14 April 2020
A ‘virtual tour’ of ten
former Wren churches to
visit after the lockdown
During my strolls through London, between Liverpool Street Station and the USPG offices in Southwark, I regularly try to visit Wren churches and the sites of former Wren churches, churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, or one or two guild or city churches I have not visited before
These walks also allow me to enjoy the views of magisterial London architecture in buildings such as the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, the Mansion House and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, to stroll through the side-streets by the Tate Modern, with their cafés, buskers and book shops, to enjoy the vista from the south side of the Millennium Bridge across to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, or the clutter of tourists around the Globe Theatre.
I have had new opportunities to discover parts of London I had not known before, and to see some of the many churches that are such an integral part of the architectural heritage of London.
After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren restored or rebuilt 51 churches.
Now we are all in lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I am missing these self-guided explorations of the churches of London. As all churches are closed for the duration of this pandemic, I thought this evening I would continue with my theme of a ‘virtual tour’ of a dozen Wren churches in London last week (7 April 2020), by offering a ‘virtual tour’ of ten former Wren churches in the City that have been demolished or destroyed.
These Wren ‘virtual tours’ are offered in the same spirit as my recent ‘virtual tours’ of a dozen Wren churches in London, the churches of Lichfield and the pubs and former pubs of Lichfield.
1, All Hallows’ Church, Bread Street:
All Hallows’ Church, Bread Street, was a parish church in the Bread Street ward of the City of London. It stood on the east side of Bread Street, on the corner with Watling Street, and was first mentioned in the 13th century.
The church was closed for a month in 1551 following a bloody fight between two priests. As penance, they were obliged to walk barefoot from Saint Paul’s through Cheapside and Cornhill. During the reign of Queen Mary I , the rector, Laurence Saunders, was burnt at the stake in 1555 for preaching Protestant doctrine. John Milton was baptised in All Hallows in 1608.
The church was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, and was rebuilt in 1681-1684 by Sir Christopher Wren.
The parish of All Hallows Bread Street was combined with that of Saint Mary-le-Bow in 1876 and the church demolished in 1878. The pulpit is now in St Vedast alias Foster, the organ case in Saint Mary Abchurch and the font cover in Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.
2, Christ Church Greyfriars:
Christ Church Greyfriars, within walking distance of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, was also known as Christ Church Newgate Street, and stood in Newgate Street, opposite Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The church began as the conventual church of a Franciscan friary, and the name Greyfriars refers to the grey habits worn by the Franciscan friars.
The first church on the site was built in the 13th century, but this was soon replaced by a bigger building, begun in 1306 and consecrated in 1326. This new church was the second largest in mediaeval London, measuring 91 metres (300 ft) long and 27 metres (89 ft) wide, with at least 11 altars. It was built partly at the expense of Margaret of France, the second wife of King Edward I.
Queen Margaret was buried at the church, as was Queen Isabella, the widow of Edward II who was complicit in her husband’s murder. The heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, was also buried here.
Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, more often associated with Saint Mary-le-Bow and its bells, founded a library in connection with the church in 1429.
Elizabeth Barton, the ‘Holy Maid of Kent,’ was buried on the site after she was hanged at Tyburn in 1534 for preaching against Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. But her head was put on a spike on London Bridge, the only woman ever accorded that dishonour.
In 1546, Henry VIII gave the priory and its church, along with the churches of Saint Nicholas Shambles and Saint Ewin, Newgate Market, to the City Corporation.
A new parish of Christ Church was created, incorporating those of Saint Nicholas and Saint Ewin, and part of that of Saint Sepulchre. The priory buildings later housed Christ’s Hospital, a school founded by Edward VI, and the church became the principal place of worship for the schoolchildren.
In the 1640s, Christ Church was associated with the Presbyterian polemicist Thomas Edwards, and in 1647 it became a centre of operations for attempts to disband and pay arrears to members of the New Model Army.
When the mediaeval church was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, Wren was commissioned to rebuild the church.
The church was an important centre in the political and cultural life of London. The Lord Mayor attended an annual service to hear the Ancient Spital Sermon on the second Wednesday after Easter, placing his ceremonial sword in a special holder. Felix Mendelssohn played Bach’s Fugue in A minor and other works on the organ in 1837. Samuel Wesley also performed at the church.
Christ’s Hospital moved out of London to Horsham in West Sussex in 1902, reducing the Sunday attendances considerably, and the school building was sold to the GPO. In the years that followed, attendance figures continued to decline, and by 1937 had dropped to 77.
