30 September 2016

Saint Margaret Lothbury, a Wren
church beside the Bank of England

Saint Margaret Lothbury, known as the Bankers’ Church, is one of the 51 Wren churches in the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting two Wren churches in the City of London – Saint Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall and Saint Olave Jewry – I decided to visit one other Wren church on Wednesday evening [28 September 2016] as I walking back to Liverpool Street Station to catch the Stansted Express to Stansted Airport.

Saint Margaret Lothbury is a parish church in the City of London, and the parish boundaries lie between Coleman Street Ward and Broad Street Ward. It is known as the Bankers’ Church, because of its proximity to the back door of the Bank of England. The church has many associations with Saint Olave, Old Jewry, which I had visited earlier in the day.

Lothbury is a short street that runs east-west with traffic flow in both directions, from the junction of Gresham Street with Moorgate to the west, and the junction of Bartholomew Lane with Throgmorton Street to the east. The area was populated with coppersmiths in the Middle Ages before later becoming home to a number of merchants and bankers.

The church is dedicated to Saint Margaret of Antioch, or Saint Margaret the Virgin. She is known as Saint Marina the Great Martyr in the East, is celebrated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches on 20 July and on 17July in the Orthodox Church.

Her historical existence has been questioned, and she was declared apocryphal by Pope Gelasius I in 494. But devotion to her was revived in the West during the Crusades, which explains why a church in London was given her name in the 12th century.

There has been a church on this site since the 12th century, and the earliest mention of Saint Margaret Lothbury is from 1185.

It was rebuilt over the Walbrook in 1440, when a stone arch was erected over the brook in 1440 so that the church could be extended. The work was completed mostly at the expense of Robert Large, who was the Lord Mayor of London that year. He is remembered as the Master to whom William Caxton, the printer, served his apprenticeship.

The patronage of the church belonged to the Benedictine Abbess and Convent of Barking Abbey, Essex, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, when it passed to the Crown.

Saint Margaret Lothbury was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Like so many London churches, this church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren between 1686 and 1690. It is one of the 51 churches in London rebuilt by Wren after the fire. However, the tower may be the work of Robert Hooke.

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 that of Saint Margaret Lothbury.

The site of Saint Mary Colechurch, at the junction of Poultry and the south end of Old Jewry … one of the many parishes united with Saint Margaret Lothbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In 1839 Saint Bartholomew by the Exchange was added when its church was also demolished. The parishes of Saint Martin Pomeroy, Saint Mary Colechurch and Saint Olave Jewry, which were united to each other in 1670, and Saint Mildred Poultry, which was united to them in 1871, were added in 1886.

The form of this Wren church is a simple rectangle orientated north-south with a vestry to the east and a tower to the west end. The south elevation is faced in Portland stone while the others are rendered with stone dressings.

The four-stage tower is topped with a cupola and obelisk.

The church has fine contemporary fittings. There are cracks externally between the tower and the body of the church, which are being monitored.

The floor of the nave is also undulating as a result of differential settlement.

Inside the church, the reredos 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.

The church has exceptionally fine 17th-century woodwork from other now-demolished Wren churches. This woodwork includes the reredos, the Communion rails and the baptismal font, which are thought to be by Wren’s carver, Grinling Gibbons. They all came from Saint Olave, Old Jewry.

The pulpit is the original pulpit of the Wren church, but the carved sounding board or tester and the rood screen, which was made in 1683-1684, both came from All Hallows the Great when it was pulled down in 1894.

Two paintings of Moses and Aaron flanking the high altar came from Saint Christopher le Stocks when it was demolished in 1781.

The monument to the alderman and Shakespeare Gallery founder John Boydell was among the memorials brought to Saint Margaret Lothnury from St Olave, Old Jewry, when that church was demolished in 1887, although his body was reburied in the City of London Cemetery in Ilford.

Other monuments on the walls and on the floor in the nave include memorials of early benefactors of the church.

Put on the whole armour of God … the late 20th century windows contain the coats of arms of the livery companies associated with Saint Margaret’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The late 20th century windows contain the coats of arms of the City livery companies associated with Saint Margaret’s.

The ceremonial sword rests came into use after the Restoration in 1660 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

An unusual feature is the ceremonial sword rests. Sword rests came into general use in the City of London after the Restoration in 1660. When the Lord Mayor of London paid a ceremonial visit to city churches, his sword was placed in these rests. The two sword rests in Saint Margaret’s are fine examples of late 18th century hand-beaten ironwork.

The organ was built by George Pike England in 1801. It was restored in 1984, stands in its original case and contains nearly all its original pipework. Regular recitals take place at 110 p.m. on Thursdays, except in August.

The reredos in the south aisle chapel also comes from Saint Olave, Old Jewry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The south aisle 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.

The Baptismal Font is thought to come from the workshop of Grinling Gibbons. It is carved with reliefs depicting Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, the Baptism of Christ, and the Baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Saint Philip.

There is a small churchyard to the rear, where the notable burials include Hugh Clopton, (1440-1496), a Lord Mayor of London who was a benefactor of his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and William Copland, the printer and early publisher.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

Saint Margaret Lothbury still serves as a parish church in the Square Mile. It is also the official church of five Livery Companies, two Ward Clubs and two professional institutes. It also has connections with many local finance houses, all of which hold special services here each year.

Today, Saint Margaret Lothbury and Saint Mary Woolnoth form one parish in the Diocese of London in the Church of England.

There are no Sunday services, and the main services of the week are two informal lunchtime services on Wednesdays at Saint Margaret Lothbury and on Thursday at Saint Mary Woolnoth. Although they last from 12.50 to 2 p.m., they are planned so that people may come when they can and go when they have to. On Tuesday each week, there are more traditional Holy Communion services at 12.30 at Saint Mary Woolnoth and at 1.10 p.m. in Saint Margaret Lothbury.

The Rector is the Revd Jeremy Crossley, and the Rectory is in Saint Olave’s Court, on the site of the former Church of Saint Olave, Old Jewry.

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