Category Archives: London Churches

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.

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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.

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Two Bombed Churches – St Alban and St Mary

I will complete my tour of the City pubs in the next week, but for today’s post, I am staying in the City, and visiting the location of one of my father’s 1947 posts, which shows a view of two bombed churches.

Two bombed churches

The church tower on the left is that of St Alban, Wood Street, and the smaller tower on the right is St Mary Aldermanbury. The remains of the body of the churches can be seen at the base of the towers. The photo was taken from Gresham Street. I took a photo from the same position today, but it was totally pointless, as new buildings completely obscure the view.

Two bombed churches

The 1947 photo shows that whilst the towers of the churches remained, the rest of the church, and the surrounding area, had been badly damaged by wartime bombing. The two churches are between Gresham Street and today’s route of London Wall. Wood Street runs between the two. The following map shows the location of the two churches today. The red circle shows the tower of St Alban, and the orange oval shows the site of St Mary (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Two bombed churches

The 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows a very different place. The two churches, surrounded by streets, lanes, and dense building of low rise, individual buildings. The area today is occupied by large glass and steel office blocks.

Two bombed churches

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The tower of St Alban looks out on very different surroundings today. The rest of the church was demolished in 1955 with only the tower remaining on an island, with Wood Street passing either side.

Where once the tower looked out over its surroundings, today, the surrounding office blocks close in and look down on the tower.

Two bombed churches

Fourteen years before the raids that would cause so much destruction, in 1926 Wood Street looked very different:

Two bombed churches

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: v8482613

St Alban, Wood Street was an unusual church in that the tower was on the corner of the church. In the above photo you can see the body of the church on the right.

The church takes its name from St Alban, the first British Saint. The cathedral city of St Alban’s in Hertfordshire also takes it name from the same saint.

The London Encyclopedia states that the church was “built on the alleged site of the palace chapel of King Offa, the 8th century ruler of Mercia. In penance for his part in the murder of Alban, the first English martyr. Offa founded St Albans Abbey; and in 793 gave the patronage of Wood Street to the abbey”.  There is an immediate problem with this statement as Alban was recorded being executed in the early 4th century, whilst Offa was from the 8th century, so Offa could have had no part in murdering Alban.

The connection with the abbey at St Albans is probably correct. For example, in London Churches Before The Great Fire by Wilberforce Jenkins (1917), he states “The church was, at all events, built in Norman times, for we are told that the Abbey of S. Alban owned several churches in the Eleventh Century dedicated to S. Alban; and this was one of them”.

Jenkins aligns the church with a different Saxon King “Wood Street is said to have been formerly King Adel Street, justifying a tradition connecting the church with the Saxon King Adelstane. Anthony Munday, writing in 1633, gives his personal impression of the building as it then stood:

Another character of the antiquity of it is to be seen in the manner of the turning of the arches in the windowes and heads of the Pillars. A third note appears on the Romane bricks here and there inlayed among the stones of the building. King Adelstane the Saxon, as tradition says, had his house at the east end of this church”.

A Dictionary of London (Henry Harben, 1918)  adds a further twist to the street, with a first mention of the name Wodestrata dating to 1156-7. The book also includes a suggestion that the name came from the fact that wood was sold here – which is a possibility given the names of streets such as Milk Street and Honey Street to the south.

So there may have been some connection between the site and a Saxon King, the name comes from St Alban, and the abbey in the city of the same name owned the land, and the street is probably named after the sale of wood in the surroundings of the street – but as always, there is no firm written evidence from the time so impossible to be sure.

The original Norman church was rebuilt in 1633 and 1634 as the original Norman church was in a dreadful state of decay such that many of the parishioners would refuse to go into the church.

The church was then destroyed in the Great Fire, and the church destroyed in 1940 was built by Wren between 1682 and 1685 with the tower being added 12 years later.

St Alban, Wood Street in 1837:

Two bombed churches

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PZ_CT_01_3672

Today, the tower sits on an island, with Wood Street passing either side. To the east of the tower is the City of London Police Station in Wood Street. In the following photo, the body of the church would be coming out from the church where the tree is located today, with the front of the church extending to the traffic island.

Two bombed churches

The church then extended back to cover a small part of the police station and the adjacent street.

I often wonder what someone who knew the area in the time of the 1926 photo would think if they could visit the area today.

Two bombed churches

The following photo is from the north, looking south down Wood Street. If you return to the 1894 OS map, you will see Liitle Love Lane, ran from Wood Street, this side of the church and circles around the church to Love Lane. Little Love Lane would have run roughly from the southern end of the traffic island, to the left, through the Police Station and round to Love Lane.

Two bombed churches

The following photo dates from 1915, and was taken from within Little Love Lane, with St Alban on the left, looking up to Wood Street.

Two bombed churches

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0060679CL

In the above photo, the building opposite the end of Little Love Lane, showing just as a facade was the result of a First World War bombing raid on London by the Zeppelin L.13 over the 8th and 9th of September 1915. The use of incendiaries by the Zeppelin caused some serious fires in Wood Street and significant damage. A foretaste of what would come to the area in 25 years time.

The interior of the church showing the damage caused by the raids of 1940. we can see the entrance to Wood Street on the left with the large window above. The tower is on the right. As the tower now sites on an island, the eastern branch of Wood Street now runs in front of the tower in the photo below.

Two bombed churches

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0017321CL

The second church in my father’s 1947 photo is that of St Mary Aldermanbury, of which there is even less remaining (in London) than there is of St Alban.

In the following photo I am standing at the junction of Love Lane (to the left) and Aldermanbury (to the right), looking over the site of St Mary Aldermanbury. The Wood Street police station is to the left, and the tower of St Alban can just be seen above the left hand corner of the police station.

Two bombed churches

Had I been standing in the same position, just over two hundred years ago in 1814, this would have been the view:

Two bombed churches

The buildings at the left end of the church are where the police station stands today.

St Mary Aldermanbury is another medieval church, with references to it belonging to St Paul’s and / or The Elsing Priory. It grew during the medieval period, for example the Mayor of the City in 1429 and 1437, Sir William Englefield, added a steeple to the church and renewed the church bells.

The church was one of the many destroyed during the Great Fire. Rebuilt by Wren, it was this church that is shown in the above print, and that was destroyed in 1940.