The church was severely damaged in the Blitz on 29 December 1940. During one of the fiercest air raids of World War II, a firebomb struck the roof and tore into the nave. Much of the surrounding neighbourhood was also set alight, and eight Wren churches burned that night alone. The roof and vaulting of Christ Church collapsed into the nave. The tower and four main walls remained standing but were smoke-scarred and gravely weakened.
When the parishes in London were being reorganised in 1949, it was decided not to rebuild Christ Church. The remains of the church were designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, and in 1954, the parish of Christ Church was merged with nearby Saint Sepulchre-without-Newgate.
The steeple was dismantled in 1960 and reassembled. The surviving lower part of the south wall and the entire east wall were demolished in 1962 for the widening of King Edward Street. In 1981, neo-Georgian brick offices were built against the south-west corner of the ruins, in imitation of the 1760 vestry house that once stood there.
The former nave area became a public garden and memorial in 1989. The paths follow the lines of the former aisles, the pergolas represent the piers, the box hedging represents the pews, and the plants represent the former congregation.
The US investment bank Merrill Lynch completed a regional headquarters complex on land to the north and west in 2002. Along with this project, the site of Christ Church underwent a major renovation and archaeological examination, King Edward Street was returned to its former course, and the site of the church has regained its pre-war footprint.
The tower, once used as commercial space, was converted into a private residence in 2006.
3, Saint Augustine, Watling Street:
Saint Augustine Watling Street, which stood to the east of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London, was rebuilt in the late 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.
Saint Augustine stood on the north side of Watling Street, at the corner with Old Change. According to Richard Newcourt, the dedication of the church was to Saint Augustine of Canterbury, rather than Saint Augustine of Hippo.
The church is first mentioned in 1148. The mediaeval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. After the fire, the parish was united with the parish of Saint Faith under Saint Paul’s, whose congregation had worshipped until then in the crypt of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
The church was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren in 1680-1684. The new church opened in September 1683, but the steeple was not finished until 1695-1696, with a spire designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The tall leaded spire that was modified in 1830, and the pulpit was modernised by Arthur Blomfield in 1878.
Wren’s church was destroyed by bombing during the World War II in 1941. The remains of the church were designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, but the church was not rebuilt. However, the tower was restored in 1954 and the spire was rebuilt in 1966 according to its original design by Paul Paget of Seely and Paget.
Although the body of Wren’s church is now lost, Saint Augustine Watling Street remains the closest of the City Churches to Wren’s Cathedral and its tower remains a special landmark in the City.
4, Saint Benet Fink:
Saint Benet Fink originally stood on Threadneedle Street, but was later rebuilt in 1670-1675 on a site at Royal Exchange by Sir Christopher Wren after an earlier church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was baptised in Saint Benet Fink on 9 April 1801.
Saint Benet’s, along with Saint Bartholomew by the Exchange and Saint Anthony’s Hospital Chapel, were demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the third, enlarged Royal Exchange and to widen Royal Exchange Avenue. The churchyard was acquired by Act of Parliament but had a long history, and a 10th century wheel-headed cross was discovered on the site.
5, Saint Christopher-le-Stocks, Threadneedle Street:
Saint Christopher le Stocks stood on the south side of Threadneedle Street in the Broad Street Ward of the City of London.
The church, of mediaeval origin, was severely damaged in the Great Fire in 1666, although the outer walls and tower survived. It was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1671 using much of the surviving material, and was the first of his churches to be completed, at a cost of £2,098 12s 7d.
When the Church of Saint Christopher le Stocks was demolished in 1781 to make way for an extension for the Bank of England, the parish was united with Saint Margaret Lothbury.
The reredos, which was later moved to in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, is a sumptuous example from the 17th century. The texts of the Ten Commandments are on the two centre panels, while on each side are the words of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.
6, Saint Mary Somerset, Lambeth Hill:
The Church of Saint Mary Somerset stood where Upper Thames Street and Lambeth Hill meet, south of Saint Paul’s, and was rebuilt in the late 17th century by Wren after the Great Fire of London.
The Church of Saint Mary Somerset is first recorded in the late 12th century, in a deed in the reign of Richard I.
Lambeth Hill is some distance from Lambeth, but the street name was derived from Lambard. It is even further from Somerset, so the designation ‘Somerset’ in the church name is more puzzling. It has been linked to Ralph de Somery, who is mentioned in records at the same time. It is also linked to Summer’s Hithe, a small haven on the Thames, at a time when the banks of the river were much closer.
Before the Great Fire in 1666, London had 14 churches named after the Virgin Mary. This is one of six of those churches rebuilt after the Fire and one of the 51 churches in London rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. At the same time, the parish of Saint Mary Somerset was combined with the parish of Saint Mary Mounthaw, which was not rebuilt.
