once ran along the street down to the Walbrook, however as the name of the street is much later than the sewer and when the word “cloaca” would have been used, it is almost certainly not the source, which remains a mystery.

The first mention of this bridge dates back to 1277 when it was called “Horssobregge”, and was a bridge over the Walbrook close to the church of St John upon Walbrook.

During the medieval period, property owners in the neighbourhood of the bridge were responsible for keeping it in good repair. Around 1462, the Common Council ordained that land owners on either side of the Walbrook (which was then described as a ditch) should pave and vault the ditch, and if a landowner failed to comply, their land would be given to someone who would take on this responsibility.

Following the paving over of the Walbrook, the bridge became redundant, fell into disrepair and was eventually taken apart.

The following photo is looking down Cloak Lane towards Cannon Street Station, the entrance to the Underground station can be seen at the far end of the street, across Dowgate Hill.

I have arrowed two locations in the photo. The orange arrow is pointing at the location of the memorial, and was the location of the church and graveyard.

Cloak Lane

The second arrow is pointing to the site of another building that was demolished to make way for the works to construct the new railway – Cutlers Hall:

Cutlers Hall

Cutlers Hall was the home of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, one of the City’s ancient companies. When the Cutlers were organised into a Company, the trade consisted of the manufacture of swords, daggers and knives. As an example of how specialised a City workman was at the time, there were seperate trades for hafters, who made the handles, along with blacksmiths and sheathers (who made the sheath in which a sword or knife would be stored).

The first mention of the Cutlers dates back to 1328 when seven cutlers were elected to govern the trade, and in December 1416, a Royal Charter was granted to the company.

Hafters, sheathers and blacksmiths were gradually incorporated into the Cutlers Company.

The hall of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers was in Cloak Lane from the earliest days of the company, until the arrival of the Inner Circle Line, when the hall was demolished in 1883, having been the subject of a compulsory purchase order.

The Cutlers purchased a new plot of land in Warwick Lane, had their new hall designed by the Company’s Surveyor, Mr. T. Tayler Smith, and the new hall came into use in March 1888. The Cutlers have remained at the Warwick Lane site ever since.

The following print shows Cutlers Hall in Cloak Lane as it appeared in 1854 (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cutlers Hall

There were many newspaper reports on the construction of the new railway, and the methods used to minimise disruption to the City above.

Cannon Street Station originally had a forecourt between the station entrance and Cannon Street. The tunnel needed to be built under the forecourt, and the method used to avoid disruption to the station was that the contractor:

“Provided 250 men for the occasion and 50 more as a reserve, the intended work was commenced after the dispatch of the Paris night mail, and then the busy hands plied their busiest. The paving slabs were removed; the twelve inch timbers were laid on the bare ground, three-inch planking put across them, and again three-inch planking over these. And in the morning when Londoners came to their duties in the City they were astonished to see the fore-court paved with wood, and an alteration completely effected, of which there was not a symptom or indication when they went home from their duties the evening before. Having thus laid their roof on the surface the contractor could carry on burrowing to his heart’s content. Beneath the wood platform a heading was soon driven through the soil; and the contractors went on their way below, whilst the cabs and the passengers were going on above”.

The following photo shows the Cannon Street Station Hotel and entrance to the station behind. The forecourt under which the Inner Circle Line was dug can be seen in front of the hotel.

The monument in Cloak Lane is a perfect example of what fascinates me above London’s history. There is so much to find in one very small section of street, and that London is not just what we see on the surface, there is so much below the streets, lost rivers, centuries of history, remarkable examples of construction methods used to build the start of the underground system in the 19th century, and so much more.

If you take a train on the Circle or District line to or from Cannon Street Station, on the western side of the station, recall the Walbrook and the church and cemetery.

I have also added trying to find out about the fate of the finds from the construction of the railway, given to the Guildhall Museum, and which are now hopefully at the Museum of London. And if anyone from TfL reads this post – if you could let me have a look behind the metal grills in Cloak Street – it would be much appreciated !

alondoninheritance.com

St Dunstan in the East

The photo for today’s post is one of my father’s, taken in 1948 in Lower Thames Street, looking up towards the tower of the church of St Dunstan in the East:

St Dunstan in the East

Today, the same view is totally obscured by the office buildings that now line the northern side of Lower Thames Street. The following photo is the closest I could get to reproducing the view, and was taken a short distance down Cross Lane:

St Dunstan in the East

Cross Lane turns into Harp Lane and continues down to Lower Thames Street, and it was around here from where my father took the original photo. Lower Thames Street can be seen on the left and the office blocks that obscure the view on the right:

View along Lower Thames Street

The very distinctive tower of St Dunstan in the East dates from the Christopher Wren rebuild of the church after the Great Fire. The walls of the church had been rebuilt using Portland stone before the fire so did survive, however the church needed a new tower.

The church has long possessed a distinctive tower and spire. In the following extract from the Civitas Londini map of around 1600, the spire of St Dunstan in the East is one of the few labelled, and can be seen rising much higher than surrounding churches  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Civitas Londoni map

The book “London Churches Before the Great Fire” (Wilberforce Jenkinson, 1917) provides some background:

“The church was built not later than the thirteenth century; possibly earlier. The first rector, so far as any records go, was John de Pretelwelle, who vacated in 1310, The church is one of those termed ‘Peculiar’. It was destroyed in the Great Fire, and rebuilt by Wren, with a spire somewhat notable but not so lofty as that of the old church, which in Visscher’s map appears to be the loftiest in the City, St Paul’s only excepted.”

The term ‘Peculiar’ was given to churches that were exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London and were under the Archbishop of Canterbury. There were thirteen City of London churches in this category: All Hallows, Bread Street; All Hallows’ Lombard Street; St Dionys, Backchurch; St Dunstan in the East; St John Evangelist; St Leonard Eastcheap; St Mary, Aldermanbury; St Mary-le-Bow; St Mary Bothaw; St Mary, Crooked Lane; St Michael Royal; St Pancras, Soper Lane; St Vedast.

Saint Dunstan was a Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, so it may be this dedication that brings the church under the Archbishop of Canterbury rather than the Bishop of London.

Wilberforce Jenkinson’s book tells the story of a 17th century rector of the church, and the penalty at the time for blasphemy:

“Dr Childerley, rector of this church, exhibited his prowess as an athlete in rather an eccentric manner. it seems that one Hackett, an imposter who claimed to be a sort of Messias, and who boasted that he was invulnerable and that anyone might kill him if he could, was arrested and imprisoned in Bridewell.

Dr Childerley repaired unto him and proffered to gripe hands with him and try the wrists, which Hackett unwillingly submitted to do. The Doctor fairly twisted his wrists almost to the breaking thereof, but not to the bowing of him to any confession or remorse.

Hackett was subsequently hanged at the cross in Cheapside, blaspheming to the last breath.”

The view looking up towards the church from St Dunstan’s Hill:

St Dunstan in the East

In my father’s photo, a clock can just be seen half way up the tower. The following closer view of the tower shows the clock today:

St Dunstan in the East

A closer view of the clock, which has the year of 1953 in numbers at the four corners of the clock:

St Dunstan in the East

1953 is the year when restoration of the tower was finished. The tower does not look in too bad a condition in my father’s 1948 photo, however it did need some significant work to make it safe.

Newspaper reports from June 1950 covered the start of restoration work:

A start has been made on the restoration of another of the City’s bomb-shattered churches, that of St Dunstan in the East. As one of Wren’s masterpieces, this church is fortunate because it has been scheduled as a national monument (it was Grade I listed in 1950) and all the difficulties of obtaining a building licence have been swept away. For some time scaffolding has surrounded the steeple, the dismantling of which is expected to take about six months.

Each stone is being numbered in order that it can readily be fitted into its old place when rebuilding begins. Meanwhile the bells which fell when the church was bombed in 1941, have been brought out from the vestry where they had been stored, and in about a year’s time will ring out again. There has been a church on this site for a thousand years.”

As usual with any City church, this was not the first restoration. I have already mentioned the Wren rebuild after the Great Fire, however in 1817 the body of the church needed a rebuild, as the walls which had survived the Great Fire, had been pushed out of the vertical by 7 inches due to the pressure of the roof.

The Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 27th November 1817 reported on the start of the restoration;

“His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury laid the first stone yesterday, with a bottle containing the coins of the realm, and a brass plate, with an inscription commemorative of the event, for the restoration of the Parish Church of St Dunstan East, assisted by the Rev. Rob Hesketh, Rector; John Howe and William Ruston, Wardens, and the Gentlemen of the Church and Rebuilding Committees. Mr. Laing is the architect, who produced a south view of the intended building, which is to be of Portland stone, entirely Gothic, and made to correspond as nearly as possible with the universally admired structure of the Steeple, built by Sir Christopher Wren.”

The main entrance to the church is in Idol Lane, where in the following photo the base of the tower and entrance can be seen on the right:

Idol Lane

Idol Lane has an interesting history. The earliest mention dates from 1666 when it was called Idle Lane. A reference to the street in 1708 refers to the street being called Idol Lane as in old records there were “makers of idols or images living there”, however there is no evidence to support this.

The following extract from a 1754 map of Tower Street Ward shows St Dunstan’s, with Idle Lane to the west. The map also provides an impression of the scale and view of the church before the 19th century rebuild  (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Tower Street Ward

From Idol Lane we can walk into the ruins of the church.

Whilst the tower was restored in the early 1950s, the walls were left as they were following the damage caused by bombing, so we can walk around the shell of the old church.

The shell of the church and immediate surroundings were turned into gardens in 1971, and they now form one of the many remarkable sights in the City. The following photo is a view alongside the north wall of the church, with one of the old pinnacles that once stood on top of the church:

St Dunstan in the East

The south side of the church has a small fountain in the centre of the gardens which in the summer are a haven for City workers:

St Dunstan in the East

Doorway into the east entrance to the church:

St Dunstan in the East

View along the southern wall of St Dunstan in the East:

St Dunstan in the East

The 1817 rebuild by Mr. Laing, resulted in a design that at the time was quoted as being “entirely Gothic“. I doubt that Mr. Laing could have realised quite how gothic the church would appear, 200 years later:

St Dunstan in the East

The interior of the church:

St Dunstan in the East

From St Dunstan’s Hill, we can see the eastern entrance to the church, and the top of the tower. Wren’s design is wonderful. Pinnacles are placed at each corner of the tower, and behind the pinnacles, a flying buttress supports the central lantern and spire:

St Dunstan in the East

St Dunstan in the East is a short distance from the old Billingsgate Market, and workers at the market use to donate fish, geese etc. to the harvest festival at the church.

Looking back to my father’s photo, and to the right of the photo, facing onto Lower Thames Street is what I suspect was a café. The board in the window states that it is open from 5.45 am to 4 pm. I suspect the early start was to provide breakfast to the workers at the market. The photo is just one of many where I wish my father had enough film, turned to the right and took another photo.

Cafe in Lower Thames Stteer

The left of the photo shows the level of bomb damage along Lower Thames Street.

The preservation of St Dunstan in the East is rather wonderful. The tower and spire show one of Wren’s best designs across the post fire City churches, and the gardens surrounding the walls of the church are a brilliant place to sit on a summer’s day.

The church is also good to walk past on a quiet, winter’s moonlit night, when Laing’s Gothic design really comes alive.

alondoninheritance.com

Christchurch Greyfriars

Before heading to Christchurch Greyfriars, if you are interested in a walk exploring the history of Bankside, I have had one ticket returned from someone who cannot now attend the walk on Sunday 5th of June, and a couple of tickets are available for the walks later in July. The walk can be booked here.

I took the following photo in 1973, taken from Cheapside, looking towards the church of Christchurch Greyfriars using my very first camera, a simple Kodak Instamatic:

Christchurch Greyfriars

Not a very good photo, the Kodak Instamatic was a very simple camera. All the film was contained within a large cartridge, which included the exposed film. Pre-set focus and the only setting for exposure and speed were a single switch which could be moved either to sunny or cloudy. A very child friendly camera.

Roughly the same view, around 50 years later, in 2022:

Christchurch Greyfriars

Christchurch Greyfriars is an interesting, and distinctive church. A very different history to many other City churches.

It is distinctive, as whilst the tower of the church is intact, the body of the church is now a garden, with only one main side wall standing, and a short stub of the other sidewall. The rear wall is completely missing.

Christchurch Greyfriars

The church was destroyed during the night of the 29th December 1940, when much of the area surrounding, and to the north and south of St Paul’s Cathedral, was engulfed by the fires started by incendiary bombs. This was the raid that destroyed the area that would later be rebuilt as the Golden Lane and Barbican estates.

