25 January 2020

Saint Martin within Ludgate,
a Wren church claiming
links with London legends

Saint Martin within Ludgate, a Guild Church and a Wren Church just a few steps west of Saint Paul’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The churches I visited in London this week included Saint Martin within Ludgate, a Guild Church and a Wren Church on Ludgate Hill, just a few steps west of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and almost opposite City Thameslink station (Ludgate Hill exit).

After the Great Fire of London, the church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1677-1684.

The church takes its name from Saint Martin of Tours, a patron saint of travellers. Churches dedicated to him often stand within city gates. Ludgate was the westernmost gate in London Wall. The name survives in Ludgate Hill, an eastward continuation of Fleet Street, Ludgate Circus and Ludgate Square.

The name Ludgate probably means ‘Flood Gate’ or ‘Fleet Gate,’ and the Lud Gate was part of the fortifications of London. Like most of the other City gates, it was demolished in 1760.

Inside Saint Martin within Ludgate … rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Some legends connect the church with legendary King Cadwallo, or Cadwallon ap Cadfan, father of Cadwaladr. One story says ‘Cadwallo King of the Britons is said to have been buried here in 677.’ However, historians today place his death ca 682.

Legend says King Cadwallo’s image was placed on Ludgate to frighten away the Saxons. However, Middlesex and the London area were controlled by the Anglo-Saxons at that time and there is no evidence of British or any other occupation of the area within the walls of the abandoned Roman city of Londinium since the late fourth century. In 1669 A Roman tombstone was found on the church site in 1669, and is now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The early historian of England, the Venerable Bede, says the West Saxon king Caedwalla was buried in Rome.

But the first, historical, written reference to the church is to a mediaeval church on the site in 1174. A Blackfriars or Dominican monastery was built nearby in 1278. The parish books start from 1410. The church was rebuilt in 1437 and the tower was struck by lightning in 1561.

Before the Reformation, the church was under the control of Westminster Abbey, and afterwards under Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Until the Reformation, the patronage of the church belonged to the Abbot and Chapter of Westminster Abbey until 1540, then until 1554 to the Bishop of Westminster, when it passed to the Bishop of London and then to the Chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, where it remains. These patrons are represented in the stained-glass windows in the north wall.

The Revd Samuel Purchas, a travel writer, became the rector of Saint Martin’s in 1614. The mediaeval church was repaired in 1623.

William Penn, who was married in the church in 1643, was the father of William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania.

The altar and reredos in Saint Martin within Ludgate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Great Fire of London engulfed Saint Martin’s on 4 September 1666. Rebuilding was not immediate, was largely completed by 1680, but not finally until 1703. At the same time the church was set back from the old site, as Ludgate Hill was widened.

Saint Martin’s is one of Wren’s later rebuildings and its slender lead spire was most carefully considered in relation to the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The view eastward from Ludgate Circus towards Saint Paul’s is one of the most memorable in London.

From the lower part of Fleet Street, the steeple of Saint Martin’s stands between the viewer and the dome of Saint Paul’s. Wren’s steeple at Saint Martin’s has a sharp obelisk steeple that has been described as ‘somewhat like an exclamation mark!’

The church is topped by a lead-covered octagonal cupola supporting a balcony and tapered spire rising to a height of 48 metres. The centre of the church is in the shape of a Greek cross, with four large columns.

The 17th century baptismal font has a Greek palindrome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

An interesting feature is the 17th century baptismal font has a Greek palindrome: Νιψον Ανομηματα Μη Μοναν Οψιν (Nipson anomemata me monan opsin, ‘Cleanse my sin and not my face only’).

The 17th-century carved oak double churchwarden’s chair is the only one of its kind known to exist. The organ is a Bernard Schmidt design dating from 1684. The contemporary carvings are by Grinling Gibbons, and other carvings in the church are attributed to three joiners, Athew, Draper and Poulden, and to the carvers Cooper and William Newman.

The chandelier dates from about 1777 and is from the West Indies.

Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint Martin and Saint Gregory … recalling the names of three united parishes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The three parishes of Saint Martin’s, Saint Mary Magdalen Old Fish Street – which had been burnt down in 1888 and not rebuilt – and Saint Gregory by Saint Paul’s, destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, were united in 1890.

The church underwent major rebuilding and alteration in 1893-1894, when the floor level was raised at the east end, creating the chancel area. Many bodies were taken from the churchyard and reburied at Brookwood Cemetery.

During the London Blitz, a German incendiary bomb damaged the roof, in 1941 but Saint Martin’s received relatively little damage during World War II.

Saint Martin’s became a Guild Church in 1954 and was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

A major renewal of the fabric, spire and roofs were completed in 1990. Redecoration, renovation of lighting and heating followed, and Saint Martin’s reopened on Saint Martin’s Day, 11 November 1992.