Building the new church began in 1686, but stopped in 1688 owing to the financial uncertainty associated with the Williamite Revolution. Rebuilding recommenced the next year, and the church was finished in 1694 at a cost of £6,579. The rebuilt church was smaller than its predecessor, as a strip of land was taken by the City to widen what was then Thames Street.
Wren’s church had a nave but no aisles and had a flat roof. George Godwin described the interior as ‘a mere room with low whitewashed walls.’ Two columns supported a gallery at the west end, from which the royal coat of arms was suspended.
The tower projected from the south-west. It is 120 ft high and faced with Portland stone. Lines of windows, alternately circular and round headed, run up each side, with grotesque masks and cherubs serving as keystones.
The parish was very poor, and it was one of only two churches for which Wren provided funds for the furnishings from the Coal Tax – the other was Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.
There was a major movement of population from the City of London in the second half of the 19th century to new suburbs in Middlesex, Kent, Essex and Surrey. With these moves, many of the city churches in London were left with tiny congregations, while many of the newly-built suburbs had no churches.
The Union of Benefices Act (1860) allowed the demolition of City churches and the sale of land to build churches in the suburbs. Over 20 churches were demolished to make way for other buildings, including railway stations. The last service was held in Saint Mary Somerset on 1 February 1867, with about 70 people present.
The parish was then combined with Saint Nicholas Cole Abbey, and the church was demolished in 1871. Thanks to the efforts of the architect Ewan Christian (1814-1895), the church tower was preserved. The proceeds of the sale were used to build Saint Mary Hoxton, which also received the church furnishings and the bell.
7, Saint Mary Woolnoth:
The Church of Saint Mary Woolnoth is an arresting landmark at the centre of the City of London, on the corner of Lombard Street and King William Street near Bank junction.
The church is interesting as one of the Queen Anne Churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, but also for its associations with many interesting people, including the founder of Lloyds Edward Lloyd, the abolitionist and hymnwriter John Newton and his friend William Wilberforce, and the poet TS Eliot.
This site has been used for worship for at least 2,000 years. Traces of Roman and pagan religious buildings were found under the foundations of the church, along with the remains of an Anglo-Saxon wooden structure.
The full and unusual dedication of the church is to Saint Mary of the Nativity. The name of the church is first recorded in 1191 as Wilnotmaricherche. The name ‘Woolnoth’ may refer to a benefactor, possibly Wulnoth de Walebrok, a Saxon noble who lived in the area earlier in the 12th century. Alternatively, the name may be connected with the wool trade – this was so with the nearby church of Saint Mary Woolchurch Haw.
The present church is at least the third church on the site. The Norman church survived until the mid-15th century, when it was rebuilt. The new building was consecrated in 1438, but additional work appears to have taken place towards the end of the century, and a spire was added in 1485.
The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was partially rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1670-1675. Sir Robert Vyner, Lord Mayor of London in 1674, made a major contribution to the cost of this work, and the church was known at one time known as Sir Robert Vyner’s church. Vyner had his own entrance to the east end of the church, a privilege inherited by the Post Office which later stood on the site of his mansion in Lombard Street.
Nearby Saint Mary Woolchurch Haw was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was not rebuilt, and its parish was united with Saint Mary Woolnoth.
The style of the church was described as ‘modern Gothick’ in 1708. But Saint Mary Woolnoth was only partially repaired by Wren. The building became unsafe and in 1711 it was decided to build a new church under the Fifty New Churches Act – the only church in the City to be built under the Act. By 1712, the condition of the church was so dilapidated that the parishioners were afraid to worship there, and the structure was repaired.
Between 1897 and 1900, the City & South London Railway (C&SLR) built Bank station beneath the church. The company had permission to demolish the church, but public outcry forced the company to think again.
The crypt was sold to the railway and the bodies there were moved for reburial at Ilford, including Edward Lloyd. However, the bodies of John Newton and his wife Mary (Catlett) were reburied at Olney, where he had been a curate and then vicar before moving to London, in 1893.
The crypt and plinth of the church were used as a booking hall in 1897-1900. The walls and internal columns of the church were then supported on steel girders while the lift shafts and staircase shaft for Bank station were built directly beneath the church floor. At the same time, the bells were also rehung with new fittings.
The lower part of the south elevation is now masked by the single-storey former Underground station entrance, with a new vestry, in a style that pays tribute to Hawksmoor.
8, Saint Matthew Friday Street:
Saint Matthew Friday Street, off Cheapside was first recorded in the 13th century. This was the only church in the City dedicated to the evangelist who is the patron saint of accountants. Friday Street is said to have got its name from the fishmongers who lived or worked there.
The earliest surviving reference to the church is in a document from the reign of Henry III, as ‘St Matthew in Fridaistret.’