Christchurch Greyfriars was in one of my father’s photos taken from St Paul’s Cathedral just after the war, and can be seen in the following extract from one of the photos (the full series can be seen in this post, and this post):

Christchurch Greyfriars

As can be seen in the above photo, the church still retained its four walls. The church was destroyed by fire which burnt the contents of the church along with the roof, but left the walls standing.

In my 2022 photo you can count 5 windows in the remaining side wall. In the above photo, there are 6 windows (part of the 6th window on the right can just be seen to the left of the end wall of the church). There is also a two storey building which runs south from the end wall of the church.

The reason for these differences, and for the loss of the rear and southern side wall were changes in 1973 to allow the widening of King Edward Street, and the construction of a spur from Newgate Street into King Edward Street.

Christchurch Greyfriars was Grade I listed in 1950, however this protection appears to have been insufficient to prevent the demolition of much of the surviving walls.

In the following map, Newgate Street runs from left to right, and the spur of King Edward Street can be seen cutting across where the two storey building was located. This, along with widening of King Edward Street, and the footpath along the street, resulted in the demolition of the end wall and shortening by one window of the north wall  (© OpenStreetMap contributors).

Christchurch Greyfriars

The church was included in the series of postcards “London under Fire”, issued during the war:

London Under Fire

The church was also included in a couple of works by the artist Roland Vivian Pitchforth for the War Artists Advisory Committee. Both show the burnt out church with the surviving tower and walls:

War Artists Advisory Committee
Post Office Buildings : the Telephone Exchange (Art.IWM ART LD 938) image: a view looking down on a cleared bomb site in between other burnt-out buildings in the City. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/21822

And both show the two storey building to the south of the church where the slip road from Newgate Street to King Edward Street now runs:

War Artists Advisory Committee
Post Office Buildings (Art.IWM ART LD 939) image: a bomb site in the foreground with steel girders sticking up out of the rubble. In the background buildings remain standing, however men can be seen at work securing the building on the right. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/21823

Note that in the Imperial War Museum commentary for the above two prints, the focus in on the Post Office Buildings, one of which was the large building to the right of the church.

The Post Office, or British Telecom has had a long association with King Edward / Newgate Street, but has now moved away. In my 2022 photo there is a large building covered in white sheeting. This was the 1980s head office of British Telecom. It is now being converted into a mixed use development, and is unusual in the City in that the new building will retain the structural framework of the original rather than the usual full scale demolition and complete rebuild.

What has no doubt helped this approach is the height limitation around St Paul’s Cathedral so the usual high glass and steel tower was not an option.

A sign close to the tower of the church confirms when and how Christchurch Greyfriars was destroyed (perhaps there should be a second plaque explaining how and why some of the walls disappeared).

Christchurch Greyfriars

The plaque also informs why there was no requirement to rebuild the church, as the old parish of the church was united with that of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate. The number of people living in the City had reached a point where there was an insufficient number of parishioners and regular church attendees to justify many of the old City churches.

A wooden font cover was rescued from the burning church on the 29th December 1940, and it can now be seen in the church of St Sepulchre.

To the west of the church is a small open space – the Christchurch Greyfriars churchyard:

Christchurch Greyfriars

This is not the traditional churchyard. William Morgan’s 1682 map of London provides a clue:

Christchurch Greyfriars

The church can be seen to the right of centre (although it is facing the wrong way), and to the left of the picture of the church, there is a rectangle labelled “Old Church”.

The original church was the church of a monastery established around 1228 on land to the north of the church by the Franciscan’s, or Greyfriars.

The first church on the site was built in the 13th century, demolished in 1306, and a new church built in 1325. This church was much larger than the church we see today, and as well as the space occupied by the current church ruins, also occupied the green space to the west of the church, hence the comment “Old Church” in the map extract.

The church attached to the monastery was of some size. According to “London Churches Before The Great Fire” (Wilberforce Jenkinson, 1917), the church was described as being “300 feet in length, in breadth 89 feet, and in height 64 feet”.

The book also states that “no other parish church contained the remains of so many of the great, there being there buried four queens, four duchesses, four countesses, one duke, two earls, eight barons, thirty-five knights, etc”.

The queens I can identify are:

  • Queen Margaret, the second wife of King Edward I
  • Queen Isabella, the wife of Edward II
  • Queen Eleanor of Provence (just her heart so not sure if this really counts)

Cannot find who the fourth queen was, some sources reference Queen Joan of Scotland, however most sources state that she was buried in Perth.

Whether it was two and a bit queens, three or four, the church appears to have been a large and important church, as was the Franciscan monastery, with only St Paul’s Cathedral being greater in size.

The monastery was taken by the Crown during the Dissolution when Henry VIII took the properties of religious establishments across the country in the mid 16th century, and after a short period when the building was used for storage, the church became a local, although rather impressive, parish church.

“London Churches Before The Great Fire” records that Sir Martin Bowes, mayor of the City, sold all the ornate alabaster and marble monuments from the church for £50 in 1545.

Ornate memorials did continue after the church became a parish church, and the same book also records a memorial to Venetia, the wife of Sir Kenelm Digby who was buried in the church:

“Her husband tried to preserve her beauty by cosmetics and after her death had her bust of copper-gilt set up in the church. The bust was injured in the fire and was afterwards seen in a broker’s stall. She was painted by Vandyke.”

Bit of a lesson there on fame and beauty, that no matter how good looking, or famous, eventually we may all end up on the equivalent of a broker’s stall.

van Dyke’s portrait of Venetia, Lady Digby:

Venetia, Lady Digby
Venetia, Lady Digby
by Sir Anthony van Dyck
oil on canvas, circa 1633-1634
NPG 5727
© National Portrait Gallery, London. Creative Commons Reproduction

View down the alley between the remaining side wall to the north, and what were the old Post Office buildings:

Christchurch Greyfriars

The church was one of those lost during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

It was rebuilt by Wren between 1687 and 1704 on the foundations of the chancel of the original church. There was no need for a parish church to be the same size as the pre-fire church, and it was also expensive to rebuild with even the smaller church being one of Wren’s most expensive at a cost of over eleven thousand pounds.

It is remarkable just how many churches there were in the City of London. Today it seems as if you only need to walk a short distance to find another church but there were many more in previous centuries.

When Christchurch Greyfriars was rebuilt after the Great Fire, the church absorbed two smaller parishes, the parish of the wonderfully named St Nicholas in the Shambles, and that of St Ewin or Ewine. The churches for these two smaller, adjacent parishes were not rebuilt.

The base of the tower has a number of monuments which were rescued from the war damaged church:

Christchurch Greyfriars

After the church and the monastic buildings of the Franciscans were taken by the Crown, the buildings continued to have a close relationship.

There was always a need to provide help for London’s poor. There were many children throughout the city who did not have a father, or were part of a family that was struggling to feed them. In 1552 King Edward VI responded to this need by working with the mayor of the City to form a charitable organisation to provide for some of these children.

The result being that the old buildings of the Franciscans were taken over, donations were received, a Board of Governors set-up and in November 1552, Christ’s Hospital opened with an initial 380 pupils.

There is a sculpture on the southern side of the church of some of the children of Christ’s Hospital in their traditional school uniform:

Christ's Hospital

Christchurch Greyfriars became the church for Christ’s Hospital.

The buildings of Christ’s Hospital were damaged during the Great Fire, rebuilt after, with a frontage designed by Wren.

The following print from 1724 shows the church to the right, along with the impressive buildings of Christ’s Hospital  (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Christ's Hospital

The text below the print provides some background on the school in the early 18th century:

“This Hospital, formerly a House of Grey Friars was first founded by that pious Prince Edward the 6th and has since received many donations from other persons by which Charities poor Children to the number of about 820 boys and 80 girls are not only provided with Lodging, Diet, Clothing and Learning, but when discharged of the House are bound out Apprentices and some of the Boys who have made large advances in Learning are sent to University. The House is divided into handsome Wards, where the Children lodge and a particular Ward where the sick are removed. For their instruction, here are a Grammar School, a Mathematick School a Writing School, a School where Girls learn to Read, Sew and Mark, and of late years, Boys have been taught to Draw. This Hospital is under the care and patronage of the City and by prudent care taken therefor it has produced many famous for Wealth, Learning and Servicableness to the public.”

Christ’s Hospital school left the site in 1902 and moved to Horsham in West Sussex where the school continues to this day.

View from next to the tower into the old body of the church:

Christchurch Greyfriars

View looking south towards St Paul’s where only one window and surrounding part of the southern wall remains:

Christchurch Greyfriars

What was the interior of the church was laid out as a rose garden in 1989, with a major update to the gardens in 2011. The configuration of this garden is intended to reflect the Wren church with the position of pews marked by the box edges and wooden towers where the old stone columns were located:

Christchurch Greyfriars

The northern wall of the church from what was the interior of the church:

Christchurch Greyfriars

If you return to my father’s photo of the church, you can see at the top corners of the church walls, there were stone pineapples. The ones rescued from the demolished walls can be found on the ground in the garden, next to the tower:

Christchurch Greyfriars

View along the centre of the church, pews would have been on either side with the small box hedges marking the edge of the pews:

Christchurch Greyfriars

A view of the tower of the church and part of the garden earlier in the year:

Christchurch Greyfriars

Christchurch Greyfriars is a survivor. Originally dating from the 13th century, it has survived being part of a Franciscan monastery, a charitable hospital / school, the Great Fire, the London Blitz and post war road construction and extension.

During many of these events, the church has shrunk in size, leaving the view we see today.

There was a campaign a number of years ago to rebuild the missing walls of the church, and for the church to become a memorial “to honour all Londoners who have been the victims of bombings in wartime and peacetime during the modern era”, however nothing seems to have come of this.

On a sunny spring or summer’s day, the gardens are a wonderful place to sit and contemplate the history of the church, surrounded by plants, flowers and bees.

alondoninheritance.com

St Bride’s, Fleet Street

The church of St Bride’s is set back from Fleet Street, and the body of the church is not that visible, however walk a short distance and the steeple of the church rises above the surrounding buildings:

St Bride's

Remarkably there has not been any taller buildings in the surrounding streets which could obscure the view of the steeple, and the roof line of Fleet Street is much the same as it was in the 1940s when the following view for the postcard series “London under Fire” was taken:

St Bride's

A visit to St Bride’s today, reveals two distinct sides to the church. There is the historic church, which includes evidence of the Roman city almost 2,000 years ago, and there is the church today which is the spiritual centre for a profession that we see on our TV screens every day.

The design of the current church dates from Wren’s post Great Fire rebuild of the church. The previous church having been completely destroyed by the fire that devastated so many City churches,

Although the rebuilt church reopened in 1675, the steeple was not completed until 1703. The steeple was Wren’s tallest steeple and today is actually 8 feet shorter than when originally completed due to a lightning strike and subsequent rebuilding work.

The steeple is also traditionally thought to be the inspiration of the tiered wedding cake, and up close, the steeple provides no reason to doubt this story:

St Bride's

The following drawing, dated 1680, shows the steeple of the church, and confirms that the steeple today is identical to Wren’s original design. The drawing on the right shows some very tempting stairs running up the middle of the steeple (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Bride's

St Bride’s today is completely surrounded by buildings so apart from the steeple it is really difficult to appreciate the overall design of the church. The following print shows the church open to the west (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Bride's

The above print is dated 1753, however Rocque’s map of London seven years earlier shows the area in front of the church occupied by buildings, so I do not know if some artistic licence was used in the above print, or whether the block had been demolished, and the artist had used the opportunity to portray this unique view of St Bride’s.

In the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, St Bride’s (marked as St Bridget) is shown just to the left of centre, and as now, was surrounded by buildings.

St Bride's

St Brigit (St Bride) was an abbess of a number of convents in Ireland, the most important of which was at Kildare. Brigit is believed to have lived between 451 and 525, and there are very few, if any, written records from that time, with what is known of her coming from later writings and anecdotes.

The majority of churches dedicated to St Brigit / Bride, or place names, are in Ireland or Wales and the west of England (such as St Brides Bay in Wales). The church in London is a rare example of the name in the east of the country.

Looking at the extract from Rocque’s map, and to the north of the church is “St Bride’s A”. This is St Bride’s Avenue, a narrow passageway that still runs between the church and the buildings on the southern side of Fleet Street:

St Bride's

In the above photo, a gate between the two lights leads into the churchyard, and a side entrance into the church, however I much prefer the entrance underneath the tower, as this entrance provides a view from under the tower into the brightly lit nave of St Bride’s:

St Bride's

St Bride’s was devastated during the last war, when bombing and fire, mainly during December 1940, reduced the church to a shell of side walls, tower and steeple.