The main entrance to the church, shown on the right in the above print, faced onto Aldermanbury. A first reference to the name “Aldresmanesberi” dates from 1130.

Stow suggested that the Guildhall was originally a little further west, and was on the eastern edge of Aldermanbury, and that the street took its name from being adjacent to, or having within its precincts, the ‘bury’ or ‘court’ of the alderman of the City.

The fires of 1940 destroyed the core of the church, leaving only the tower and stone outer walls of the church remaining, and it was removed in the 1960s, however the outline of the church and churchyard remains today.

The following photo is looking from Aldermanbury at what was the front of the church:

Two bombed churches

Inside the footprint of the church, looking up towards the location of the tower, with stones and bushes marking the locations of the outer walls.

Two bombed churches

What was the base of the tower, with a plaque which provides some information as to the fate of the church, which I will come on to soon.

Two bombed churches

Looking back along the church from the location of the tower.

Two bombed churches

The name Love Lane survives in the street to the south of the church, and in the surrounding buildings:

Two bombed churches

There are many stories associated with St Mary Aldermanbury. Foundlings in the parish were christened Aldermanbury, but the name Berry was used as a more day to day abbreviation. One of the murderers of the young princes in the Tower is alleged to have died at the church, after taking sanctuary.

Judge Jeffries, the Hanging Judge was buried here in 1689, and the following print portrayed another event in the crypt of the church in 1778:

Two bombed churches

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q8018643

The text with the print states that George Roach, Robert Elliot and James Gould are stealing the leaden coffin of W.T. Aston in the vault of Aldermanbury Church.

The three were carpenters working on the church. At the time, coffins placed in the crypt had to be within a lead outer coffin. Overnight, the carpenters removed the inner coffin, cut up the lead outer coffin, removed it from the church, and sold the lead. They would have got away with the crime, but were reported by an apprentice who worked for their employer.

Roach and Elliot were sentenced to three years of hard labour. Gould seems not to have been charged, possibly because he gave evidence against the other two.

Sunday services were used as a means of making proclamations to the parish as a Sunday service would be the time when the majority of people in a parish were at one place, for example, in January 1754 “Sunday Morning, after Divine Service, a Proclamation for the Appearance of Elizabeth Canning, together with a Warrant direct to the Sheriffs of London for apprehending her, was read at the Door of the Parish-Church of St Mary in Aldermanbury”.

So why does nothing remain of St Mary Aldermanbury today, apart from the footprint of the church on the ground? The answer is that it was sent to America.

The Daily Herald on the 29th January 1963 provides some background:

“The cost of removing the Wren church of St Mary Aldermanbury to America was revealed yesterday. A staggering £1,670,000. 

The church, which now stands in the shadow of the Guildhall, is being shipped stone by stone to Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri, where it will be reassembled.

it was bombed into a shell in the war and is a gift from London to the Americans.

Professor of Architecture at Nebraska University and Dr Robert Davidson, of Fulton, are in London to look into the arrangements for the church’s removal.

‘Virtually a military operation’ was how they described the task to me. But they seem to think it worthwhile. Just as well that their universities are a lot better off than ours.

The church is being re-erected at Fulton as a tribute to Sir Winston Churchill. At Fulton in 1946, Churchill made an historic speech about the need for western unity. In it he used a phrase that was to ring around the world – the Iron Curtain”.

In America, a large model of what the relocated and repaired church would look like, was made, and the importance of the project was such that President Truman made an inspection of the model.

Two bombed churches

The church is now part of the National Churchill Museum. The museum’s website has some video of the church in its new location.

Two bombed churches

I wonder what Wren, and the many thousands of parishioners who used the church over the centuries, would have thought of the new location?

Love Lane still runs to the south of the churchyard of St Mary Aldermanbury:

Two bombed churches

The churchyard includes a bust of Shakespeare. The playwright does not have a direct connection with the church, however two parishioners who were also buried in the church played a key part in ensuring Shakespeare’s plays would be available for future generations.

Two bombed churches

John Heminge and Henry Condell, were “Fellow actors and personal friends of Shakespeare. They lived many years in this Parish and are buried here. To their disinterested affection the world owes all that is called Shakespeare. They alone collected the dramatic writings regardless of pecuniary cost”.

Heminge and Condell published the Shakespeare Folio of 1623 which collected together his plays, many of which have no other printed copies.

The folio is represented by the open book below the bust. On the right page is printed the following words from Heminge and Condell “We have but collected them, and done an office to the dead, without ambition either of selfe profit or fame, onely to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend and Fellow alive as was our Shakespeare”.

As usual, there is so much history to be found in a small area of the City. A plaque on the edge of the churchyard records the location of the Aldermanbury Conduit which provided free water from 1471 to the 18th century (the first date is strangely specific).

Two bombed churches

A rather nice drinking fountain, the gift of a Deputy of the Ward to the Parish of St Mary Aldermanbury sits at on the corner of the churchyard:

Two bombed churches

City churches fascinate me as they are a fixed point in an ever changing City. Performing the same function since medieval times, possibly earlier, and the surroundings of these two churches has changed so dramatically over the last 70 years.

Two bombed churches, they are now only ghostly outlines of the original churches. With St Alban only the tower remains, and with St Mary, only the foot print of the church and churchyard, but at least they remain.

Strange though that the stones of the tower of St Mary in my father’s 1947 photo are now standing in a location, many thousands of miles away.

It is also strange how stories spread about a location. Whilst I was taking photographs of the tower of St Alban, there was a couple looking quite intently at the tower. The man asked me if this is where people were hanged. I answered that I am sure it was not such a location – to which he replied very firmly that he was sure that it was. I have not heard or read any stories about executions taking place around St Alban.

In researching these posts, I always try to read and compare multiple sources, but as time stretches back, legends, hearsay and stories become accepted as fact, so it is always best to question and check – which is part of the enjoyment of discovering London.

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St Mary Woolnoth – The Church with the Underground in the Crypt

St Mary Woolnoth is an unusual church. A short distance from the Bank, the church can be found at the junction of Lombard Street and King William Street. St Mary Woolnoth has one of the more unusual towers of the City churches, a Hawksmoor church, built after post Great Fire repairs to the medieval church failed, a church that survived the blitz, but 50 years earlier had almost been lost to the City and South London Railway.