The puritan Henry Burton was the rector of Saint Matthew’s In 1636, when he preached a sermon claiming Archbishop William Laud’s liturgical changes were drawing the Church of England closer to popery. He accused the bishops of being ‘caterpillars,’ not pillars of the church. Burton was tried, placed in a pillory and had his ears cut off.
The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and then rebuilt by Wren’s office. Building began in 1682 and the church was complete by 1685. It was the smallest and cheapest of the Wren churches.
This Wren church was demolished in 1885. The pulpit, font and cover from Saint Matthew Friday Street, are now in Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, the last of Wren’s city churches, while the Communion table and Royal Arms are now in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster.
9, Saint Michael Bassishaw
Saint Michael Bassishaw stood in Basinghall Street on a site that lies beneath the courtyard of the Guildhall offices and the Barbican highwalk.
This was one of the seven City churches dedicated to the Archangel Michael, and it is first noted in 1196 as ‘St Michael de Bassishaghe.’ The name comes from the Basing family, once prominent in mediaeval London.
The dean and chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral were patrons of the church from the 15th century. The building was restored in 1630, but was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666. Rebuilding began in 1675 and was completed four years later.
However, the work was unsatisfactory, and there were problems with the foundations at the east end, with allegations of that the Corinthian columns were ‘specimens of … jerry-building.’ By 1693, the parish was lobbying Wren to provide resources for repairs, and by the end of the century the church was shored up and in need of repair.
Much of the church was rebuilt in 1713. The steeple, probably designed by Robert Hooke, was an octagonal drum surmounted by a lantern, with trumpet-shaped cone, topped by a ball and finial. These can now be seen on the spire of Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.
Further restoration work in the late 19th century revealed the weakness of the foundations. The church was judged unsafe and closed in 1892, the parish was combined with Saint Lawrence Jewry, and the church was demolished in 1900.
10, Saint Olave Old Jewry
Saint Olave Old Jewry, sometimes known as Upwell Old Jewry, stood between the street called Old Jewry and Ironmonger Lane. It too was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. But the church was demolished in 1887, except for the tower and the west wall, which still stand today.
The name of Saint Olave, Old Jewry, recalls both the mediaeval Jewish community in this area and Saint Olaf, the 11th-century patron saint of Norway.
The earliest surviving reference to the church is in a manuscript ca 1130, but excavations in 1985 revealed the foundations of an earlier Saxon church, built in the 9th to 11th centuries using Kentish ragstone and recycled Roman bricks.
After the church was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, the parish was united with the adjacent Parish of Saint Martin Pomeroy, a tiny church that shared the small churchyard of St Olave Old Jewry. Rebuilding began in 1671, incorporating much of the mediaeval walls and foundations. The tower was built separately, projecting from the west of the church. The church was completed in 1679, partly from rubble from the neighbouring, ruined Saint Paul’s Cathedral for rubble.
In outline, the church was shaped like a wine bottle on its side, with the projecting west tower a truncated neck, the angular west front its shoulders, tapering towards a narrow base to the east. The main façade was on Old Jewry and featured a large Venetian window with columns and a full entablature.
The church was restored in 1879, but under the Union of Benefices Act, the parish combined with nearby Saint Margaret Lothbury, the body of the church was demolished in 1887, the site was sold and the proceeds were used to build Saint Olave’s Manor House.
The dead bodies were moved to the City of London Cemetery, Manor Park, Greene’s body was moved to Westminster Abbey, Boydell’s monument was moved to Saint Margaret Lothbury, and the furnishings were dispersed among several other churches. The tower, west wall and part of the north wall were kept and incorporated into a new building that included a rectory for Saint Margaret Lothbury.
The 27 metre (88 ft) tower is the only one by Wren that is battered, in other words it is slightly wider at the bottom than the top. The door to the tower has a segmental pediment and is flanked by Doric columns. On top of the tower is a simple parapet with tall obelisks on each corner with balls on top. The vane in the centre of the tower is in the shape of a sailing ship, and came from Saint Mildred, Poultry.
The remains of the church were designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. The late Victorian building was replaced in 1986 by an office building, in a sympathetic style, designed by the firm of architects Swanke, Hayden, Connell. The churchyard survives as the courtyard to the office building, and is open to the public for a few hours each day.
When the south aisle in Saint Margaret Lothbury was turned into a chapel in 1891 following the demolition of the south gallery, an open screen was made by reusing a Communion rail from Saint Olave, Old Jewry, at the base, while new work by GF Bodley formed the upper portion.
The reredos in this chapel also comes from Saint Olave, Old Jewry. The central panels originally contained the Ten Commandments, but they were replaced in 1908 with a painted diptych of the Annunciation.