The interior we see today is to Wren’s core design, but is the result of the post war rebuild, with everything, including floor, all wooden structures, roof etc. being from the 1950s and later refurbishments:

St Bride's

The view from close to the altar, looking back along the church to the entrance under the tower:

St Bride's

I have touched on the history of the church, but there is far more to discover which I will come to later in the post, however whilst in the church, there is the opportunity to explore one aspect of St Bride’s that is very relevant to life today.

Altar

St Bride’s has a long association with the print trade and journalism, dating back to around 1500 when the printing press of Wynkyn de Worde was established near the church. This association grew with the rise of Fleet Street as a centre of journalism and the newspaper industry.

Whilst newspapers have left Fleet Street, St Bride’s maintains this connection.

If you watch TV news today, or listen to a radio report, chances are these will be from a journalist and their support staff in Ukraine. Kitted out in protective gear. Those who report from war zones run a very real risk of injury or death, and those who have been lost in previous wars are commemorated in St Bride’s, including this memorial to those who lost their lives whilst covering the 2003 Iraq war:

Iraq War

St Bride’s has also created a Journalists’ Altar, to commemorate those within the profession who have died, are held hostage or have an unknown fate.

Journalists Altar

Unfortunately, there are too many to display at any one time, so the photos are rotated.

The three photos just above the candle are for Roman Protasevich, the Belarusian journalist who was arrested at Minsk airport in 2021. In the centre is John Cantile, who was taken hostage in Syria in 2012 by Islamic State and is still missing, and on the right is American freelance journalist Austin Tice who was also kidnapped in 2012, in Syria.

On either side of the Nave of the church, there is wooden seating, and these seats also have plaques commemorating those in the profession who have died. I have selected two to show the range of those named in St Bride’s.

The first is Patricia (Paddy) Mary Watson:

Patricia Watson

Patricia Watson was a journalist on the staff of the Daily Sketch, who died at the age of 23 in an aircraft accident over Italy on the 22nd of October 1958.

I found the details of the accident recorded in newspaper reports from the time, as follows:

A British European Airways Viscount and an Italian Air Force jet fighter collided near Nettuno, central Italy, and the airliner plunged to earth with the feared loss of 30 lives, cables Reuter.

Airport authorities in Rome said it was believed none of the 25 passengers and five crew survived. The fighter pilot was reported to have parachuted into the sea and was then picked up by a rescue launch.

BEA’s manager in Rome, Mr. David Craig, said he had been informed by the Italian authorities that all on board the Viscount were dead. The airliner was flying from London to Malta via Naples.

The Viscount and the fighter, an F36 Sabre jet, collided between Nettuno and Anzio. The wreckage of the Viscount was ten miles south-east of Anzio, a short distance inland from the sea, Mr. Craig said.

A police official at Nettuno said that after the collision, there was a terrific explosion. The British airliner blew up. Everyone on board must have been killed instantly. the wreckage came streaming down in a shower. The biggest piece was not more than a yard long.

The pilot of the fighter managed to parachute out of his plane immediately and the plane went on flying for a short distance before plunging downwards. The pilot of the fighter, Capt. Giovanni Savorelli, was taken to Nettuno hospital suffering from shock, Hospital authorities said he was otherwise uninjured.

An Italian civilian is believed to have been killed on the ground by falling wreckage. Within two hours of the crash Italian police announced that 15 bodies had been found. Police said the airliner was flying at 23,000 ft. at the time of the collision.

Among the dead were Miss Patricia Watson (23), a member of the Daily Sketch staff. Mr. Brian Fogaty (25) freelance photographer, and Mr. Lee Benson, free-lance reporter. They were on a Daily Sketch assignment.

Another member of the party was Miss Jane Buckingham (22) a London model.

The first paragraph of the above report mentions Reuter as the source of the news, which brings us to the second plaque, to Julius Reuter:

Julius Reuter

Paul Julius Reuter was a German immigrant to London. In Germany he had been running an early form of financial news service which relied on the telegraph and even carrier pigeons, to distribute financial information such as the prices of stocks.

In 1851, he set-up an office in the City of London, and using a new telegraph cable between London and Paris, started transmitting stock market quotations and news between the two city’s.

Reuter established the company known as Reuters, and as submarine cables and radio services allowed global communication, Reuters built a global network of journalists providing news and financial information, so as the plaque states, he was “First to spread world news worldwide”.

Reuters struggled somewhat in the early years of the 21st century, and in 2008, Reuters merged with the Canadian media organisation Thompson, to form Thomson Reuters.

Reuters had a presence close to St Bride’s, with offices at 85 Fleet Street, in the building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and completed in 1938 for the Press Association.

St Bride’s relationship with the professions of print and journalism are very much alive today, however I hope that no more names need to be added to those who have died whilst working as journalists.

I have touched on the history of the Wren church we see today, and there is a much older side to the church, which we can see with a visit to the superb displays in the Crypt:

St Bride's crypt

To discover the history of the Crypt, I turned to my go to book for post-war archeological excavations across the City – “The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London” by W.F. Grimes.

St Bride’s had a Mediaeval crypt, which had been retained when Wren rebuilt the church in the 17th century, however access to the crypt had been lost, and apart from a drawing preserved by the Reverend John Pridden who was a curate at St Bride’s from 1783 to 1803, there was no information on the layout of the crypt.

In the section on St Bride’s, Grimes explains that the church authorities invited the Roman and Mediaeval London Excavation Council to look for the vault before work started to rebuild the church.

The invitation was accepted, along with a request to extend the excavation beyond just the discovery of the crypt. The post-war state of the church can be understood with the following photo from Grimes book, showing the interior of the church from above:

St Bride's war damage

The white outline in the photo is that of the early Anglo-Norman church.

Walking down to the Crypt today, and there are two sections. On the left is a narrow walkway, where we can walk alongside the remains of some of the early walls and foundations of the church:

St Bride's crypt

This section of the crypt has a number of memorials from the pre-war church, alongside more memorials to those in the media:

Derek Jameson

On the right is the main section of the crypt, where the key features found during the post war excavation can be seen along with display cases telling the history of the church, and displaying some of the finds from the excavations.

St Bride's crypt

Grimes explains that the history of the site begins in the Roman period, when a stone building with a plain floor of red and some yellow tesserae was found at the eastern end of the church, some 10 feet below the floor level of Wren’s church.

The floor sections discovered are behind walls and foundations of medieval versions of the church, and can be seen today via mirrors which reflect the view of the Roman floor from behind the stone walls:

Roman Floor

The Roman floor was found to have been built on natural gravels, which extended westwards within the church, gradually increasing in height.

The level of the Roman floor is very similar to that of the streets that surround St Bride’s church today, which as shown in the earlier view of St Bride’s Avenue, are lower than the church, and descend to the east.

Another part of the Roman floor on display:

Roman floor

As well as the Roman tiled floor, an unexpected feature found towards the western end of the church was a Roman ditch. This was of a reasonable size, and extended beyond the site of the excavations so the full extent of the ditch and what it could have enclosed were not found at the time.

There was very little evidence of an early Christian church on the site of St Bride’s, although a number of burials were found which were probably early Christian. Evidence of either a cemetery on the site, or buried alongside an early church.

The following photo shows a late Roman / early Christian burial found near the western end of the church:

Late Roman / early Christian burial

Later mediaeval burials which had been cut through during later building works as the church developed:

Late mediaeval burials

Grimes records how the church before the Great Fire changed over the centuries, and was a more complex structure than the simple rectangular church built by Wren on the site.

Excavations were able to provide dates to the structures found within the crypt, and these are labelled as we walk around the crypt today. Some of the earliest walls from the 12th century:

12th century Walls

And the 11th century:

11th Century Walls

Grimes records that the earliest tower may not have been in the same location as the current tower. An early tower was probable given that St Bride’s is one of the churches recorded as sounding the curfew in the fourteenth century, however it may have been separate to the main church to avoid putting too much strain on what was a comparatively slight structure of the early medieval church.

Grimes summarises that the “the presence of an early church here with a Celtic dedication owes something to the use of the area as a burial ground since Roman times has much in it that is attractive”.

Having seen the crypt, the Roman floor, and read Grimes’ comments about the natural gravel on which the floor was probably built, a second look outside the church is instructive. The following view is looking along St Brides Avenue, which as can be seen, is lower than the church:

St Bride's Avenue

In the following photo, I am looking back up St Bride’s Avenue from the east. This view shows the gradual increase in height towards the western end of the church.

St Bride's Avenue

The Old Bell on the right, is an old pub, claiming to have been built by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1670s for workmen and masons working on the church of St Bride’s.

The following view is looking along Bride Lane at the eastern end of the church, showing how high the church is, compared to the ground level at the east.

St Bride's Avenue

As Grimes gives the level of the Roman floor as about 10 feet below Wren’s church floor, the level of the Roman floor and the natural gravel is probably at the same level as Bride Lane.

This is rather unusual, as there is usually a depth of “made ground” (the artificial deposits of human occupation that raise the level of the ground) in London between the natural surface, Roman remains, and the surface level of today.

It could be that as St Bride’s was built on the western banks of the River Fleet (see the earlier Rocque map extract for the location of the Fleet), that the descending gravels found by Grimes from west to east were part of the bank towards the river, and this gave less opportunity for man made deposits to build up.

Walking around the outside of the church, and there are a number of carvings on the church, including the following by or to E.D. and dated 1702 – the time when the tower of the church was being completed.

St Bride's

I did find a number of interesting references to St Bride’s when researching newspaper archives. One of the earliest dates from the 9th of August, 1716, where deaths in the City of London were reported.

One of these deaths was a person “Killed by several bullets, shot from a Blunderbuss at St Brides” – which raises all manner of questions, sadly not answered in the newspaper.

The death was part of the Bills of Mortality, records of deaths in London, along with their cause (and an example of how I am easily distracted when researching topics). The following table is the Bill of Mortality for London for the week from the 24th to the 31st of July, 1716:

Bill of Mortality

Causes of death were much more descriptive of their actual perceived cause in the 18th century.

The names of some need a bit of deciphering, for example “Chrisoms”.

A Chrisom was a piece of cloth laid over a child’s head when they were being baptised or christened, and would have probably been used at St Bride’s. The term was also used to describe the death of a child if they had died within a month of their baptism.

Bills of Mortality show a story over time, recording the causes and number of deaths of Londoners – a topic for a future post.

St Bride’s is a fascinating church, one of a few that have a Roman floor in their crypt. All Hallows by the Tower is another church where evidence of Roman buildings can be seen in the crypt (see this post).

A history that is almost 2,000 years old, and with a role that is relevant today, providing a spiritual home to the publishing industries and those following the profession of journalism, where journalists continue to report from war zones across the world.

If you are in the vicinity of Fleet Street, St Bride’s is very much worth a visit.

I had hoped to cover Bridewell, which was just to the south of the church (as can be seen in the Rocque map), but ran out of time – also a topic for a future post.

alondoninheritance.com

St Anne’s Soho, New River Company and Shaftesbury Avenue

St Anne’s Soho, New River Company and Shaftesbury Avenue is a bit of a mix of very different subjects, however the following photo from one of the Wonderful London books provides the connection.

New River Company Elm Pipes

The caption to the photo reads: “Elm Trunks for Conduit Pipes dug up near St Anne’s, Soho. Wooden pipes like these were used to carry water from New River Head over the Holebourne for the citizens. Trunks used for conveying the fresh water supply were of elm which of all the timbers best withstands the exigencies of heat and cold. The New River Co. had a wharf at the bottom of Dorset Street where the elm trunks were landed and bored. Shaftesbury Avenue was opened February 26, 1887, and the excavations laid these old pipes bare.”

There is much to unpack in that single caption, far more than within the scope of a single post, but I will give it a go, starting with the elm trunk in the photo.

When the New River Company started to distribute water across the city from their pond at New River Head, the only method to carry water within pipes was to use bored tree trunks. Iron pipes would not become available for the New River Company to use for well over a hundred years from when the company started operations in 1613.

The photo shows how a tree trunk was converted into use as a pipe. A hole was bored through the centre of the pipe to carry water, and one end of the trunk was shaved down to a point around the hole so that it could be pushed into the next trunk in the series, trying to form as close a seal as possible to prevent the leakage of water.

The New River Company had their main pond or reservoir at New River Head in north Clerkenwell, and their offices eventually moved to the same location, however as the caption states, they had a wharf at the bottom of Dorset Street, and their original offices were at the same location. It was here that elm trunks were delivered via the River Thames, bored and shaped ready to be used within their network of pipes.

The caption states that the wharf was at the bottom of Dorset Street. The offices, yard and wharf are marked on Horwood’s 1799 map of London, just to the west of Blackfriars Bridge, circled in the following extract:

New River Company

The location of the New River offices, yard and wharf are now separated from the river by the construction of the Victoria Embankment, however I have marked their location with the red arrow in the following photo, now covered by the brick building to the left of the old City of London School.