The view of St Mary Woolnoth from the Bank junction.

St Mary Woolnoth

The church occupies a small space, surrounded by City offices and from this perspective, the unusual tower is clearly viewed.

The current church was built between 1716 and 1727 by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The previous church had partly survived the Great Fire of 1666, but needed considerable repair. This work was carried out from 1670, but there were obviously problems repairing a medieval church which led to the decision for Hawksmoor’s replacement church in the early decades of the 18th century. The new church was part of the plan for 50 new churches, funded by a tax on coal.

The tower is interesting. From the front it is substantial and broad, but look from the side and the tower is narrow. Four columns give the impression of two separate towers, this view being reinforced by the two small turrets rising at the top. The turrets are small versions of the square towers that would normally be expected on a City church.

This print from 1838 shows St Mary Woolnoth when the tower of the church was still higher than the surrounding buildings. Note the clock on the left wall of the church, over hanging the street. The clock is still a feature of the church today.

St Mary Woolnoth

As well as the tower, another feature of the church is one that almost led to its destruction. If you look along the King William Street side of the church, there is an ornate wall projecting out from the corner of the church, today being the location for a Starbucks. In the far arch of the wall can be found the entrance to a lift.

St Mary Woolnoth

The City and South London Railway had opened in 1890. The railway had originally been planned to run from King William Street to the Elephant and Castle, however extensions were being quickly implemented and the line would eventually become the eastern branch of the Northern Line.

The City and South London Railway required space around the Bank in what was already a very congested area. The late 19th century was a time when a number of City churches were demolished as the population of the City had declined and there was no longer a sufficient congregation for what was still a number of churches that suited the Medieval City rather than the Victorian City.

Although proposals for the demolition of the church were put forward, a compromise was agreed, as detailed in the following report from the Standard on Friday November 23rd 1900:

“In 1893 the Railway Company obtained an Act for making a railway, and under that Act they scheduled the site of the church. Owing to the lack of means there was no opposition to the Act on the part of the churchwardens, and the only portion of the Act which affected the church was the clause relating to the removal of human remains which might be disturbed.

Nothing was done till 1896, when the Company obtained an Act to extend the period for the construction of the line. Opposition was then raised by the present Claimants and the Bill was opposed in both Houses, though in the protection of public monuments. the result was that in the Act a clause was inserted that the Company could not purchase any part of the church, but only portions of the land adjacent and under the church, and the clause provided that the arbitrator, in considering the compensation, should take into account the additional cost to the Company of this change to their plans.

in February 1897, the Company under their powers served notice on the Churchwardens, and shortly afterwards took possession of the church and carried on their works. These works had been in progress nearly three years, and all the Company had done was strictly within their rights. On the lands they had made approaches to the station, which was formed of the crypt of the church, and was 4ft above ground level. So far as the engineering went, it was a wonderful piece of work”.

It was indeed a wonderful piece of work. The church lost its crypt, which became part of the station infrastructure for the City and South London Railway, and the church above ground was strengthened with steel reinforcement.

Most importantly, it was a compromise which ensured this unique Hawksmoor church would survive.

The side of the church facing King William Street is now masked by what was the former Underground Station, designed by Sidney R.J. Smith and built between 1897 and 1898 as part of the works described in the Standard article above.

The Pevsner “London: The CIty Churches” does not think much of the facade,  describing it as “a Hawksmoorish rusticated centrepiece, let down by mediocre flanking figures in low relief”.

St Mary Woolnoth

The arch on the right provides access to a lift for step free access to the Northern Line platforms – the old City and South London Railway.

The churchwardens probably regarded the loss of the crypt as an extremely good result as only a few years earlier the church had to be closed because of the state of the crypt. This also sheds light on what an appalling state most City churches must have been in during the 19th century until their crypts were cleared. The following article explains:

“One of the oldest churches in the City of London has actually had to be closed in consequence of the effluvia arising from the dead bodies in the vault. This is St Mary Woolnoth. The congregation who worshiped there were not only annoyed, but made ill, and the clergyman, after the three services, generally went home with a sore throat. At times there would be no smell in the church, at others an intolerable odour came up in whiffs and gusts. It is computed that the remains of between seven and eight thousand bodies are massed together within a few feet of the floor”.

So the City and South London Railway fixed the problems with the crypt and the churchwardens received back a strengthened church, although now without a crypt.

The article mentions that the church is one of the oldest in the City. There appears to have been a church on the site in the 12th century. The church was rebuilt in 1438, and it was this church that was badly damaged in the Great Fire.

There are a number of explanations as to the name “Woolnoth”. Pevsner states that the name “probably commemorates an 11th century founder named Wulfnoth”. Wilberforce Jenkinson in London Churches Before The Great Fire (1917) links the name with the wool trade.

This print from 1812 also associates the name of the church with the wool trade stating that “the distinctive term arises from the Wool Mart being near”.

St Mary Woolnoth

The side view of the church in the above print shows how narrow the tower is from the side, compared with the width of the front view.

Another view of the church from around 1830 with a good view of the clock.

St Mary Woolnoth

The interior of St Mary Woolnoth is relatively compact, Three large columns on each corner support a square opening, above which there is a space with an arch shaped window on each side, with a chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling.

St Mary Woolnoth

Surrounding the altar is some impressive woodwork, with two ornately carved columns supporting a canopy decorated with gilded cherubs.

St Mary Woolnoth

View up to the roof. It was overcast on the day of my visit, and the windows do not let much natural light through to the church interior below.

St Mary Woolnoth

The organ gallery and organ case above the entrance to the church. According to the Pevsner guide, the organ case dates from 1681, so perhaps it was part of the post Great Fire restoration of the medieval church, and was saved for use in Hawksmoor’s church.

St Mary Woolnoth

In a corner of the church is a clock mechanism:

St Mary Woolnoth

The mechanism is within a perspex cover, and just below is printed an extract from The Waste Land by TS Eliot:

St Mary Woolnoth

Thomas Stearns Eliot was an American who moved to England in 1914 when he was 25 and became a UK citizen. In The Waste Land, Eliot is concerned about the state of Europe in the 1920s and the impact the modern world is having on the cultural, spiritual and moral state.