The organ is a Bernard Schmidt design dating from 1684 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

As a Guild Church, Saint Martin’s is linked to the Stationers’ Company, and has no parish or parishioners. There is a monthly service on the second Thursday of the month, and special services include baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

The church also offers pastoral support and counselling, including bereavement counselling. There are organ recitals every other Monday, and chamber music every Wednesday and Friday.

The church is open at irregular times. The website has not been updated, but it indicates that the opening hours in July and August 2019 were on Fridays from 11 to 3 pm and from September to December 2019 on Mondays 12 pm to 2 pm during weekly recitals and on Thursdays and Fridays from 11 am to 3 pm.

The pulpit in Saint Martin within Ludgate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Paul in a stained glass window … the church is in the patronage of the Chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Botolph without
Aldersgate, a church
with a 1,000-year history

Inside Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate … on the site of one of four in medieval London dedicated to Saint Botolph (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The churches I visited in London this week included Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate, a Church of England Guild Church in the City. As a Guild Church it does not have its own parish, and like many guild churches in London there are no Sunday services.

The church sees its ministry as working with the midweek working population in this area of the City of London. The main Tuesday talks and associated ministry are known as the Aldersgate Talks. Aldersgate Talks helped start Moorgate Talks in 2010, and there are strong links between the two ministries. The church is in partnership with similar ministries across central London.

Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate, on Aldersgate Street in the City of London, is also known as Saint Botolph’s, Aldersgate, and is dedicated to Saint Botolph.

The church was one of four churches in mediaeval London dedicated to Saint Botolph or Botwulf, a seventh-century East Anglian saint, each of which stood by one of the gates to the City.

There are other three churches with confusingly similar names dedicated to Saint Botolph: Saint Botolph’s, Billingsgate, which was destroyed by the Great Fire and not rebuilt; Saint Botolph-without-Aldgate, which I also visited this week; and Saint Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, which I have visited regularly.

Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate … a church may have stood on the site for almost 1,000 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Before the legend of Saint Christopher became popular, Saint Botolph was venerated as the patron saint of travellers, which explains why churches at the City gates have this dedication.

A church may have stood on the site of Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate for almost 1,000 years. The first building was erected ca 1050.

The second church was built in the mid-14th century and survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 with only minor damage. However, it fell into disrepair in the mid-18th century.

The Wesley Flame outside the Museum of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

John and Charles Wesley had spiritual awakenings in 1738 near Saint Botolph’s, probably in a house in Little Britain. Nearby, the Wesley Flame outside the Museum of London reproduces John Wesley’s famous description of his awakening.

The church was completely rebuilt, apart from its east wall, between 1789 and 1791 under the direction of Nathaniel Wright, surveyor to the north district of the City of London, who redesigned the exterior, and Nathaniel Evans, who redesigned the interior.

The new church was built of brick, with a low square bell tower at the west end built on the remains of its stone predecessor.

The plain exterior is in contrast to what John Betjeman called an ‘exalting’ succession of features inside. The interior has wooden galleries supported on square panelled columns, a semi-circular apse with a half dome and a highly decorated plasterwork ceiling.

The east window, painted by James Pearson in 1788, depicts Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church is renowned for its beautiful interior and the organ in the gallery at the west end, which is by Samuel Green and dates from 1788.

The east window is the only surviving painting on glass in a church in the City of London. It was painted by James Pearson in 1788, and depicts Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion.

The two smaller windows on either side were originally by the same artist, but they were destroyed in World War II and replaced by modern windows depicting the apostles Saint John and Saint Paul.

Most of the other stained glass in the church is late Victorian, except for the four windows in the lower south aisle, which show incidents in the history of the area, including John Wesley preaching in Moorfields.

Some monuments were preserved from the old church, including the tomb of Anne Packington, who died in 1563.

The east front was demolished in 1831 and the church was shortened to widen Aldersgate Street. This east façade is a screen wall dating from this work in 1831. It is executed in Roman cement, with a pediment and four attached Ionic columns standing on a high plinth, with a Venetian window between them.

The organ is by Samuel Green and dates from 1788 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church underwent several restorations in the 19th and 20th centuries, and many of the furnishings are from the late 19th century.

Saint Botolph’s churchyard was combined with those of Saint Leonard, Foster Lane, and Christchurch, Newgate Street, into Postman’s Park in 1880. It now contains the Watts Memorial to Historic Self-Sacrifice, commemorating civilian Londoners who died heroic deaths.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. From the mid-1980s, it was restored by Caroe & Partners. Work on the east front was completed in 2008.

The church is used on Sundays by the London City Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland. During the week, it is used for lunchtime services under the auspices of Saint Helen’s Bishopsgate. It is also the rehearsal venue of the Amati Orchestra.

The church is open weekly from 1 pm for Tuesday lunchtime talks, and from 11 am to 3 pm courtesy of the Friends of the City Churches. Christian Heritage London also runs walking tours in this area of the City, which includes a visit to the building.

Most of the other stained glass in the church is late Victorian (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)