New River Company

The area served by the New River Company was extensive, for example one of their large industrial customers was the Truman’s Brewery in Brick Lane to the east of the city, and as London expanded to the west, they buried their pipes along the streets to serve the new buildings.

Serving the new west London streets did however bring problems. New River Head was located at a height of 30 metres above sea level. The original customers in the City of London were at a height ranging from 15 metres in the north of the City down to 1 or 2 metres along the river. This worked well when gravity was being used to get the water from New River Head to the City.

The west of the city was a different matter, with the area around Shaftesbury Avenue and Soho being around 22 metres in height, only an 8 metre difference to New River Head and much higher than the City.

This led to supply problems along the new streets of Soho, with a good supply in the City, and poor supply due to low pressure in west London.

The New River Company was also facing competitive pressure from other water companies, and at the end of the 17th century, they brought in Christopher Wren to evaluate their water supply system, and make recommendations for improvements.

Wren’s view was that the system was an unplanned mess, that had grown without any planning or understanding of the areas being served and how water was affected by the length and size of pipes, and the difference in height across London.

Wren could not make any individual recommendations, he compared the system to a diseased body, with the New River Company looking only at one small part of the body to try and work out a cure. Wren recommended a system wide replanning that would take much of the following century to implement.

Wren’s recommendations were also supported by the ex-clergyman John Lowthorpe, also commissioned by the New River Company to examine the system. Lowthorpe also identified that the company had no audit or understanding of their pipe network, and that a single person should be responsible for the system’s design, the role of a Chief Surveyor.

The New River Company did build an upper pond at Claremont Square, and the additional height of this new pond did overcome some of the pressure problems, but it would not be until wooden pipes were replaced with iron pipes, and steam engines were used to pump pressurised water rather than use gravity, that the supply across London would become reliable.

I have written more about New River Head and the New River Company here.

The photo of the elm pipe was taken outside the Wardour Street entrance to the church of St Anne’s, Soho. This is the same view today:

St Anne's Soho

St Anne’s, Soho was built to serve the spiritual needs of those living in the expanding Soho streets. Plans for a new church were first being discussed in the 1670s, along with the search for a suitable location. The land on which the church would be built was owned by two speculators, brewer Joseph Girle and tiler and bricklayer Richard Frith (who would give his name to Frith Street).

There is no firm evidence of the architect of the church, there are references to both Christopher Wren, and one William Talman, but it is impossible at this distance in time, and loss of documentation over the years, to be clear of their individual role.

The new church was ready for use in 1685 and was consecrated by Bishop Henry Compton in either 1685 or 1686.

The church was very badly damaged during the blitz raids of September 1940. The body of the church was completely burnt out, the tower survived, but with considerable damage.

The church was partly restored in the decades after the war, before undergoing a full restoration between 1990 and 1991. The tower survives from the pre-war church, however the rest of the building is a modern rebuild.

The tower and church of St Anne’s, Soho:

St Anne's Soho

The church in 1810 (with the inclusion of Westminster in the name as it was within the parish):

St Anne's Soho

It is always easy to get distracted by the gravestones in the churchyard of an old London church, and St Anne’s is no exception. Although these are now separated from their original graves, they tell the story of some of the characters who were buried here:

St Anne's Soho

In the above photo, the stone on the upper right is to Theodore, King of Corsica:

Theodore king of Corsica

Theodore was born in Cologne, Germany in 1694, with the full name Theodor Stephan Freiherr von Neuhoff. He had a varied career, service with both the French and Swedish armies, negotiating on behalf of the Swedish king with England and Spain, and travelling widely.

It was whilst traveling in Italy that he became involved with rebels trying to free the island of Corsica from the rule of Genoa, one of the republics that made up Italy in the 18th century.

Theodore landed in Corsica in March 1736, and was made king of the island by the inhabitants. His rule did not last long. Disagreements within the rebels, and the Republic of Genoa putting a price on his head resulted in Theodore leaving the island in November of the same year.

He lived in the Netherlands for a while before moving to London, where he tried to get support for Corsica, and his role as king. He was not successful, had many money problems and ended up in the King’s Bench debtors prison.

Released in 1755 after declaring bankrupt, and registering his Kingdom of Corsica for the use of his creditors. He died the following year in 1756, and the gravestone includes the following text:

Another gravestone on the base of the tower is that of William Hazlitt, whose grave in the churchyard is marked by a recent memorial.

William Hazlitt

Hazlitt was one of the greatest English essayist’s of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, however he lived his last years in relative obscurity, partly in a flat in Frith Street which explains why he was buried in St Anne’s.

A report in The Atlas (A General Newspaper and Journal of Literature) on the 26th September 1830 finishes with a sentence that will probably ring true with the majority of authors:

“On Thursday last the body of William Hazlitt was borne beneath our windows; till that moment we were not aware that a man of genius, a popular writer – the author of no less that able a work than the life of Napoleon, which alas closed his literary labours – and an amiable man, had been our next door neighbour for months, enduring sickness and at length dying in indigence. We boast of our national generosity, glory on the flourishing state of our literature, and thunder forth the power of the press, the palladium of our liberties; in the meanwhile ‘the spirit of life’ is allowed to burn itself out in penury and privation. Publishers sport their carriages, or fail for a hundred thousand pounds; and those by whom they become publishers die for want of a dinner.”

So that covers a brief looks at the New River Company and their elm pipes, as well as St Anne’s, Soho. The caption to the photo has the following final sentence:

Shaftesbury Avenue was opened February 26, 1887, and the excavations laid these old pipes bare.”

Which implies that the elm pipes were uncovered during the work to create Shaftesbury Avenue, so the creation of this famous West End street is what I wanted to explore next.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue is a long street that runs from New Oxford Street in the north down to Piccadilly Circus in the south. The street crosses Charing Cross Road, and it is the lower half that is probably best known as this is where the majority of the street’s theatres are located. As the street sign above confirms, Shaftesbury Avenue is in the heart of London’s theatre land.

In the following map, I have marked the route of Shaftesbury Avenue with a a red dashed line (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue cut through a series of streets and buildings that had existed from the time of London’s expansion westwards. The following map is from William Morgan’s 1682 map of London, again the red dashed line marks the future route of Shaftesbury Avenue.

Shaftesbury Avenue

During the second half of the 19th century there were a number of building schemes that carved new roads through what been been dense networks of streets and buildings. I have already written about Roseberry Avenue which was built between 1887 and 1892, and Charing Cross Road which was officially opened on the Saturday 26th February 1887.

Shaftesbury Avenue was part of the same scheme that included Charing Cross Road.

Proposals for roads improvements along the lines of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue dated back to the 1830s, when a Select Committee of the House of Commons stated that “several plans for affording greater convenience of intercourse between the southern and northern divisions of the metropolis” were considered due to increasing traffic flow and the need to provide much more direct and convenient links between locations such as the eastern end of Oxford Street, Charing Cross and Piccadilly Circus.

Nothing would come of these early proposals, and by the 1870s the situation was becoming more critical, with traffic added to by the arrival of railway stations to the north of the city and those along the river such as Charing Cross.

The Metropolitan Board of Works applied to parliament for permission to improve the streets between Oxford Street, Charing Cross and Piccadilly, and they were granted the powers to construct these streets through the Metropolitan Street Improvements Act of 1877.

Details of these improvements, along with so many others throughout London were published by the London County Council in a wonderful book published in 1898 called “History of London Street Improvements, 1855 – 1897”.

The book includes some detail on the Shaftesbury Avenue development, including the following two maps which detail the route. I have added a yellow line to highlight the route. The first map covers from Piccadilly Circus at lower left to just to the north west of Seven Dials at top right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The following map includes a short overlap and covers the north eastern section of the street from Greek Street (top left) to New Oxford Street at lower right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The route of Shaftesbury Avenue would take over and widen a number of existing streets and would run through a number of housing blocks.

At the southern end of the route, Shaftesbury Avenue opens out onto Piccadilly Circus which is a major junction with Regent Street, Piccadilly, Regent Street St James, and Coventry Street.

Piccadilly Circus

The view along Shaftesbury Avenue from the junction with Piccadilly Circus:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The 1877 Act imposed some difficult conditions on the Metropolitan Board of Works. Previous acts had allowed development to take place with conditions for the rehousing of the “labouring classes” who would be displaced, however the new Act stated that the Metropolitan Board of Works was “forbidden to take, without the consent of the Secretary of State, 15 or more houses occupied wholly or partially by persons of the labouring classes, until the Board had proved to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that other accommodation in suitable dwellings had been provided”.

The new street would pass through some of the most densely populated parts of London, requiring the rehousing of hundreds of people, so this was a difficult condition for the Board.

The Metropolitan Board of Works tried through the following years to get the condition regarding 15 or more houses either removed or modified, however Parliament refused to change the original Act.

Whilst the Board had been trying to get the Act changed, it had also acquired the land of the old Newport Market and had been building large blocks of working class dwellings ready for those who would be displaced by the development of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

Newport Market was an area just to the south of the route of Shaftesbury Avenue. I have ringed the location in the following extract from Reynolds’s 1847 “Splendid New Map of London”:

Newport Market

The projects to build Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue would eventually displace a total of 3,044 people, described of being of the “labouring classes”.

Starting to walk north along Shaftesbury Avenue. This stretch of the new road ran through areas of dense housing:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The Metropolitan Board of Works purchased the land for the new street. They tried to keep their purchases to a minimum as the costs were taken from the Rates.

In an example of how the ownership of land always was, and in many ways, continues to be a source of profit, without many of the associated costs, it was complained at the time that whilst the cost of improvements were recovered through the Rates, these were generally paid by the tenants of properties, not by the owner, although in developments such as Shaftesbury Avenue, the owner of land close to the new street would benefit by the increase in the value of his land due to the improvements to the area such a development would bring.

Very similar in the way that Crossrail increases the value of land around new stations.

Land purchased for the new road, often included land running along side. The Board was expected to sell excess land alongside the road to recover part of the construction costs.

Completion of Shaftesbury Avenue would result in an explosion of building along the new route, which included many of the theatres that today line the street.

Shaftesbury Avenue

In the above photo, further from the camera on the right is the Lyric Theatre (1888) and with the “Jamie” advertising is the Apollo Theatre (1901).

At the junction with Wardour Street. The church of St Anne’s, Soho is just up the street to the right.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Remarkable that as the original buildings and streets were being cleared ready for the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue that the 17th century elm pipes were being removed from the ground, and that in the 1880s these were fortunately considered important enough to photograph.

The following photo is looking north from the junction with Wardour Street, and is the stretch of Shaftesbury Avenue which was a much widened earlier King Street:

Shaftesbury Avenue

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Gerrard Place, there is a modern fire station:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The site has been a fire station from the construction of the street. In 1886, the Metropolitan Board of Works leased the land to a private fire fighting organisation, the London Salvage Corps, with the first fire station being built the following year in 1887. In 1920 the site was acquired by the London County Council as a site for the London Fire Brigade.

Looking south from outside the fire station:

Shaftesbury Avenue

Turning north, and it is here that Shaftesbury Avenue crosses Charing Cross Road, which was also being developed at the same time:

Cambridge Circus

At the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road is the Palace Theatre:

Palace Theatre

The Palace Theatre is a large, red brick building with a capacity for 1,400 theatre goers.

The theatre was opened in 1891 (soon after the completion of the two new streets) for Richard D’Oyly Carte who intended the theatre to be the home of English opera and on opening the theatre was known as the Royal English Opera House. The first production was Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe, however when this closed there was no follow up production and the Royal English Opera House closed.

D’Oyly sold the building and in 1911 it opened as the Palace Theatre of Varieties, commencing a theme of musical productions which have run for most of the theatre’s time. With the emphasis on musicals rather than variety productions, the theatre dropped the last part of the name to become the Palace Theatre.

Today, the Palace Theatre is hosting probably one of the biggest productions in the West End for some years, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.

Continuing north along Shaftesbury Avenue and on the corner with Mercer Street is the Soho Baptist Chapel:

Soho Baptist Chapel

Built between 1887 and 1888 (the building work along the street in the few years after completion must have been considerable). The building is now the Chinese Church in London.

Further along is the Shaftesbury Avenue Odeon:

Odeon Shaftesbury Avenue

The facade is not what you would typically associate with a cinema and gives away the building’s original function. This building was originally the Saville Theatre.

The Saville Theatre opened in 1931 and according to an introduction to the theatre in one of the early theatre programmes was “built by Messrs Gee, Walker and Slater of 32, St. James’s Street, SW1 from plans of the Architects, Messrs T.P. Bennett and Son, of 41 Bedford Row, WC1 who were also responsible for the whole colour scheme, lighting, furnishing etc.”