He worked in the City for a bank, so must have known the area well, and the description is of City workers flowing over London Bridge, up and down King William Street as they make their way to work, with the clock at St Mary Woolnoth reminding them of the time they needed to be in their offices.

Although written in the 1920s, it is a scene that could still be seen up until March of this year, and I suspect Eliot would be just as concerned today as he was then about the moral state of the world.

St Mary Woolnoth has a memorial to perhaps the most celebrated rector of the church, John Newton:

St Mary Woolnoth

John Newton was born in Wapping in 1725, the son of a Master Mariner, so his life at sea was as good as guaranteed. His early career at sea was in the slave trade, working on slave ships, including three voyages as captain. In 1748 he converted to Christianity and from the same year worked as the Surveyor of Tides in Liverpool. During his time in Liverpool he studied theology and although considered a radical, finally found a position as curate at the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Olney, Buckinghamshire.

Whilst he was at Olney, he worked with the poet William Cowper on a collection of hymns which included Amazing Grace.

His time at St Mary Woolnoth started in 1780 when he became rector of the church. During his time at the church, he supported William Wilberforce, he published a pamphlet titled “Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade” in which he wrote about his time as a slave trader, wrote about his regret of his role and was outspoken in his condemnation of the slave trade.

He supported the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade which had been formed in 1787, and the committee purchased copies of Newton’s pamphlet to be sent to every member of the House of Commons and the House of Lords

John Newton provided evidence to the parliamentary committee set up to examine the slave trade, and used his experience as a slave trader to speak about the appalling conditions of the trade.

The law to abolish the slave trade, the Abolition Act passed into law and soon after, in December 1807, John Newton died. He was buried in the crypt of St Mary Woolnoth, alongside his wife.

When the crypt was cleared for the construction of the Underground station, the bodies of John and his wife Mary were moved to the church in Olney where he had been churchwarden.

Newton’s pamphlet “Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade” provides a very clear account of the unbelievable cruelties of the trade and makes for a very harrowing and upsetting read.

The Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney can be found here, and they also have a copy of the pamphlet in PDF form which can be downloaded from the following link:

https://www.cowperandnewtonmuseum.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/thoughtsuponafri00newt.pdf

The Reverend John Newton:

St Mary Woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth is an important church. A church has been on the site since the 11th century. Architecturally, it is a fine example of Hawksmoor’s work. The church survived the arrival of the Underground railway and suffered minimal damage during the blitz.

Many millions of City workers must have looked up at St Mary Woolnoth’s clock on their way to and from work, and from John Newton we can learn first hand about the appalling cruelties of the slave trade.

alondoninheritance.com

St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Nuns and Robert Hooke

St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Nuns and Robert Hooke – sorry, but the post is not going to be as exciting as the title may suggest, however it does tell the story of one of the City’s ancient churches, a nunnery and some of those buried at the church.

The City churches are fascinating, not just each individual church, but the part they play in the City’s landscape, being one of the few fixed points in a thousand years of history.

Standing in front of a church such as St Helen’s Bishopsgate, it is easy to imagine the church as the time machine in the 1960 film of H.G. Wells book, The Time Machine, where the time machine is a fixed point and as the machine moves through time, the surroundings change at a rapid pace.

Or perhaps I was getting carried away by my imagination as I stood outside St Helen’s Bishopsgate last September during Open House weekend.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

A church has been on the site for many hundreds of years. P.H. Ditchfield writing in London Survivals (1914) states “Several legends that are baseless cluster around the church. They tell us that the Emperor Constantine built the earliest edifice on the site of a heathen temple in the fourth century, and dedicated it to his mother, St. Helena. Some writers assert that there was a church here in 1010, but there is no direct evidence of such a building.”

The first firm, written records of the church date to around 1140, when two Canons of St Paul’s Cathedral were granted the church for the duration of their lives, provided that they paid 12d a year to the chapter of St Paul’s.

The church has a very distinctive appearance compared to the majority of other City churches. Looking at the main entrance on the west facing side of the church, a small wooden bell turret sits at the middle of two separate entrances, both with large windows above the doors.

The following print from 1736 shows the church looking much the same as it does today.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q6010382

The wooden bell turret was originally added to the church around 1568, with the existing turret dating from around 1700.

The text at the bottom of the print records that St Helen was the mother of Constantine the Great. The father of Constantine was the 3rd century Roman Emperor Constantius. Helen had converted to Christianity, and when Constantine became Emperor, Helen went on pilgrimages, and also on a search for early Christian relics. She was alleged to have found the three crosses buried where Jesus was crucified, to have ordered the destruction of the Roman temple built on the site and the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Medieval literature included references to St Helen, trying to tie her origins into British History, including Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote that St Helen was the daughter of a Welsh leader Coel, or Cole who legend also attributed to be a ruler of Colchester in Essex. Where there is reasonably firm evidence, it gives Helen’s origins as Greek.

St Helen’s, Bishopsgate survived the Great Fire and bombing of the City during the Second World War. The church was badly damaged during the 1990s by two IRA bombs, in 1992 in St Mary Axe, and a bomb in Bishopsgate in 1993. Both bombs caused considerable damage to the church. The architect Quinlan Terry managed the rebuild which included reconfiguration of the interior space. Aspects of the church that could not be rebuilt included a medieval stained glass window.

As the main walls of the church have not been substantially rebuilt for many hundreds of years, walking around the walls shows how they retain the echoes of so many previous features, stages of construction and a range of different building materials, frequently thrown together to build part of a wall.

The following photo shows part of the south facing wall:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

A 17th century, pedimented door dated 1633 with reference to St Helena (one of the variations of the name Helen):

St Helen's Bishopsgate

London: The City Churches by Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner describes the walls as of “random rubble” and this is easy to see, including where there is a range of different features which have been part of the walls over time and perhaps show where external buildings were built into the church wall. Part of the south facing wall:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The south transept extends out from the south eastern corner of the church:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Again a mix of old features and building materials along the corner of the south transept contrast with the modern office blocks that now surround St Helen’s Bishopsgate.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Within the paved area surrounding the southern edge of the church is one of the works from the Sculpture in the City initiative. This is Crocodylius Philodendrus by Nancy Rubins:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The view from St Mary Axe, showing a shaft of sunlight picking out part of the church, with Tower 42 in the rear and to the left, the tower of 1 Undershaft, and the entrance to the underground car park which now occupies much of the space to the south of the church.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

I mentioned nuns in the title to the post, and it is down to a nunnery that was on part of the site for 300 years, that the church is of the form we see today. Returning to the photo of the west facing side of the church. There are two sections to the church. The section on the right of the central buttress is slightly smaller than the section on the left.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The section on the right is that of the original parish church, and on the left is the nave of the former nuns church that was added to the parish church when the nunnery was established.

