Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Saint Edmund the King,
a Wren church once in
close to London banking

Saint Edmund, King and Martyr … the last remaining church in Lombard Street, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr, is the last remaining church in Lombard Street. This is a church in the City of London that I have often passed but have never managed to visit.

This church, dedicated to Saint Edmund the Martyr, was once a parish church, but it is no longer is used for regular worship. It is now home to the London Centre for Spiritual Direction and the Centre for Church Planting and Church Growth.

The church is commonly known as Saint Edmund the King, and also houses the offices of the Bishop of Islington, Ric Thorpe.

Until the 1980s, most London-based banks had their head offices on Lombard Street and in the past this street was the London home for money lenders. Lombard Street, a narrow but still busy street, takes its name from the Lombardy or Italian merchants who settled in the area during the 12th century. From 1691 until 1984, Lloyd’s Coffeehouse, which eventually became Lloyd’s of London, was based nearby.

The church is dedicated to the King of East Anglia who was martyred by the Danes in 870. The first church on this site is recorded in 1292, when it is named as ‘Saint Edmund towards Garcherche’ or Grasschurch, after the hay market that gave its name to Grasschurch Street.

The church is named again half a century later as ‘Saint Edmund in Lombardestrete’ in 1348. In his Survey of London (1598), John Stow refers to it also as Saint Edmund Grass Church.

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 Nicholas Acons, where the church was also destroyed in the fire but not rebuilt.

The present church was built to designs by Sir Christopher Wren in 1670-1674. A new tower, designed in 1707 by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), is ornamented at the angles by flaming urns in allusion to the Great Fire.

George Godwin described the tower as ‘more Chinese than Italian,’ while James Peller Malcolm called it ‘rather handsome, but of that species of architecture which is difficult to describe so as to be understood.’

The liturgical orientation of the church is north-south instead of the normal east-west orientation.

The essayist Joseph Addison (1672-1719), the son of a Dean of Lichfield, was married in this church in 1716.

A riot took outside the church in September 1868 followed a Friday morning sermon by the Revd Joseph Leycester Lyne (1837-1908), who strongly criticised the traders of Lombard Street.

Lynne, known as Father Ignatius of Jesus, was an eccentric Anglican Benedictine monk and a friend of Edward Bouverie Pusey. He has once been curate of Saint George in the East and at Saint Saviour’s mission church, and from 1866 to 1868 he preached regularly at Saint Bartholomew’s Moor Lane Church and other London churches. But, although he was ordained deacon, he was never ordained priest, and his increasingly erratic extremism and eccentricities led to his ridicule and isolation.

Saint Edmund the King was restored in 1864 and 1880, and the interior was rearranged by the architect William Butterfield (1814-1900).

The church was damaged by bombing in 1917. After World War I, ‘Woodbine Willie’, the Revd Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929), was given charge of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr. He moved to work for the Industrial Christian Fellowship and died of exhaustion in Liverpool in 1929 at the age of 45.

The church and parish now form part of the combined parish of Saint Edmund the King and Martyr, and Saint Mary Woolnoth, Lombard Street, with Saint Nicholas Acons, All Hallows’ Lombard Street, Saint Benet Gracechurch, Saint Leonard Eastcheap, Saint Dionis Backchurch and Saint Mary Woolchurch Haw. This lengthy title is usually shortened to Saint Edmund and Saint Mary Woolnoth – the names of the only two surviving churches in the parish.

The church is in the Ward of Langbourn, and has a ward noticeboard outside.

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

The projecting clock, hanging from the church wall above Lombard Street, dates from around 1810. There is a face on each side so that the time can be seen both sides of the church along Lombard Street. The clock has a black face with the hours and minutes painted in gold. The hours are in traditional Roman numerals. The hands are also painted gold as is the bezel. A crown sits on top of the clock.

Nearest station: Bank

Inside Saint Edmund King and Martyr (Photograph: John Salmon/Georgaph/CCL)

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