The exterior of the building looks much the same today as when it first opened as the Saville Theatre, apart from the canopy over the entrance and the glass blocks that now replace the wrought iron windows in the enclosed area above the canopy.

I have written a post on the Saville Theatre and the freeze that runs along the side of the building here.

Further along Shaftesbury Avenue is what was the “Hospital et Dispensaire Francais”, or the French Hospital:

French Hospital

The French Hospital was originally at 10 Leicester Place where it had been opened in 1867 by Eugene Rimmel, for “the benefit of distressed foreigners of all nations requiring medical relief”.

The hospital quickly outgrew the original site, and the land adjacent to Shaftesbury Avenue was acquired from the Metropolitan Board of Works, with the new hospital building opening in 1890. A hospital would continue on the site until 1992.

Towards the junction with St Giles High Street and High Holborn, Shaftesbury Avenue has left behind the theatres of the southern part of the street, and we find different types of shops, including a decorating / hardware store:

Leyland

Forbidden Planet:

Forbidden Planet

And Ben’s Traditional Fish and Chips:

Fish and Chips

This was also the site of the now closed Arthur Beale, ships chandler.

Looking north across the junction with St Giles High Street on the left and High Holborn on the right with Shaftesbury Avenue continuing north:

St Giles High Street

Although the majority of the street’s theatres are in the section of street between Charing Cross Road and Piccadilly Circus, there is another theatre on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and High Holborn – the Shaftesbury Theatre:

Shaftesbury Avenue

The Shaftesbury Theatre occupies a prominent corner location. Opened in 1911 it was originally called The Princes Theatre. For over a century the Shaftesbury Theatre has hosted musicals, plays and comedies and in 1968 the run of the musical Hair commenced in September, made possible by the ending of theatre censorship laws on the 26th September 1968 when after 231 years of theatre censorship, the Lord Chamberlain had his powers to censor plays removed.

Hair ran for almost 2,000 performances before it was forced to close owing to structural problems in the building that required urgent restoration work. During closure, there were attempts to redevelop the building, however it was saved as a theatre and reopened in 1974.

We are now coming into the final part of the street, where it joins New Oxford Street, however, there is a change to the original route.

in the following map, the yellow line indicates the route of Shaftesbury Avenue to New Oxford Street on the right, with the text “Termination of Street” showing where the new street would end.

Shaftesbury Avenue

The above map shows the street cutting across a stretch of street labeled Bloomsbury Street, however today, both this small section of Bloomsbury Street and the new street are called Shaftesbury Avenue as shown on the building in the corner where the two sections of the street run to left and right:

Shaftesbury Avenue

Today, the original section of Shaftesbury Avenue is mainly paved, but with a short stretch of street running along one side:

Shaftesbury Avenue

This view is from New Oxford Street looking down where Shaftesbury Avenue originally joined New Oxford Street:

Shaftesbury Avenue

And this is the view down what was the short section of Bloomsbury Street that now forms the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue with New Oxford Street.

Shaftesbury Avenue

Shaftesbury Avenue was completed in January 1886, and provided a new direct route from New Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus, as well as driving a considerable explosion of building that has resulted in the street we see today, a street that is at the heart of the West End theatre industry.

The street was 3,350 feet long and 60 feet wide. A subway was constructed along the length of the street for gas, water and other assorted pipes.

The gross cost of constructing Shaftesbury Avenue was £1,136,456. The net cost was £758,887 after the sale of surplus land at £377,569.

The street was named after Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, who had died in 1885, the year before the new street was completed. The Shaftesbury name was also given to the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain (probably better known as Eros), in Piccadilly Circus.

Newspapers at the time of his death were full of the philanthropic work of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and his work in Parliament to try and improve working and living conditions. One of these was the so called “Ten Hours Bill”, which although not strictly living up to its name, did look to reduce the hours of work for children.

Considering that this was considered a great improvement, the changes that the bill looked to implement were still horrendous by today’s standards.

With the exception of silk and lace mills, children under the age of nine were not to be employed in factories, while the labour of those under thirteen was to be limited to 48 hours a week, and the employers of all children were required to provide them with not less than two hours schooling a week.

So, going back to the caption at the top of the post, unpacking everything in the photo from the New River Company’s elm pipe excavated when Shaftesbury Avenue was built, and the church of St Anne’s Soho reveals a fascinating history of a small part of the West End.

It would be brilliant to think that there are still some elm pipes buried below the city’s streets just waiting to be discovered.

If you have managed to get to the end of the post, you may be interested in one of my walks. All the Barbican walks have sold out, and there are just a few tickets remaining for the Southbank walk, which can be booked here.

On the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street

For this week’s post, I am in Cheapside in 1986, looking across to the shop of Shirt Makers L&R Wooderson, on the corner of Wood Street:

Wooderson

Thirty five years later and the building is still there, however L&R Wooderson have now been replaced by a card shop, Cards Galore:

Wooderson

A wider view, showing Wood Street leading off Cheapside to the right:

Wooderson

The location is shown in the map below, by the red circle. For reference, part of St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen to the left  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Cheapside

There is much to discover in this small, corner plot of land, part of which has a large tree which towers over the top of the shop, and can just be seen in the above photos.

The tree has been a significant landmark on Cheapside for very many years, and it was mentioned frequently in newspapers throughout the 19th century, for example in the following from the London Sun, when on the 1st April 1846 the paper reported:

“A ROOKERY IN CHEAPSIDE AND A CHERRY TREE ON LONDON BRIDGE – It is a singular fact that at the present times there are two crows’ nests on a lofty tree at the corner of Wood street, Cheapside; the birds are mated. One day last week, a furious fight took place between the four of them, which ended in the partial demolition of one of the nests. The damage has been since repaired. On the City end of London bridge a cherry tree, growing from one of the chinks in the granite, is now putting forth leaves. It is almost three years old.”

The tree appears to have been under threat in 1881, when multiple newspapers carried the following report:

THE CHEAPSIDE TREE – A flagrant act of arboricide is about to be perpetuated of malice aforethought and in open day. If there is one tree in London the position of which, apart from all personal charms and apart from the rest due to venerable age, deserves to be saved from the innovating axe, it is ‘the Cheapside tree’. For generations its pretty group of foliage has peeped out as a surprise and contrast to the surrounding masses of stone and brick. It has been a standing emblem to thousands of fagged and dust-stained city clerks of their annual fortnight holiday. It is blessed amongst trees. A tree of the street is infinitely more precious than ‘a tree of the field’. But it is doomed, and bad luck to the ruthless contractor or avaricious land-jobber by whose instigation the Cheapside tree is to be laid low.”

The tree did survive, no doubt helped by the number of references to the possible destruction of the tree in newspapers using such graphical descriptions as in the above report.

The tree was also used in adverts and references to shops and businesses in the immediate vicinity of the tree, adding the tree to their location to help potential customers find their business. L&R Wooderson were also using the tree as a reference in the 1986 photo, as shown by the following extract from the photo of the shop door:

Wooderson

The term “Under the Tree” was used by a number of businesses operating in the terrace of buildings of which L&R Wooderson is part, for example:

  • Illustrated London News: 13th August 1853 – Rowe’s 25,000 Cab-Fares to and from all the Railways, Public Buildings, &c in London. Samuel Row, Under the Tree, Cheapside
  • Kentish Mercury: 31st January 1890 – The Express Dairy Company’s new branch at 130, Wood Street, Under the Tree, Cheapside is now Open for Business
  • The Bystander: 2nd August 1905 – For Gentlemen, the H.W. Velvet Grip Boston Garter. The Acme of Comfort, the Height of Perfection. L&R Wooderson, Under the Tree, 122/4, Cheapside, E.C.

It is difficult to determine the age of the tree. It is a London Plane tree, and the Woodland Trust define the tree as a cross between the Oriental plane and the American sycamore. They also state that the tree was first noticed in London in the mid 17th century, and that planting across London started in the late 18th century, so the tree probably dates from at least the late 1700s and must be around 250 years old.

A view of the tree from Wood Street, looking back towards Cheapside shows the impressive height and spread of the tree:

Wood Street

The tree also featured in the following photo from the book Wonderful London by St John Adcock, from the first decades of the 20th century:

Wooderson

The shop of L&R Wooderson is also in the above photo, looking much the same as it would many years later in 1986. Friday Street, and the plaque on the right of the above photo will be the subject of a future post.

The first written reference I can find to L&R Wooderson is an advert in the Daily Telegraph and Courier on the 27th September 1899 for:

“HOSIERS – Improver WANTED – apply personally or by letter, L.R. Wooderson, 45, Eastcheap, E.C.”

However whilst the name is correct, in 1899 their address was at the eastern end of Eastcheap, towards Great Tower Street. The 1895 Post Office Directory confirms their original Eastcheap address and gives their full names as Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson.

This is where researching these posts always leads me down different routes, as having their full names, I wanted to know a bit more about them.

Searching the census records resulted in a bit of a mystery. The 1881 census records Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson living at 47 Lester Square, St Anne Soho (the parish).

I am not aware that there was a Lester Square, or that Leicester Square was originally called Lester Square, and could not believe there was an error in the census data. Reading through the census entries for 1881 there is also a St John’s Hospital at 45 Lester Square. There was indeed a St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin at number 45 Leicester Square from 1865 to 1867, which confirmed that the spelling of the square was wrong in the 1881 census.

In 1881, Llewellyn and Robert Wooderson were part of a large family at number 47 Leicester Square, which consisted of:

Cheapside

Llewellyn and Robert were aged 8 and 6 in 1881, and whilst the rest of the children were born in London, Robert is recorded as being born in Canada.

Their father, Henry Wooderson is listed as a Fruit Salesman, as is the eldest of the sons, also a Henry, however although son Henry has the same first name as his listed father, he cannot have been his biological father.

There is a 12 year age difference between Henry (28) and his wife Sarah (40), and if Henry had fathered the younger Henry, he would have been 11 at the time, so possibly Henry, George and Edwin are the sons of a previous marriage of Sarah’s with Llewellyn and Robert possibly being Henry’s biological sons.

The two Henry’s worked in Covent Garden market as a Henry Wooderson & Sons is listed in the 1913 book “Covent Garden, Its Romance and History” by Reginald Jacobs. The younger son George may well have gone into the same business as a George Wooderson is listed as having a shop in the north row of shops at Covent Garden.

By the 1891 census, the father Henry could possibly have died as there is no mention of him in the census. The eldest son Henry was now married to Harriet and they were living in Tavistock Street. Llewellyn who was now 18 and Robert, 16, were living with them. By 1891 they had started in the profession that would result in their shop in Cheapside as their were both listed as Hosiers Assistant, and not long after they would open their first shop in Eastcheap.

By 1901, Llewellyn had joined the commuting class having moved out to Somerset Road in Reigate, to a terrace house which is still there. Married to Alice, and with two sons Llewellyn (2) and Malcolm (0). The business must have been doing reasonably well as also living in the house was a domestic servant

In the 1911 census, Robert Wooderson was married to Nellie Geraldine and had two sons. In the 1881 census, Robert was listed as being born in Canada, however the 1911 census adds the city of Toronto. It would be fascinating to understand why, of all the family members, only Robert was born in Canada, and what his mother was doing in the country at the time.

Also in 1911, Robert was listed as a Gentlemens Hosier, and he was living along with his family in Lessar Avenue, Clapham. His house is still in the street.

By the 1939 Register, Robert had moved to Atkins Road, Wandsworth, and his son Thomas was aged 40, single and listed as a Master Hosier so had probably joined the family business in Cheapside. Robert would die in 1957.

I cannot find any reference to Llewellyn’s later life.

They also seem to have had the two shops, the original on Eastcheap, and the shop featured in the photos at the start of the post on the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street. It would have been fascinating to try and find out more about their life, however I am always constrained by time within the scope of a weekly post.

Behind the old L&R Wooderson shop, and where the tree is located is a small patch of open ground facing Wood Street:

Cheapside

This was the churchyard of the church of St Peter West Cheape. The churchyard can be seen in the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, on the left, above the “C” of Cheapside:

Cheapside

In the above map of 1746, a row of buildings is shown between the churchyard and Cheapside, following the line of buildings that we see today, however in the earlier 1682 map by William Morgan, the churchyard (above the E and A of Cheap) is an open space up to the edge of Cheapside:

Cheapside

The appearance of the buildings, of which L&R Wooderson was a part, gives the impression of being of some age, however there is no (that I can find) confirmed dating of the terrace, however they do follow the alignment shown in the 1746 map, so they do follow the property boundaries of the post Great Fire rebuild.

The church that once occupied the space, along with its churchyard, was one of the churches lost in the 1666 Great Fire, and not rebuilt.