This was in 1210 when the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s gave permission to a William, son of William the Goldsmith, to build a nunnery to the north of the church, with a church for the nuns to use being added to the side of the original parish church, but being 4 foot wider than the original church.

The nunnery occupied the space to the north of the church. Returning to the book London Survivals, there is an interesting description of the church and nunnery: “The parish church, therefore, was in existence before the foundation of the nunnery, and to the parochial nave the founder of the nunnery added a second nave on the north side for the services of the nuns. This double use of the church is still evinced in its construction. It has two parallel naves divided by an arcade of six arches; and lest the eyes of the nuns should wander from their devotions, a wooden screen separated the conventual from the parochial church, the floor of which was much higher than that of the nun’s choir.

The cloister and other conventual buildings were situated on the north side of the church. in the midst of the present crowded streets and houses of modern London, it is pleasant to recall the memory of the fair garden wherein the sisters wandered. A survey taken in the time of the arch-destroyer of monasteries, Henry VIII, tells of a little garden at the east end of the cloister, and further on a fair garden of half an acre, and on the north of the cloister a kitchen garden which had a dovecot, and besides all this a fair wood-yard with another garden, a stable and other appurtenances.”

During the Dissolution, the Nunnery was taken over by Henry VIII, and Thomas Cromwell then obtained the buildings and land from the Crown, which he then sold on to the Leathersellers’ Company.

The Leathersellers’ used the refectory of the old nunnery as their Hall, and they continued to use the buildings until they were demolished in 1799 to make way for a new Hall, with offices also being built around what would become St Helen’s Place.

This print from 1819 shows the ruins of the old nunnery. It is a rather strange print as the area looks very rural rather than in the heart of the City. Although there is probably some considerable artistic interpretation of the view, it probably does give a good idea of the remains of part of the nunnery, with the church being seen on the left of the print.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: q688426x

The following print from 1801 probably shows a more realistic view of the ruins of the nunnery and the church:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

© The Trustees of the British Museum

The following print dated 1800, shows the remains of the crypt of the nunnery:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

© The Trustees of the British Museum

The text underneath the print reads “REMAINS of a crypt part of the ancient priory of BLACK-NUNS adjoining St Helen’s Church in Bishopsgate Street. It was situated under the Leather sellers Hall; and together with the Hall, and with some less considerable remains of the priory, was discovered and demolished in the year 1799.”

In the roughly three hundred years of the nunnery, it seems to have had the usual challenges of financial management, maintaining the behaviour of the nuns and ensuring they were separated from the general population of London, property disputes and issues regarding rights of way that ran through the grounds of the nunnery.

Wealthy London residents contributed to the upkeep of the nunnery, and in 1285 there was an event which built on the legends of St Helen. Edward I visited the church on the 4th May 1285 to deliver to the church a piece of the True Cross that had been found in Wales. Building on the legend that Helen had found the original crosses in Jerusalem, and the Welsh ancestor of Coel who Geoffrey of Monmouth alleged was Helen’s father.

Time to visit the interior of the church, which was repaired and reconfigured to provide a much more open and flexible space following the bombings of the early 1990s. The damage was such that the roof was lifted off the walls by the force of the explosions.

A gallery runs part the length of the western wall, and from the gallery we can get a good view along the church, showing the section of the nuns church on the left and the original parish church on the right.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The large central arches date from around 1480. Before the 1990s restoration, the floors of the various sections of the church were at different levels,some lower than at present, reflecting their different original use and periods of build. They were rebuilt to the same level in the 1990s. which does make the space easier to use, but the Pevsner Guide to the City of London Churches appears to be rather dismissive of this change, saying that “Terry remade the floor at one indiscriminately high level throughout”.

St Helen’s Bishopsgate has a large number of memorials and monuments. London Survivals records that the number of these have given the church the name “Westminster Abbey of the City”.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Many of these are fascinating, not just through the story of the subject of the memorial, but the way the story has been portrayed. This is the memorial to Martin Bond – a worthy citizen and soldier.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The text states that he was “son of Will Bond, Sheriff and Alderman of London. He was Captain in the year 1588 at the camp at Tilbury and after remained chief captain of trained bands of the City until his death. He was a Merchant Adventurer and free of the Company of Haberdasher. He lived to the age of 85 years and died in May 1643. His piety, prudence, courage and charity have left behind him a never dying monument.”

I love it when I can tie posts together, and the reference in the memorial to Martin Bond being at the camp at Tilbury in the year 1558, is a reference to Tilbury Fort which I wrote about here.

1588 was the year when additional reinforcements were made to the fort at Tilbury due to the threat from the Spanish Armada. In March of the previous year, Queen Elizabeth I requested the City to provide a force of 10,000 men, fully armed and equipped. Billingsgate Ward contributed 326 men, one of which would have been Martin Bond.

His memorial may well therefore show him in his role as Captain, in his tent at Tilbury Fort.

As well as memorials, there are bits of stonework that further demonstrate how churches of this age are made up of many different bits of stone from different sources.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

The plaque at the top reads “The insertions in the wall beneath are a weathered fragment of marble of Moorish or Venetian workmanship (XII or XIII century) discovered in the interior of the Bernard monument adjacent on its removal (in 1874) to its present position. A Purbeck marble panel, part of the ancient Clitherow Monument (formerly of the church of St Martin Outwich) used to repair the Pemberton Monument on its reconstruction in 1796 and removed on the restoration of that monument in 1874”.

Monuments tell stories of the life of those recorded on the stones and marble. The monument shown in the photo below is to Dame Abigail Lawrence, who died at the age of 59 on the 6th June 1682.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

She is recorded as being the “tender mother of ten children, the nine first being all daughters she suckled at her own breasts, they all lived to be of age, her last a son died an infant”. Described as an “Exemplary matron of this Cittie”.

