Sunday, 19 September 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
113, Saint Benet Fink, Royal Exchange, London

Saint Benet Fink was demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the third, enlarged Royal Exchange and to widen Royal Exchange Avenue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Askeaton. I arrived back late yesterday after two wonderful weeks in Crete on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

This is the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVI), and later this morning (19 September 2021) I am taking part in Morning Prayer in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and presiding at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

But, before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches and former Wren churches in London. My photographs this morning (19 September 2021) are from the site of Saint Benet Fink at the Royal Exchange, London.

‘La Maternité’, a charity fountain at Royal Exchange, is a reminder of a forgotten Wren church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

Coming across a fountain without a function, a monument to the memory of Paul Reuter and the Peabody statue in Royal Exchange led me to the stories of three lost churches, including Saint Benet Fink, and a lost synagogue in London.

‘La Maternité’ is a charity drinking fountain at Royal Exchange that shows a breast-feeding mother with two children, one at her breast. It is difficult to imagine how this fountain caused controversy when it was erected in 1878-1879.

The inscription on the front of the plinth reads:

Erected 1878 at the expense of John Whittaker Ellis Esq Alderman & William Hartridge Esq Deputy, supplemented by a vote in Wardmote.

The inscription continues just above the basin:

Also by donations from The Drapers Company and the Merchant Taylors Company.

There are two smaller inscriptions. One on the right side of the plinth reads:

J Edmeston – Archt 1878.

The name and date on the back of the sculpture read:

Dalou, 1879.

The marble group was carved in 1877 by the French-born sculptor, Aimé-Jules Dalou (1838-1902), and was erected in 1878. However, it was altered by weathering and was replaced by an inferior copy in bronze in 1897.

The fountain and marble group were erected by the Drapers’ Company and the Merchant Taylors’ Company. A number of sources say the fountain commemorates Alderman William Bartman, although it appears to have been erected without the specific intention of commemorating anyone or anything.

However, the depiction of a breast-feeding mother was controversial at the time. A letter in the Globe, headed ‘An arrangement in milk and water’ and referring to the nearby statue of George Peabody, complained: ‘Do you not think, Sir, that propriety demands that Mr Peabody’s chair should be turned, at least until the delicate operation of lacteal sustentation be concluded, or until the Drapers or Merchant Taylors, to whom the young woman and youngsters belong, provide them with the requisite clothing.’

This collection of the three monuments – the fountain, the Reuter sculpture and the Peabody statue – stand on the site of Saint Benet Fink, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.

Saint Benet’s, 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 for widening Royal Exchange Avenue.

Saint Anthony’s Hospital Chapel was first built as a synagogue in 1231 but became a chapel of the French Hospital in 1243. It was destroyed and rebuilt in 1666.

Demolition to make way for commercial expansion was the fate of many City churches in the economic boom of the Victorian era. These three churches were demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the new, much expanded Royal Exchange built by Sir William Tite in 1841-1844 and for widening Royal Exchange Avenue. At the same time, the churchyard was acquired by Act of Parliament.

Tite’s Royal Exchange was the third on the site, London’s first Exchange was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1566-1570. The original Renaissance-style building replaced after the Great Fire by a building erected in 1667-1671 that was described as ‘the grandest monument of artisan classicism in the City.’

This second exchange burnt down in 1838 and Tite won the competition for the new Exchange. General trading in the building carried on until 1939 and was then replaced by specialist exchanges. The building has a central courtyard area that was designed by Tite as an open space but covered in 1883.

A paved area to the west end of the Royal Exchange has a number of statues: an equestrian statue of Wellington (1844) designed by Chantrey on a plinth; a War Memorial (1919-1920) by Sir Aston Webb with a sculpture by Alfred Drury; and a statue in Cornhill of JH Greathead (1993) by James Butler. This area at the junction of Threadneedle Street and Cornhill was re-landscaped in 1985 with low walls, some planting and seating, cast-iron lamps.

Royal Exchange Square, to the east of the Royal Exchange, is a paved pedestrian piazza beside Royal Exchange Buildings (1906-1910) designed by Sir Ernest George & Yeates.

The sculptures and monuments include the fountain with Dalou’s bronze figure of a nursing mother set on a granite plinth surrounded by planting, as well as Michael Black’s sculpture of Paul Julius Reuter by Michael Black (1976) and WW Story’s seated figure of the philanthropist George Peabody (1795-1869), erected in 1868).

A drinking fountain commemorating the Jubilee of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association is at the south end, a copy of one that was stolen and placed here in 1911 but which was originally placed where the War Memorial now stands to the west of the Royal Exchange.

This paved area with seating set around flower beds marks the site of the forgotten Wren church.

‘La Maternité’ caused controversy when the breast-feeding mother was unveiled (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 9: 30-37 (NRSVA):

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was born at 80 Old Broad Street on 21 February 1801 and was baptised in Saint Benet Fink on 9 April 1801 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (19 September 2021) invites us to pray:

‘Whoever wants to be first,
must be last of all’.
Lord Almighty,
we pray for a more equal and inclusive world.

The statue of Paul Julius Reuter (1816-1899) at the Royal Exchange in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

George Peabody’s statue by WW Story at the Royal Exchange in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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