In the book “London Churches Before The Great Fire” by Wilberforce Jenkins (1917), the old church was described:

“The ‘Church of St Peter, West Chepe, stood on the corner of Wood Street, Cheapside, and was not rebuilt after the Fire. The well-known tree in Cheapside marks the spot, and a small piece of the churchyard remains. It was sometimes called St Peter-at-Cross, being opposite the famous Cross which stood in the middle of the street, and was at one time an object of pride and veneration, and at a later period the object of execration and many riots, until pulled down and burnt by the mob. The date of the ancient church is uncertain, but there would appear to be a reference to it in 1231. In the ‘Liber Albus’, one Geoffrey Russel is mentioned as having been present when a certain Ralph Wryvefuntaines was stabbed in the churchyard of St Paul’s and being afraid of being accused, fled for sanctuary to the Church of St Peter.

Thomas Wood, goldsmith and sheriff, is credited with having, in 1491, restored or rebuilt the roof of the middle aisle, the structure being supported by figures of woodmen. Hence, so tradition says, came the name of the street, Wood Street.”

The “famous Cross” mentioned in the above extract was one the crosses erected by Edward I in 1290 on the corner of Wood Street, to mark the resting places of Queen Eleanor’s coffin on its way from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey.

The cross was a large structure and was decorated with religious iconography including images of the Pope and the Virgin. From the mid 16th century onwards, the cross was the subject of attack by puritans who objected to the religious symbols on the cross.

On the 2nd of May, 1643, the cross was demolished, which was illustrated in the following print produced by Wenceslaus Hollar in the same year (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Cheapside

The illustration at the bottom of the print shows the “Booke of Sportes upon the Lords Day” being burnt on the site of the cross.

The Book of Sports was a book first published in 1617 during the reign of James I to define what sports were allowed on a Sunday. Initially only covering Lancashire to try and resolve a dispute between Puritans and mainly Catholic gentry, the guidance within the book was applied across the whole country in the following year.

Republished by Charles I, the book was a constant problem for Puritans who considered any playing of sport on a Sunday against their religious principles. As the influence of Puritanism grew in the lead up to the English Civil War, Parliament ordered that the book be publically burnt, one of the burnings was on the site of the cross, on the 10th May 1643.

The old churchyard of St Peter, West Chepe is now a small open space with a small number of gravestones. In the following photo, the brick rear of the building on Cheapside, including the old shop of L&R Wooderson is shown on the left:

Cheapside

Some of the graves are from the early 19th century showing that while the church was not rebuilt after the Great Fire, the churchyard continued in use.

Side gate between the buildings facing Cheapside and the graveyard:

Cheapside

On the railings facing onto Wood Street is an image of St Peter, along with the cross keys frequently shown with St Peter as the “keys to heaven”.

Cheapside

And on the rear of the image of St Peter, is the date 1712 and the names of the churchwardens, which appears to date the railing to 1712:

Cheapside

I would have liked to have had the time to find out more about the Wooderson family. For how long the family was involved with the shop and when it finally closed. Cards Galore who currently occupy the shop seem to have been expanding during the 1990s, however I cannot find their Cheapside shop listed during this decade, so perhaps it was in the 2000’s that L&R Wooderson finally closed.

This has been an incredibly interesting corner of Cheapside, tracing the family of the shop, a church destroyed during the Great Fire and the Cheapside Cross destroyed in the years leading up to the English Civil war, however as usual, I am just scratching the surface.

alondoninheritance.com

The Minories – History and Architecture

I have been to the Minories in a previous post when I explored the lost Church of Saint Trinity, or Holy Trinity in the Minories, and when I went to find the pulpit from the church which is now at All Saints’ Church, East Meon in Hampshire.

I wanted to return to explore the street, the abbey after which the street is named, and one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in the city.

The following photo is from Aldgate High Street at the northern end of the Minories, looking down the street.

The above photo shows what looks like an ordinary London street. Lined by commercial buildings, fast food stores, and the obligatory towers rising in the distance; the Minories has a far more interesting history than the above view suggests.

The following ward map from 1755 shows the Minories running down from Whitechapel, just outside the City wall.

In the above map, the area of land between the city wall and the Minories was once part of the ditch that ran alongside part of the walls. Look across the map at the top of the Minories, and running to the top left is another reminder of the ditch, the street Houndsditch, the last part of the name can be seen.

Being outside the City walls, the area may have been the site of a Roman cemetery, and in 1853 a large Roman Sarcophagus with a lead coffin was found near Trinity Church, just to the right of the street.

In the map the street is called The Minories, however today “The” has been dropped and the street name signs now name the street just Minories (I am continuing to use “the” in the post as I suspect it helps the text to flow”.

The name derives from the sisterhood of the “Sorores Minores” of the Order of St. Clare. The sisters of the order were known as Minoresses and the book “A History of the Minories, London”, published in 1922 and written by Edward Murray Tomlinson, once Vicar of Holy Trinity Minories, provides some background as to the origins of the order:

“The Order of the Sorores Minores, to which the abbey of the Minores in London belonged, was founded by St Clara of Assisi in Italy, and claimed Palm Sunday, March 18th 1212, as the date of its origin”.

The Order’s arrival in London, and establishing an abbey outside of the City walls dates back to 1293. It appears that the first members of the Order in the Minories came from another of the Order’s establishments just outside Paris.

The land occupied by the 13th century Order can be seen in the following map, enclosed by the red lines to the right of the street (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

The land supported a Church, Refectory, Guest House, Friars Hall, and along the right hand wall, a Cemetary and Gardens.

The Order received a number of endowments, and rents on properties that had come into their possession, and by 1524 they were receiving £171 per annum.

The lists of rents received in 1524 provide an interesting view of the costs of renting in different parts of the city. The following table lists the rents received from Hosyer Lane (now Hosier Lane in West Smithfield).

The majority of documentation that survives from the Order are mainly those relating to endowments, rents received, legal and religious documents. There is very little that provides any information on day to day life in the Minories. The only time we have a view of the number of sisters who were part of the Order, is at the very end of the Order, when on November 30th 1538, the Abbey buildings and land in the Minories were surrendered to Henry VIII.

The Abbess of the Order probably realised what was happening to the religious establishments in the country, and that by surrendering to the King, the members of the Order would be able to receive a pension, and it is the pension list that provides the only view of the numbers within the Order.

In 1538 there was an Abbess (Elizabeth Salvage) who would receive a pension of £40, along with 24 sisters, ranging in age from 24 to 76, and each receiving a pension of between £1 6s 8d and £3 6s 8d.

There were six lay sisters who do not appear to have received a pension – the name of one of the lay sisters was Julyan Heron the Ideote, indicative of how even religious establishments treated people who probably had learning difficulties.

It appears that the King granted the land and buildings to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and many of the original Abbey buildings were still standing in 1797, when a large fire destroyed many of the remaining buildings of the Abbey. The last religious building on the site was the church of Holy Trinity, which closed as a church at the end of the 19th century, but the church survived as a parish hall until the Second World War when the building suffered severe bomb damage. A wall did remain until final clearance of the area in the late 1950s.

The remaining abbey buildings of the Minories in 1796:

As well as the name of the street, Minories, a side street also recalls the order. The street in the following photo is St Clare Street, after the Order of St. Clare. It runs through the land of the old abbey, and at the end of the street was the church of Holy Trinity.

The pub on the corner of the Minories and St Clare Street is The Three Lords. The current pub building dates from around 1890, however a pub with the same name has been on the site for much longer. The earliest newspaper reference I could find to The Three Lords dates to the 11th January 1819 when the Evening Mail reported on the arrest of a man for robbery. He was formerly a respectable man with carriage and servants, one of whom in 1819 kept the Three Lords and a pot from the pub was found in the room of the alleged thief.

Walk along the Minories today, and apart from the street name, there is nothing to suggest that this was once the site of the Abbey. The street is mainly lined with buildings from the first half of the 20th century.

With a mix of different architectural styles and construction materials.

Towards the southern end of the Minories is one of the most architectually fascinating buildings in the city. This is Ibex House:

Ibex House was built between 1933 and 1937 and was designed as a “Modernistic” style office block by the architects Fuller, Hall and Foulsham.

it is Grade II listed and the Historic England listing provides the following description: “Continuous horizontal window bands, with metal glazing bars. Vertical emphasis in centre of each facade in form of curved glazing (in main block) and black faience strips”

“faience” was not a word I had heard before, and the best definition I could find seems to be as a glazed ceramic. Black faience is used for the ground floor and vertical bands, with buff faience used for the horizontal bands on the floors above ground.

The ground floor, facing onto the Minories consists of the main entrance, sandwich bar and a pub, the Peacock:

The Peacock is a good example of the way developers have integrated a business that was demolished to make way for a new building, in that new building.

A pub with the same name had been at the same location since at least the mid 18th century. It was demolished to make way for the Ibex building, and a new version was built as part of the development.

An 1823 sale advert for the Peacock provides a good view of the internal facilities of the original pub, from the Morning Advertiser on the 19th May 1823:

“That old-established Free Public House and Liquor Shop, the PEACOCK, the corner of Haydon-street, Minories, in the City of London, comprising five good sleeping rooms, club room, bar, tap, kitchen, and parlour, and good cellar, held on lease for 18 1/4 years, at the low rent of £45 per annum.”

Newspaper reports that mention the Peacock include the full range of incidents that would be found at any city pub over the last couple of hundred years – thefts, the landlord being fined for allowing drunkenness, betting, sports (boxing seems to have been popular at the Peacock, etc.) however one advert shows how pubs were used as contact points, and tells the story of one individual travelling through London in 1820. From the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser on the 29th May 1820:

“WANTED, by a PERSON who is 30 years of age, and who has been upwards of three years in the West Indies, a SITUATION to go to any part Abroad, as CLERK in a Store or Warehouse, or in any way he may be able to make himself useful. Address (post paid) for A.B. to be left at the Peacock, in the Minories”.

It would be fascinating to know “A.B’s” story, did he get another job, and where he went to next.

On the southern corner of Ibex House is a rather splendid sandwich bar, all glass and chrome:

The main entrance to the building looks almost as if you are entering a cinema, rather than an office building:

During the first couple of decades, occupants of Ibex House illustrate the wide variety of different businesses that were based in a single London office block, including:

  • Shell Tankers Ltd – 1957
  • Johnston Brothers (agricultural contractors) – 1952
  • Associated Lead Manufacturers Ltd – 1950
  • Vermoutiers Ltd (producers of “Vamour”, sweet or dry Vermouth) – 1948
  • The Royal Alfred Aged Seamen’s Institution – 1948
  • Ashwood Timber Industries – 1947
  • The Air Ministry department which dealt with family allowances and RAF pay – 1940
  • Cookson’s – the Lead Paint People – 1939
  • Temple Publicity Services – 1938

The Associated Lead Manufacturers advertised “Uncle Toby’s Regiment of Lead” as their special lead alloy was used widely in the manufacture of toy soldiers. It would not be till 1966 that lead was banned as a material for the production of toys due to the damage that lead could cause to the health of a person.

The front of Ibex House is impressive, but we need to walk down the two side streets to see many of the impressive details of the building. Ibex House is designed in the shape of an H, with wide blocks facing to the Minories, and at the very rear of the building, with a slightly thinner block joining the two wider.

Walking along Haydon Street we can see the northern aspect of the building (Haydon Street was also the southern boundary of the Abbey of the Order of St Clare / the Minories).

The central glazed column contains small rooms on each floor level. There are few sharp corners on the building, mainly on the very upper floors, with curves being the predominant feature.

Looking back up towards the Minories:

The stepped and curved floors and railing on the upper floors give the impression of being on an ocean liner, rather than a city office block:

Curved walls feature across the building, including the corners of the ground floor which are tucked away at the end of the street:

Portsoken Street provides the southern boundary of the building:

Detail of the projecting canopy roof at the very top of the central, glazed column:

With a small room at each floor level:

The design detail includes curved windows in the glazed column that open on a central hinge:

Larger room at the top of the glazed column – a perfect location for an office with a view:

As well as the main entrance on the Minories, each side street also has an equally impressive central door into the building:

Ibex House is a very special building.

The view back up the Minories from near the southern end of the street:

The sisterhood of the “Sorores Minores” of the Order of St. Clare have left very little to tell us about life in their Abbey, and there are no physical remains of their buildings to be found, just the street names Minories and St Clare Street. Just one of the many religious establishments that were a major part of life in the city from the 12th century onwards.

So although we cannot see anything of the abbey, the Minories does give us the architectural splendor of Ibex House to admire as a brilliant example of 1930s design.

alondoninheritance.com

Priory Church of the Order of St John

A couple of months ago, I wrote about St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell which was once part of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The priory occupied a large amount of land in Clerkenwell, and today I am exploring another part of the history of the area with a visit to the Priory Church of the Order of St John.