The walls on which these monuments are now mounted are all firm and dry, but it is interesting to read of earlier improvements, the state of the walls and the problems faced by employing workmen in such a historic building.

There was an article in the London City Press dated the 22nd July 1865, reporting on the repairs and renovations that were about to take place at St Helen’s Bishopsgate. In the article, the walls were described as being built with nitrate of lime, and as a consequence being almost always wet.

The article also mentions that the church is home to a large number of brass memorials and that during the last restoration in 1845 several of these brasses were lost – the implication being that they were stolen at the request of antiquaries. The article also references the loss of large quantities of lead, stolen from the coffins by workmen, working on repairs at Stepney Church.

The article recommends that the church authorities put in place measures to protect the artifacts in the church, as “the power of whisky over the working man is very great, and it is feared that the mere value of the brass may have caused some of them to have been taken away”.

The church has a late 18th century Poor Box which is mounted on a 17th century figure of a bearded man, holding a hat ready to receive alms.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

There are numerous memorials and monuments across the church, too many for a single post, and there is one further subject in the post’s title that I want to cover, one Robert Hooke.

St Helen's Bishopsgate

Robert Hooke was far more than a scientist. He was also an engineer, surveyor, inventor and architect. Your first contact with Hooke may have been during school science lessons and Hooke’s law which stated that the force needed to extend or compress a spring is proportional to the distance extended or compressed.

After the Great Fire in 1666 he was appointed the Surveyor for the City of London and worked on many of the rebuilds of the city churches, frequently with Christopher Wren. This work included the Monument to the Great Fire.

He has been somewhat overshadowed by Wren, and other scientists of the time such as Newton. He also had a number of disagreements and controversies with other scientists during his lifetime, Possibly because of these, there are no drawings or paintings of Robert Hooke which survive to this day. Apparently Newton removed Hooke’s name from the Royal Society records and destroyed his portrait after one rather passionate argument.

Hooke’s bones were removed from the graveyard at St Helen’s during the 19th century, probably during one of the many Victorian clearances of the City graveyards. They were moved to an unknown destination in north London.

There was a memorial window to Robert Hooke in St Helen’s Bishopsgate which was one of those destroyed during the IRA bombings of the early 1990s. The following is a 1930s photo of the window:

St Helen's Bishopsgate

St Helen’s Bishopsgate, although surrounded by modern office blocks, has roots that stretch back across the centuries of the City’s history. Leaving the church, I was still thinking of the Time Machine, and everything the church has seen built and then demolished, and all the people who have passed through and by the church, and what the church will see in the future.

alondoninheritance.com

St Martin Ludgate and a Hidden Name

City churches are interesting, not just the history of the church, but also for the artifacts that London’s churches seem to accumulate. St Martin Ludgate, or to give the full name St Martin Within Ludgate is a church I have not visited for a while, so on a rather grey day I went for another look inside the church.

St Martin Ludgate is on the northern side of Ludgate Hill. I suspect that the church suffers from the fact that St Paul’s Cathedral is at the top of Ludgate Hill and the cathedral tends to attract the gaze, rather than the historic church along the side of the street.

The view looking down Ludgate Hill with the church and spire of St Martin Ludgate on the right:

St Martin Ludgate

St Martin is an old City church, with written evidence dating the church to the 12th century, however Geoffrey of Monmouth writing in the 12th century claims that the church was founded by the Welsh King Cadwallader in the 7th century. Given that this was 500 years before Geoffrey of Monmouth, I doubt very much whether this was based on any truth or factual record.

The claim was embellished in the text with the following print from 1814 which shows the tower and steeple of St Martin Ludgate standing clear from the surrounding houses. The author adds that Cadwallo was buried here. The text included evidence that the site was ancient as “several antiquities were discovered to prove it being a Roman burial-place”.

St Martin Ludgate

The location was certainly interesting, being adjacent to Lud Gate and the Roman Wall. Travelers from the west would have approached the City along what is now the Strand. Crossing over the River Fleet, then a short distance up the hill to the Lud Gate, with the location of St Martins just inside the wall on the left.

The current church dates from between 1677 and 1686 when it was rebuilt by Wren following the destruction of the previous church in the Great Fire of London, although there is a possibility that rather than Wren, it was Robert Hooke who was responsible for the church.

The original church was slightly clear of the Roman Wall, however the new church was moved slightly to the west and included the Roman Wall in the foundations of the church. Ludgate Hill was also widened at this time, so the new church was also set slightly further back

The spire of the church was designed to be a counterpoint to the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Through the entrance to the church and there is a wide corridor running the width of the building before entering the church proper. This was an attempt to sound proof the church from the noise on Ludgate Hill which must have been one of the busier and noisier streets in the City.

Entering the church and we can see a typical Wren designed City church of the 17th century.

St Martin Ludgate

The organ loft above the font:

St Martin Ludgate

The font dates from 1673 and was a gift to the rebuilt church from one Thomas Morley.

Behind and to the right of the font is an information panel that confirms that this wall of the church was the original western limit of the Roman City, and below the floor and wall are the foundations of the original Roman Wall, along with remains of the later Medieval Wall.

The full name of the church St Martin within Ludgate indicates that the church was within the City walls.

There is an interesting plaque in the church, which holds a hidden message in the text. A brass plaque, now in St Martin’s was originally in St Mary Magdalene’s on Old Fish Street. A serious fire severely damaged much of St Mary in 1886, and as a number of City churches were closing and being demolished under the Union of Benefices Act (an Act to reduce the number of City churches as the population of the City had decreased), the decision was taken not to rebuild St Mary and a number of artifacts were moved to St Martin Ludgate.

The plaque is shown in the following photo and dates from 1586.

St Martin Ludgate

The plaque records a charity set up by Elizabethan fish monger Thomas Berry, or Beri. He is seen on the left of the plaque, and to the right are ten lines of text, followed by two lines which describe the charity:

“XII Penie loaves, to XI poor foulkes. Gave every Sabbath Day for aye”

The plaque is dated 1586, and the charity was set up in his will of 1601 which left his property in Edward Street, Southwark to St Mary Magdalen, with the instruction that the rent should be used to fund the loaves. The recipients of the charity were not in London, but were in Walton-on-the-Hill (now a suburb of Liverpool), a village that Berry seems to have had some connection with. The charity included an additional sum of 50s a year to fund a dinner for all the married people and householders of the town of Bootle.

