10 London buildings that were relocated…3. St Mary Aldermanbury…

October 7, 2020

This church – not to be confused with the similarly named but still existing St Mary Aldermary – once stood at the corner of Love Lane and Aldermanbury in the City of London.

St Mary Aldermanbury, now part of the National Churchill Museum on the campus of Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, in the US. PICTURE: J. Stephen Conn (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Founded in the 11th or early 12th century, the church – the name of which apparently relates to an endowment it received from an Alderman Bury, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in a simple form with no spire.

It was gutted during the Blitz – one of 13 Wren churches hit on the night of 13th December, 1940 – and the ruins were not rebuilt. Instead, in the 1960s (and this is where we get to the relocation part) a plan was put into action to relocate the church so it could form part of a memorial to Winston Churchill in the grounds of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

It was only after four years of planning and fundraising (the project apparently cost some $US1.5 million with the money raised from donors including actor Richard Burton) that the relocation process finally began in 1965.

PICTURE: Jonathan Pearson
(licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It started with workers in London cleaning, removing and labelling each of the church’s 7,000 stones so they could be reconstructed correctly on the other side of the Atlantic.

They were shipped free-of-charge – the US Shipping Board moved them as ship’s ballast – and then taken by rail to Fulton.

By the time the stones reached Fulton they had been jumbled. And so began the painstaking process of reassembling what was described as the “biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture” (with the stones spread over an acre, it apparently took a day just to find the first two stones).

While the first shovel on the project had been turned by former US President Harry S Truman on 19th April, 1964 (his connection to the project will become clear), the foundation stone was laid in October, 1966, 300 years after the Great Fire of London.

The shell of the church was completed by May, 1967. Two more years of work saw the church’s interior recreated with English woodcarvers, working from pre-war photographs, to make the pulpit, baptismal font, and balcony (new glass was also manufactured and five new bronze bells cast for the tower). The finished church, which was rededicated in May, 1969, was almost an exact replica of the original but apparently for a new organ gallery and a tower window.

Why Fulton for a tribute to Churchill? The connection between Churchill and Westminster College went back to the post war period – it was in the college’s historic gymnasium building that, thanks to a connection the institution had with President Truman, Churchill was to give one of his most famous speeches – the 1946 speech known as ‘Sinews of Peace’ in which he first put forward the concept of an “Iron Curtain” descending between Eastern and Western Europe.

The church is now one part of the National Churchill Museum, which also includes a museum building and the ‘Breakthrough’ sculpture made from eight sections of the Berlin Wall. It was selected for the memorial – planned to mark the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s speech – thanks to its destruction in the Blitz, commemorating in particular the inspiring role Churchill had played in ensuring the British people remained stalwart despite the air raids.

St Mary Aldermanbury Gardens in London. PICTURE: Bogdan Tapu (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Meanwhile, back in London the site of the church has been turned into a garden. It contains a memorial to John Heminges and Henry Condell, two Shakespearean actors who published the first folio of the Bard’s works and were buried in the former church. The footings upon which the church once stood can still be seen in the garden and have been Grade II-listed since 1972.

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