The Priory Church of the Order of St John visible when standing outside today is a post war building, but down in the crypt there is still evidence to be found of the original Norman and Medieval building, part of the church’s long and fascinating history, and some of the oldest in London.

The following map is from my earlier post on St John’s Gate showing the outline of the inner and outer precincts of the original priory. The solid blue rectangle is the location of the gate and I have added the location of the church, in the heart of the old inner precinct, by a blue, dashed rectangle.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

If you walk up from the location of St John’s Gate, cross Clerkenwell Road and stand in St John’s Square, you will find the Priory Church of the Order of St John, a rather fine brick building. The main body of the church is to the left, and the entrance to the Cloister Garden is through the large central entrance.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The current church is built on the site of the original 12th century priory church. The design of the 12th century church was based on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, in that it had a large round nave, leading back to a narrow raised chancel built over a crypt.

This design was used by both Hospitaller (the order which occupied the Clerkenwell priory) and Templar churches. We can get an idea of what the circular nave may have looked like by comparing with the London Temple church:

Priory Church of the Order of St JohnParts of the original circular nave were discovered in 1900, and today the outline of the nave is marked by granite setts which we can see in the photo below, in front of the church:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

As the Priory grew in wealth and influence, so did the church, and the church was quickly expanded, including rebuilding the circular nave as a more traditional rectangular nave.

Prior Thomas Docwra carried out some major restoration work on the church at the end of the 15th century, and the English antiquarian William Camden would describe the church as “increased to the size of a palace, and had a beautiful tower carried up to such a great height as to be a singular ornament of the City”.

A similar description of the church was recorded by Stowe who wrote: ‘a most curious peece of workemanshippe, graven, gilt, and inameled to the great beautifying of the Cittie, and passing all other that I have seene’

Docwra’s work on the church included the addition of his own private chapel on the south wall of the church.

It must have been an impressive sight, however the church would soon suffer the same fate of many other buildings connected with religious orders, when King Henry VIII seized the properties and dissolved the original Order of St John, including the Priory Church.

Various parts of the fabric of the church were taken to be used for buildings within the Royal Palace at Westminster, and in 1549 the nave and tower of the church were blown up by Lord Protector Somerset so the materials could be used for the construction of his house in the Strand (Lord Protector Somerset. or Edward Seymour, took the title of Lord Protector between 1547 and 1549 following the death of Henry VIII and whilst Henry’s son, King Edward VI, was still a child. As was typical with many ambitious members of the Tudor court, he would have a rapid fall from grace and was executed at Tower Hill in January 1552).

The remains of the church were then used for various purposes, storage, further demolition, and some locals used Docwra’s chapel as a place of worship, parts of the church were converted to a private house, and the chancel being rebuilt as a private chapel.

It was not until the early 18th century that the building became a formal church again. It was used as a meeting house by the Presbyterian preacher William Richardson, who would go on to be ordained as a Church of England minister. He then reopened the church as a Church of England building, which was a timely decision as during the early part of the 18th century, London’s rapid expansion created the need for additional churches to service a rapidly growing population.

Richardson proposed to the commission that had been set up to build fifty new churches across London, that they should acquire the church as a second parish church for Clerkenwell as the only other church (St James, just north of Clerkenwell Green) could not support the number of people then living in Clerkenwell.

Richardson’s proposal did not succeed and lawyer Simon Michell then purchased the church, and had better luck with the Commission as they agreed to purchase the church for the sum of £3,000. The building was consecrated as St John’s, Clerkenwell’s second parish church on the 27th December 1723.

Following building works between 1721 and 1723 carried out by Simon Michell, and further work between 1812 and 1813 by James Carr, the church took on the appearance of a more traditional London church, although with a small rectangular tower, rather than the larger tower and spire seen on many other London churches. The following print shows St John’s, Clerkenwell, in 1818  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Priory Church of the Order of St John

St John’s would continue as the second parish church of Clerkenwell until 1931. The population of Clerkenwell had been in decline during the first decades of the 20th century. Industry was transforming from small workshops, to larger establishments requiring larger buildings which were replacing many of the 18th and early 19th century housing.

The modern Order of St John was formed during the later years of the 19th century in the original gatehouse of the Priory between the inner and outer precinct, known as St John’s Gate.

The modern Order provided a perfect solution for the future of the church, as the Order had been using the church for their religious services since the 1870s, and the Order had contributed to the maintenance and restoration work that took place towards the end of the 19th century.

In 1931 the parish of St John was returned to St James, and the church of St John was formerly handed over to the modern Order, thereby reuniting the gatehouse and church for the first time in almost 400 years within a modern Order of St John.

Use of the church by the Order in the form of the original parish church building would not last for long. During bombing raids on London in May 1941, the church was hit by incendiary bombs and the resulting fires destroyed the interior of the building along with the roof leaving only the outer shell of the building standing.

The following photo from 1946 shows a service taking place in the roofless church, the Order’s annual service on St John’s day with the Archbishop of Canterbury who had recently been enthroned as the Prelate of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Soon after the destruction of the church, the Order of St John had started planning for a rebuild, and as the original outer walls were intact the intention was to rebuild around the walls rather than a complete new church.

The first new design came from the Gothic architect J. Ninian Comper.

In his 80s, Comper was known for his extravagant and expensive designs, and his proposal for the new priory church was based on a recreation of an original Hospitaller church, with a large, ornate octagonal nave. The cost of the design was estimated at £200,000 – a considerable sum of money to be raised when so much else needed to be rebuilt in the city.

Comper’s age was also a concern and he tended to work on his own. When asked who in his office would take over his design if he died, his response was apparently “Did Michelangelo have an office?”.

Comper would go on to design the magnificent new window in St Stephen’s Porch at the south end of Westminster Hall. A magnificent 50 foot high, 28 foot wide ornate, stained glass window. The window is the main memorial to members and staff of both Houses of Parliament and replaces an earlier Pugin window that was destroyed by bombing in December 1940.

The architects Paul Paget and John Seely were called in to provide an alternative and much cheaper design for a rebuilt church. They had already been responsible for restoration of some historically significant houses in nearby Cloth Fair where they lived and had their office, and they both had the role of surveyor to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Their design was for a much more restrained building. Brick facing St John’s Square and a relatively plain rebuild of the church using the original outer walls.

The following drawing from 1955 shows their proposed design.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The church today looks almost identical to their original design, however if you look at the main body of the church on the left and the domed front of the church we can see that some decoration did not get built – probably to save money.

The interior of the church is relatively plain, with the white painted original walls and a black and white checkerboard floor.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

On the left of the church as we face the altar are the banners of the other priories of the Order of St John, in countries such as Canada, the USA and South Africa:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Whilst on the right are the banners of the current Knights and Dames of the Order:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

On one of the walls is a reminder of when the building was a parish church for Clerkenwell:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The plaque reads: “This wall was rebuilt at the sole expense of the inhabitants of Clerkenwell, Nov AD 1834. the Reverend William Elisha Law Faulkner, Rector”. The surnames of the churchwardens at the bottom right have been lost.

In a corner of the church is some of the original equipment used by the St John Ambulance which the new Order of St John set-up in 1877.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

If we want to see parts of the original 12th century Norman church of the Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem we need to descend to the crypt. The fact that the church was hit by incendiary bombs rather than high explosive meant that the crypt survived the war with minimal damage, and as we enter the crypt, we have the following view:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The stained glass at the end of the crypt gives the impression that this is above ground and that sunlight is behind the windows. In reality, artificial lighting is behind the stained glass.

As we look towards the altar, the first three arched sections are mid 12th century and the two furthest are slightly later dating from around 1170.

The white painted crypt today is a bright space, but during the crypt’s years as part of the parish church this would have been a very different place, with the crypt piled high with coffins.

The crypt was finally cleared in 1894 following the burials act of 1853 which outlawed the use of London’s crypts and churchyards for burials. Many coffins were removed to Brookwood Cemetery, however some were bricked up in the side vaults that line the central part of the crypt and older remains were discovered in 1903:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Just to the left of the crypt entrance is part of one of the original mid 12th century arches:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Although the crypt is today painted white, it originally may have been more colourful. P.H. Ditchfield writing about the church and crypt in 1914 in his book London Survivals states that “Traces of colour can still be seen on the arches and ribs”.

The Islington Antiquary Society visited the crypt in 1910 and were told two interesting stories about the crypt:

  • That when the crypt was used for burials, a sexton was working with body snatchers and on investigation, many of the coffins were found to be empty
  • That Fanny Parsons, also known as scratching Fanny, the young girl who convinced visitors that the sounds she created were caused by the Cock Lane ghost, had been buried in the crypt. An attempt had been made to find Fanny’s coffin, but it was believed that the name plate had been removed

The view along the crypt towards the entrance.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Along the side of the crypt are low stone benches running the length of the wall, implying that these may have been used for communal seating and during the Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit in 1946, Knights of the Order were seated along these benches.

To the side of the crypt is a rather impressive effigy of a knight. Donated by a member of the Order in 1915, the effigy is believed to have come from Spain, and does portray a member of the original Order, with the Maltese Cross emblazoned across the knight’s chest.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The identity of the knight is not known for certain, however it is one of the most impressive alabaster figures in the country.

Towards the end of the crypt, there are two rooms on either side of the central crypt. The room on the left as you face the altar may have been used as a Treasury by the original Order. the room on the right is today the South Chapel:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Turn left as you face the altar and there is a morbid reminder of death:

Priory Church of the Order of St John

This is all that is left of the canopied marble monument to Prior Weston, the last prior of the original order at the time of the reformation.

The windows above show the four saints of the British Isles, with figures and shields representing former priors, including Prior Robert Hales. Again, the window is backlit by artificial light to give the impression of natural light.

The monument was erected in St James Church, in nearby Clerkenwell Close, but was pulled apart when the church was demolished for a rebuild. The effigy remained in the crypt of the new church, but was moved here in 1931.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The effigy is a momento mori, where the figure is portrayed almost as a hollow eyed, emaciated corpse. The intent was to remind people of the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures, and to focus their minds on the afterlife.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The following print from 1842 shows the effigy of Prior Weston in the vaults of St James Clerkenwell along with an effigy that may have been Lady Elizabeth Berkeley  (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Priory Church of the Order of St John

There is one more feature of the Priory Church of the Order of St John to explore. This is back outside and through the entrance and gates in the building to the right of the church, where we find the Cloister Garden.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The entrance to the garden is formed by the Docwra Memorial Gates.

Thomas Docwra was one of the 16th century Priors of the Order, when the fortunes of the priory were at their highest and substantial building work was being done around the Priory.

As an example of the centuries of continuity that you can often find in the city of London, the same Docwra family donated the money for the gates as part of the post-war creation of the gardens.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Following the post war restoration of the church, the garden was relatively plain, consisting of grass and a central fountain. A recent grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Wellcome Trust has supported a redesign of the garden and new planting.

Planting takes us back to the original Medieval Hospital of the Order of St John, as the planting consists of a range of herbs which would have been used in the treatment of patients for a range of complaints.

  • Rose petals – antiseptic qualities
  • Peppermint – helps relieve stomach aches
  • Lavender – used to treat burns, scratches and other minor skin ailments
  • Chamomile – used to reduce swelling and helps to heal wounds

Priory Church of the Order of St John

From the garden. we can see the south wall of the church and the mix of architectural features, brick and stonework that come from the centuries of different use of the building, many of which have left their mark in the walls.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Prior Docwra had his own memorial chapel in Jerusalem Court which originally ran along the garden, with the chapel up against the church. In the following extract from the 1894 OS map, up against the south wall of  the church are two buildings labelled Side Aisle. These were later buildings, one of which was reported to still contain evidence of Docwra’s chapel  (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Priory Church of the Order of St John

Jerusalem Court is shown running from St John’s Street on the right, then through a ground floor gap in the buildings (the box with an X), and alongside the buildings up against the church wall.

This section of Jerusalem Court is now part of the Cloister Garden, directly in front of the camera in the photo below.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The intention with the post-war development of the Cloister Garden, was to have a four sided cloister which would form a memorial for those of the St John Ambulance Association and Brigade who had lost their lives during the two world wars, but again money was short so the planned cloister and memorial was only built along the eastern end of the garden.

Priory Church of the Order of St John

The gardens form a tranquil and peaceful place, in what in more normal times is a very busy part of Clerkenwell, and whether it is the herbs we are surrounded by, or the medieval stone work of the southern wall of the church, the garden brings to the 21st century both the origins and the current work of the Order of St John.

The Priory Church of the Order of St John is a fascinating place. A tangible link with the original medieval Order, the present day Order and the crypt where part of one of the oldest buildings in London can be found.