The interesting lines of text are above those which describe the charity. Thomas seems to have spelled his last name either Berry or Beri and these ten lines of anti-papist verse include his concealed name.

The ten lines are shown below (thankfully “If Stones Could Speak” by F. St Aubyn-Brisbane (1929) have the transcribed text as it was hard to read from the plaque):

St Martin Ludgate

If you take the first letter from each sentence and read from the last sentence, you get the name Tomas Beri.

St Martin Ludgate

The parish church in Walton-on-the-Hill had a similar brass plaque, however it was badly damaged when the church was destroyed in the Liverpool Blitz in May 1941. The Walton church was rebuilt after the war, and a replica plaque can now be seen.

Unlike the Walton church, St Martin Ludgate suffered the least damage of any City church during the last war, with only a single incendiary bomb damaging the roof.

A closer view of the font. The wall behind the font marks the limit of the original Roman City, and remains of the Roman Wall are below the wall of the church.

St Martin Ludgate

City churches tend to accumulate objects, not just from other City churches, but from across the world. For some reason, St Martin Ludgate has a large chandelier from the 18th century which was originally in St Vincent’s Cathedral in the West Indies.

St Martin Ludgate

The chandelier is unusual as the majority of objects in the church appear to have come from St Mary Magdalen, including these bread shelves:

St Martin Ludgate

On display within the church is one of the bells from the post Great Fire rebuild. The bell dates from 1683 and was a “Gift of William Warne, Scrivener to the Parish of St Martin’s Ludgate”:

St Martin Ludgate

In a side room of the church is an interesting 17th century carved pelican:

St Martin Ludgate

The symbol of the pelican feeding its young is a very early Christian representation of Jesus. It comes from a pre-Christian legend that in times of famine, a mother pelican would pierce her breast, allowing her young to feed on her blood, thereby avoiding starvation.

Apart from the slender spire, there is nothing remarkable about the building of St Martin Ludgate, and the church is over shadowed by the much larger cathedral a bit further up Ludgate Hill.

The key though with City churches is that despite the ever-changing City, they are stable reference points, providing the same function for over 900 years.

St Martin Ludgate has the added bonus that the west wall of the church marks the western boundary of the original Roman city, and the Roman wall.

And whilst pondering the Roman city, we can also wonder why Thomas Beri decided to conceal his name in the plaque, or what game he was playing with the future back in 1586.

alondoninheritance.com

St Stephen Walbrook

I was in the City earlier this month and had a couple of free hours in the afternoon, so I headed to the church of St Stephen Walbrook, a church I have not been inside for a number of years.

The church is located just south of the Bank junction of Poultry, Princess Street, Threadneedle Street, Cornhill and King William Street. Located just behind the Mansion House, the church includes the name of one of the City’s lost rivers, and faces onto a street with the same name, Walbrook.

Walking down from the Bank junction, this is the view of the tower of St Stephen Walbrook:

St Stephen Walbrook

St Stephen Walbrook has a long history, however the church is not on its original site.

The River Walbrook originally ran slightly to the west of the street, and it was on the western side of the River Walbrook that the first church was established. Foundations of the original church were found during excavation of the site that today is occupied by the offices of Bloomberg, also the original location of the Roman Temple to Mithras.

According to Walter Thornbury writing in Old and New London, “Eudo, Steward of the Household to King Henry I (1100- 1135) gave the church of St Stephen, which stood on the west side of Walbrook, to the Monastery of St John at Colchester.”

The church probably dates from around the 11th century, but is probably older.

There is very little written evidence of this first church, however in the History of the Ward of Walbrook of the City of London (1904), J.G. White states:

“It possessed a Steeple with Bells and Belfry, as, from an inventory made, it appears that at the time of building the new Church, three bells, with their wheels, &c., were removed from the old building, and fixed in the new Steeple; also that it contained a belfry is evident from the fact that there is in the Coroner’s Roll for 1278 an entry, that on the 1st May in that year information was given that on the previous Sunday, about mid-day, William Clarke ascended the belfry to look for a pigeon’s nest, and in climbing from beam to beam he missed his hold and fell, dying as soon as he came to the ground. There was also a Chancel, there being in the year 1300 an Inquisition taken to enquire who was liable to repair the watercourse of the Walbrook over against the Chancel Wall of the Church.”

Around 1428, this original location of the church, and its associated graveyard was considered too small to support the parish, so a new location was required.

A plot of land was given by Robert Chicheley, a member of The Worshipful Company of Grocers, on the opposite side of Walbrook street, roughly 20 metres to the east of the original location, and the new church was built between 1429 and 1439.

This church would last just under 240 years as the church of St Stephen Walbrook would be one of those destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

Rebuilding commenced in December 1672, with Wren as the architect. St Stephen Walbrook was probably his local church as at the time he was living in Walbrook.

It was a difficult location for the new church as houses were built up against the church, including the area around where the tower would be built.

The area north of the church, now the site of the Mansion House was originally occupied by a market in fish and flesh know as the Stocks Market. Part of the original design for completion of St Stephen Walbrook was a colonnaded replacement for the pre-fire Stocks Market, which would have extended north from the church, This did not get built.

The church was ready to use in 1679, although the tower appears to have been completed later.

The following print from Old and New London shows the church soon after completion. The print also highlights the houses that clustered immediately around the tower.

St Stephen Walbrook

The above drawing from Old and New London is dated 1700, however I suspect this is wrong. The drawing shows the spire on top of the tower, however the spire was not added until 1713-1715.

Remove the houses in front of the church, and as the following photo demonstrates, the appearance of the church is much the same today. It was not possible to replicate the above drawing as the Mansion House presses in to the left of the church, occupying the space that was the Stocks Market.

St Stephen Walbrook

The following extract from a 1720 Ward map shows the church of St Stephen Walbrook, with the Stocks Market occupying the land to the north.

St Stephen Walbrook

Time for a look inside the church. A set of steps rise up from street level to the interior of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior of St Stephen Walbrook from the entrance:

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior has an unusual layout for a City church. The wooden reredos is at the far end of the church where the altar would traditionally have been located, however following restoration work carried out between 1978 and 1987, the traditional altar was replaced by a central circular altar carved from Travertine by Henry Moore.