Tours of the church will be available through the Museum of the Order of St John at St John’s Gate, and the Cloister Gardens are often open.

alondoninheritance.com

Fire, Blitz and Route 11 – How Two Historic City Walls Have Survived The Centuries

I find it fascinating comparing my father’s photos of the bombed City with London of today. Exploring how much has changed, how the long history of the City survived, and despite how much has changed over the last seventy plus years, how much remains the same.

The following photo was taken in Wood Street looking roughly north east.

St Alphage

I know the exact spot where my father was standing to take the photo, and there are a number of landmarks that can be identified. I have marked these on the photo below, and will explore them in today’s post.

St Alphage

Firstly, the photo was taken from Wood Street, a short distance north of the tower of the church of St Alban. The following photo is from my post of a couple of weeks ago on the churches of St Alban and St Mary. Just behind the tower of St Alban is a building with scaffolding projecting from the side. This is the same scaffolding seen in the photo above.

St Alphage

I am trying to work out a way to bring together all the photos of the bombed City to provide a comprehensive walk through of the City in 1947 – not sure the best way to do this yet but they provide a detailed view of the bombed City that my father witnessed.

From the Wood Street viewpoint, the following map extract shows the landmarks identified in the photo. I have used the same symbols as in the above photo (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

St Alphage

The following photo shows the view from the same place that my father was standing at, in 1947. A very different view with none of the landmarks visible.

St Alphage

The shadow of the tower of St Alban is on the lower right corner, and the building with the scaffolding would have been on the right, with the scaffolding protruding into the edge of the photo.

The rather solid looking building on the right of the above photo is the Wood Street City of London police building, constructed in 1965.

In the 1947 photo there is a street entrance on the right. This was Addle Street, a street that has been lost in the development of the area. It was roughly just after the tree in the above photo.

Looking at the landmarks in the distance, and one of the most distinctive is a tall tower which I have marked with a yellow circle in the map and photo. This building can still be found on the north side of Finsbury Square.

St Alphage

The tower belongs to the building that was Royal London House, but is now called Triton Court. Royal London started as a Friendly Society and grew rapidly during the first half of the 20th century. They occupied the entire north side of Finsbury Square. The building on the left with the cupola on the corner was constructed first in 1905. The central block with the tower was added in 1930, and the block to the right was added in the 1950s.

The block on the right is now a hotel and the two earlier blocks are office space. Internally, the buildings have been mostly gutted as part of the conversion to new offices, with only the facades remaining as they were, including the original statue of the Roman god Mercury, who has been looking out over London for over one hundred years.

St Alphage

To the left of the tower in the 1947 photo is the cupola on the corner of the first of the Royal London buildings, then look further to the left and there is another cupola. This is marked on the photo as 1 City Road / Lowndes House (red circle on the map), and is seen in the following photo at the end of the street, where City Road bends to the left.

St Alphage

The building is now 1 City Road, but was called Lowndes House when built in 1929 for the Singer Sewing Machine Company as their London headquarters. It was designed by architect William Lewis, and is now Grade II listed.

The 1947 photo, and also just by walking the streets, show the boundaries of the fires caused by bombing during the Second World War. They covered an extensive area of the land now occupied by London Wall, the Barbican, and east to towards Finsbury Square, but getting towards Finsbury Square and many of the buildings that remain are still pre-war rather than the post-war buildings to the west.

Much of the damage to the area was through the fires caused by incendiary bombs rather than high explosive, and many walls of buildings did remain. Many had been cleared by the time my father took the original photo, however the clearance, and following post war work, did reveal some much older structures which, fortunately, have been preserved.

To the right of the 1947 photo there is the shell of a building that I have labelled St Alphage (yellow star on the map and photo).

Churches were also left during wartime demolition. Although many City churches were reduced to their outer walls and tower, there was an expectation that being churches they would be restored, which indeed did happen to many churches, although some were demolished. One was St Alphage, although not before some medieval remains of an earlier building that had been integrated within the structure of St Alphage were identified and saved.

These were from the former priory chapel of St Mary Elsing (also Elsyng and Elsyng Spital – Spital being the name given to a charitable establishment that would provide care for the sick), and these medieval remains can be found today alongside London Wall.

In the following photo looking east along London Wall, the stone arches of St Mary Elsing can be seen on the left.

St Alphage

The walls that we can see today alongside London Wall are from the medieval chapel of St Mary Elsing. This chapel was part of a hospital and priory which had been founded by Sir William Elsing early in the 14th century.

St Alphage

The hospital was founded with the intention of providing care for the blind, presumably by the nuns and sisters of the priory. It was common across the City for hospitals and priories to be a single institution.

The location of the priory may have been a religious site back to the 11th century when a nunnery may have occupied the location.

The priory was closed during the dissolution in 1537 when it became the property of the Crown, although most of the land and buildings were soon sold off.

The view of the remains of the priory of St Mary Elsing viewed from London Wall.

St Alphage

The area has recently been subject to redevelopment which has considerably enhanced the view of the medieval walls. As part of the original redevelopment along London Wall, the remains were hemmed in by new buildings and under the high level walkways that were such a feature of the post war development of London Wall.

The space around the walls has been opened up, and a new walkway was recently opened, set back from the remains of the priory, and of a much more sensitive design.

St Alphage

Close to the priory of St Mary Elsing was another religious building, the church of St Alphage.

The original St Alphage was built up against the London Wall, a very short distance to the north west of the priory. St Alphage may date from the 11th century, the same century as the saint after which the church is named died.

St Alphage was Bishop of Winchester and from the year 1006 was Archbishop of Canterbury, although this post would not last too long as in 1012 he was murdered by the Danes.

His murder is thought to have taken place at Greenwich, at, or near, the Greenwich church also dedicated to St Alphege (using one of the alternate spellings of his name).

St Alphage

By the early 16th century, the first St Alphage was in a very poor condition, and the parishioners were looking for an alternate site for the church. They were given the tower and chancel of St Mary Elsing, they converted the building, and moved their parish church into the new site.

The original St Alphage was demolished and the site sold to a carpenter. Wilberforce Jenkinson in London Churches Before The Fire states that the original location is “now used as a little garden of rest for London wayfarers”.

The view of the remains of St Mary Elsing, looking back towards London Wall is shown in the following photo. The tall arches which formed the base of the tower can clearly be seen. At the left there is a low wall. This has a small, arched recess which may have been used to house a tomb.

St Alphage

Note that there is a slight height difference between the base of the walls and the surrounding street level. The new St Alphage therefore included some of the medieval walls from St Mary Elsing. These medieval walls have been incredibly lucky to survive into the 21st century.

St Alphage survived the Great Fire of London. The church was significantly rebuilt in 1777, and the medieval walls remained.

In 1913, a new Gothic front was built on the side of the church facing the original route of London Wall. A couple of features of this facade can be seen in my father’s 1947 photo, where there is a short pinnacle on the top left corner of the church along with the triangular top of the wall.

The 1947 photo shows that these were on the northern side of the church which at the time was facing onto London Wall, however the route of London Wall was about to change, and St Alphage would see the final, dramatic change to its immediate landscape.

I have covered the route of London Wall in previous posts. The change in route was to meet the expected post war rise in car usage through the City. During the war, plans were made for the post war redevelopment of the City, and these included major new, wide roads through the City along with the parking needed for all those who would be driving into the City.

One of these new routes was Route 11, an 86 foot wide dual carriageway that would run from Ludgate Circus in the west to Aldgate High Street in the east.

The section between Aldersgate Street and Moorgate was the easiest to build as the area had been so damaged during the war and was almost an empty space waiting for redevelopment. The majority of the other sections of Route 11 were through existing streets that had not suffered so much damage and would have required major demolition of buildings.

The section of Route 11 between Aldersgate Street and Moorgate was named London Wall, with the western section being moved south from the original route of London Wall so that the new route would align with the expected westward extension.

The following photo from 1958 shows the construction of Route 11 along the new London Wall. I have marked the position of St Alphage and the original western section of London Wall.

St Alphage

The photo shows how the medieval walls of St Mary Elsing moved from being to the south of London Wall, to their current position to the north of the street.

The photo also demonstrates what a significant construction project this was. Basically a long hole being dug, then filled with a concrete box. Car park being within the concrete box and new street running along the top. The car park below London Wall has space for 250 cars – and includes the remains of a Roman Wall.

The plan for post war redevelopment – “Reconstruction of the City of London” by the Corporation of London was published in 1944 and includes a map of the planned trunk routes through the City. The routes included in this original plan were changed slightly. I have marked the original London Wall route in the map with A and B.

St Alphage

Whilst the eastern section would end where the new London Wall currently ends at the junction with Moorgate, the western end was originally planned to be at a large new roundabout at the Aldersgate Street / Long Lane junction, by Barbican Station.

This original route would have taken Route 11 through the area now occupied by the Barbican, and as plans for the Barbican were taking shape when the final plans for Route 11 were being made, the western end of the new street was moved south to leave a large area free to the north ready for the Barbican Estate.

The construction of London Wall did require the demolition of a small southern section of St Alphage. The majority of the church was demolished in the 1960s leaving the medieval walls of St Mary Elsing as a scheduled ancient monument, standing separate from the church that had been built around them, and looking out on a very different landscape.

We can get an impression of how the walls and arches of St Mary Elsing were incorporated in the structure of St Alphage by looking at some old prints.

The following print from 1815 states “An interior view of the porch of the parish church of St Alphage, London Wall: formerly the chapel of the priory of Elsynge Spital”. (©Trustees of the British Museum)

St Alphage

The fact that these were ancient walls was understood as the following print, also from 1815, demonstrates by showing the architectural details of the arches to be found in St Alphage (©Trustees of the British Museum).

St Alphage

The print also includes a map of the area showing the location of the church. Note that in the map there is an area labelled St Alphage Church Yard just to the left of the church, on the northern side of London Wall – we shall come to this later.

The following print shows the southern prospect of St Alphage in 1736. This was before the 1777 rebuild and presumably shows the church much as it could have been when the parishioners moved from their original church to the chapel of St Mary Elsing in the middle of the 16th century (©Trustees of the British Museum).

St Alphage

Hard to believe that the point where the above print was drawn from is now the dual carriageway of London Wall.

There is one landmark from the 1947 photo left to find. In the following photo I am standing in the original route of London Wall, now a pedestrian walkway, close to the junction with Wood Street. This is now called St Alphage Garden. The northern facade of St Alphage would have been at the far end, just where the brown of the high level walkway can be seen.

St Alphage

In my father’s 1947 photo, there is a feature I have labelled as Medieval Wall. This feature can still be seen today:

St Alphage

There is a plaque on the wall from 1872 that states Roman City Wall, however whilst the wall is on the alignment of the City Wall, only the very lower sections are Roman.

St Alphage

An information panel adjacent to the wall explains that the top brick section with the “crenellations and diaper pattern brickwork” (the regular battlement shape of the top of the wall and the brick pattern formed with the dark bricks) date from 1477 when the City Wall was strengthened during the Wars of the Roses. Medieval is below the brickwork, with Roman down at street level.

St Alphage

The space in front of the wall is now a garden / seating area and is the same space as marked in the map in the 1815 print as St Alphage Church Yard. This was also where the original St Alphage church was located.

Whilst the southern aspect of the wall was visible pre-war, much of the rear of the wall had buildings up against it – demolition of buildings damaged during the war opened up both sides of the wall as a free standing structure.

To bring this post full circle with my very first post in February 2014, when I wrote about the following photo.

St Alphage

This was the original sign put up by the Corporation of London in Fore Street to mark the site of the first bomb on the City. What I did not mention at the time was that on the left edge of the photo you can just see the ruins of St Alphage, with the same pinnacle as in the photo seen at the start of the post. The section of City Wall is behind the sign.

It is fascinating how places change. The former priory chapel of St Mary Elsing and the Roman Medieval Wall have survived so much change and now look out on a very different landscape. The area surrounding St Mary Elsing is not the same as the post war rebuild, with most of the buildings being from the last few decades, and the original pedestrianised high level walkways have also been replaced.

I very much doubt whether the view the wall and chapel look out on now could have been imagined by anyone over their hundreds of years of existence. Although my father was aware of Route 11 (he bought the books with the redevelopment proposals when they were first published), he did not expect the size of buildings that now surround London Wall and Wood Street.

When London Wall was built, the car was expected to be the future of transport in the City. The car is now being actively discouraged as a means of transport in the City, so whatever may seem to be the future, will always change.

I suspect the next big change to the area will be when the Museum of London moves, and the proposed Concert Hall is built on the site (if the money is still there). This may drive more local change if there are empty offices to be repurposed due to remote working becoming the norm.

When researching these photos, as well as the history, I always try to imagine what the future may bring to these places, but the lesson of looking at the past is that the future will almost certainly be very different – but hopefully the walls of St Mary Elsing will still be there.

alondoninheritance.com