St Stephen Walbrook

The new altar and additional restoration work throughout the church was commissioned and supported by the fund-raising efforts of Lord Peter Palumbo who was Churchwarden from 1953 to 2003.

Restoration work at the time was essential as the church was suffering from subsidence, possibly due to the long-term impact of the River Walbrook.

The location of the altar does prevent an ideal photograph of one of the main features of Wren’s designs – the large dome located above the central square of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

Multiple references refer to the dome as being Wren’s practice for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, however whilst the overall shape is similar, a dome with lantern on top, the size and construction method is very different.

Whilst the dome of St Paul’s has the inner false dome, with the layer of supports between inner and outer dome to transfer the load of the large stone lantern through to the body of the cathedral, the dome of St Stephen is a much more straightforward construction, however that does not detract anything from the beauty of a magnificent dome, designed in the 17th century on a City parish church.

The following drawing from 1770 shows a view of the interior of the church, with below a cut away diagram of the dome’s construction and a floor plan of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

The interior of the church also shows another of Wren’s innovations. Rather than the weight of the dome being carried on a large pier at each corner, there are three slender columns at each corner. These have the effect of opening out the corners, rather than these spaces being occupied by a large load bearing pillar.

Note in the floor plan above that the tower is missing. The tower was added after the church had opened, and perhaps Wren’s idea was to have a rectangular church with no tower, where the dome rising above the church would have been the dominating feature.

When the exterior of the church is viewed today, the dome of the church is somewhat hidden to the rear with the tower dominating – perhaps not Wren’s original intention.

Whilst many writers praised St Stephen Walbrook as one of Wren’s best City churches, there were other views, for example in Curiosities of London (1867), John Timbs writes:

“This church, unquestionably elegant, has been overpraised. The rich dome is considered by John Carter to be Wren’s attempt to ‘set up a dome, a comparative imitation (though on a diminutive scale) of the Pantheon at Rome, and which, no doubt, was a kind of probationary trial previous to his gigantic operation of fixing one on his octangular superstructure in the centre of the new St Paul’s’. Mr J. Gwilt says of St Stephen’s ‘Compared with any other church of nearly the same magnitude, Italy cannot exhibit its equal, elsewhere its rival is not to be found. Of those worthy notice, the Zitelle at Venice (by Palladio), is the present approximation in regard to size, but it ranks far below our church in point of composition, and still lower in point of effect.’

Again, had its materials and volume been as durable and as extensive as those of St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren had consummated (in St Stephen’s) a much more efficient monument to his well-earned fame than this fabric affords.”

The church suffered significant damage during the war. the following photo shows the interior of the church with parts of the dome collapsed onto the floor of the church.

St Stephen Walbrook

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0019488CL

A view of the damage to the dome can be seen in the following drawing by Dennis Flanders in June 1941.

St Stephen Walbrook

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/9354

Dennis Flanders was a freelance artists who recorded bomb damage to London. He sold some of his work to the War Artists Advisory Committee, including the drawing of St Stephen’s.

Another drawing purchased by the War Artists Advisory Committee was the following by Ian Strang, dated 1945.

St Stephen Walbrook

Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/25791

Note the temporary wooden cover in the place of the dome.

In the foreground are the foundations of the bombed buildings that occupied the space now occupied by the Bloomberg building. Excavation in the space during 1954 would reveal the Roman Temple of Mithras.

There is a wonderful model of the church to be seen inside the church:

St Stephen Walbrook

The model allows the overall design of the church to be appreciated, not easy when viewed from outside.

Looking at the model, the tower and buildings along the front of the church do look separate to the main body of the church (the smaller building to the right of the row on the front is a Starbucks).

Remove the tower and the buildings along the front and the church would be of rectangular design with a magnificent dome dominating the view of the church – perhaps Wren’s original intention.

The spire on top of the church is very similar to two other City churches, St Michael Paternoster Royal and St James Garlickhithe, which is shown in the following photo taken by my father in 1953.

St Stephen Walbrook

The spire was added to St Stephen Walbrook between 1713 and 1715, and the spires to the other two churches were added in the same period. They are possibly to a design by Hawksmoor.

Looking back towards the entrance to the church with a rather magnificent organ case above the door. This dates from 1765.

St Stephen Walbrook

There are a number of monuments on the walls of the church, including the following to Samuel Moyer dated 1716:

St Stephen Walbrook

Many of these tablets provide an insight into the dreadful child mortality rates of earlier centuries, even for those who were affluent.

The tablet states that Samuel Moyer was a Baronet. He must have had money as the tablet states the family spent the summer at their home at Pitsey Hall in Essex and the winters in the parish of St Stephen Walbrook.

A Baronet, who could afford homes in Essex and London still suffered numerous child deaths, Of their eleven children, eight died in their minority, with only three daughters surviving to “lament with their sorrowful mother, the great loss of so indulgent a father”.

It was not just the high rates of child mortality, but also what this level of child-birth did to women. The risks to women during childbirth were very high, and for Rebeckah Jollife, Moyer’s wife, surviving eleven must have been traumatic.

Also, with eleven births, for a significant period of her life, Rebeckah must have been in a state of almost continuous pregnancy.

St Stephen Walbrook also has a rather nice sword rest dating from 1710. This apparently came from the church of St Ethelburga.

St Stephen Walbrook

Back outside the church and this is the view of St Stephen Walbrook from the south.

St Stephen Walbrook

Today, a Starbuck’s occupies the corner space between tower and body of the church.

The dome of the church and lantern is just visible from the street.

The side view of the church shows the rough building materials used in the construction of the church – probably because other buildings were up against the side of the church so there was no need for expensive stone dressing to the side walls.
St Stephen Walbrook

Close up view of the dome and lantern:

St Stephen Walbrook

A longer view looking along Walbrook from the south. The Bloomberg building is on the left:

St Stephen Walbrook

This is such a fascinating area. In the above photo, the River Walbrook once ran roughly from where I am standing to take the photo, up and parallel to the existing street. The original church was on the left, prior to moving across the street and the river. The Roman Temple of Mithras is under the Bloomberg building on my left.

St Stephen Walbrook still dominates the northern part of the street, however if you walk along the street, look behind the tower and admire Wren’s dome.

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