This Week in London – A Queen’s garden party; the Great Fire 350 Festival; and, getting behind the scenes at the Museum of London…
August 18, 2016
• Join Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, for a garden party in the grounds of Kensington Palace this weekend. The celebrations include music, military drills and live performances in a bid to bring the era of the Georgians to life. Visitors can listen to court gossip, learn how to play popular music and devise ways to amuse the queen as they pop in and out of a range of tents set up in the gardens, each of which contains a different activity, from uncovering dress secrets to designing a mini-garden fit for a king or queen. There’s even the chance to sample some Georgian ice-cream in the ice-house. The days will be held from today until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Via HRP
• The Great Fire 350 Festival – marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London – is underway and there’s a range of events being held in London over this month and next. While we’ll be mentioning some of these a little closer to actual anniversary date, meantime there are bi-weekly walks, a ‘Fire Trail’ treasure hunt and a new Monument app to keep you busy. The latter allows visitors to conduct a self-guided ‘Great Fire journey’ focusing on the fire itself, the commemoration of the blaze and London as we know it now as well as taking users into the minds of Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke – designers of The Monument. Available for download from Android Market and Apple App Store. For more on the events running as part of the anniversary, see www.visitlondon.com/greatfire350/events.
• Take a behind the scenes look at the Museum of London – and see some rarely exhibited objects – in an exhibition which opened late last month. The free display allows visitors to catch a glimpse of some of the work that goes on behind the scenes and see objects usually housed in the museum’s extensive stores including a detailed model of the process engraving department at the Evening Standard newspaper in 1977, an ice-cream maker and moulds from around 1910, and a confectioner’s icing stand from about 1900. The exhibition can be seen until 15th September. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
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August 15, 2016
It’s the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London ands we thought we’d take a quick look at what happened in the aftermath.
With much of the city razed in the four day fire of early September, 1666, attention quickly turned to the rebuilding of the City and within just a few days, proposals began coming in for the recreation – and transformation – of London.
Christopher Wren, John Evelyn and Robert Hooke were among those who put forward new designs for the city along with the likes of one Richard Newcourt, whose proposed rigid grid featuring churches set in squares wasn’t adopted for London but was eventually for the streets of Philadelphia in what is now the United States of America.
None of these plans – Wren’s vision had apparently been inspired by the Gardens of Versailles while Evelyn’s was an Italianate city with wide piazzas – were eventually adopted, however, thanks largely to the difficulty in working out who owned which properties in the city (people had more on their mind, such as survival perhaps).
In October, 1666, King Charles II – who had encouraged many of those left homeless to move out of the City out of fears that a rebellion was in the offing – joined with the City authorities in appointing six commissioners to regulate the rebuilding (a key factor in which was the mandatory use of brick in place of wood).
Their actions were supported by a couple of parliamentary acts – drawn up to regulate the rebuilding and allow for the opening and widening of roads, among other things – and the establishment of specially convened Fire Courts to deal with property disputes (owners had to clear roadways of debris and establish their rights of ownership before they could start reconstruction).
Rebuilding was, not surprisingly, to take years – after all, almost 400 acres had been burned within the City walls and 63 acres outside them with more than 80 churches, 44 livery halls and more than 13,000 houses among the casualties. And it was patchy with new buildings standing alongside empty blocks awaiting reconstruction.
Construction of the many grand public buildings destroyed in the fire, such as St Paul’s Cathedral, would also take years (the cathedral, Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, wasn’t completed until 1711).
PICTURE: The Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London, is among the works of Sir Christopher Wren (for more on the Monument, see our earlier post here).
October 2, 2015
This church, which survived until it was largely destroyed by bombing in World War II, isn’t completely lost – its tower still survives in the middle of Wood Street in the City.
The church, one of a number dedicated to St Alban (Britain’s first Christian martyr) in London throughout its history, was medieval in origin although it has been argued its foundation dates back to the 8th century Saxon King Offa of Mercia who is believed to have had a palace here with the chapel on this site (Offa is also credited as the founder of St Alban’s Abbey).
The church had fallen into disrepair by the early 17th century and was demolished and rebuilt in 1630s. It proved unfortunate timing for only 32 years later it was completely destroyed again, this time in the Great Fire of London.
Following the Great Fire, the church, now combined with the parish of St Olave, Silver Street, was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren and completed in the mid-1680s.
It was restored in the late 1850s under the eye of Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and the four pinnacles on the tower, which stood on the north side of the church, were replaced later that century.
It survived until World War II when the building was burnt out and partly destroyed on a single night during the Blitz in December, 1940. The remains, with the exception of Wren’s Perpendicular-style tower, were later demolished in the 1950s (by which time the church had been united with the parish of St Vedast, Foster Lane).
The Grade II*-listed tower was converted into a rather unusual private dwelling in the 1980s.
September 2, 2015
Situated just off Cannon Street, this much overlooked tiny raised garden was created on the site of the former Church of St Swithin. The church is believed to have existed here as early as the 11th century and was replaced, thanks largely to the generosity of Lord Mayor Sir John Hind, with a larger building in the early part of the 15th century – it featured one of the first towers built specifically for the task of hanging bells inside.
The church was among those destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 but, now united with the parish of St Mary Bothaw, was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren shortly after in 1677-88.
Later known as St Swithin, London Stone thanks to the mysterious London Stone being built into the south wall of the church in the late 18th century (for more on the stone and its current location, see our earlier post here), the church survived until World War II when it was damaged beyond repair during bombing and was later destroyed.
Relandscaped in 2010, the garden features a rather dramatic memorial (pictured) to the suffering of women and children in war in general and medieval figure, Catrin Glyndwr in particular. Unveiled in 2001, it was designed by Nic Stradlyn-John and sculpted by Richard Renshaw.
The daughter of the Welsh Prince Owain Glyndwr, she was captured in 1409 and brought with her children and mother to the Tower of London. Catrin and two of her children died in late 1413 and were buried in the former church.
WHERE: St Swithin’s Church Garden, Salters Hall Court off Cannon Street (nearest Tube station is Cannon Street); WHEN: daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bost.org.uk/open-places/red-cross-garden/.
August 12, 2015
The church of St Mary Aldermanbury (the name may relate to its proximity close to Guildhall, or the ‘Alderman’s Bury’ or ‘Alderman’s Hall’), mentioned as far back as the late 12th century, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but was among those rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren only to be destroyed again during the Blitz in 1940.
There they were reconstructed in the grounds of Westminster College – site of Winston Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 – and the church restored as a memorial to the former British PM. The National Churchill Museum is located beneath.
There’s plaque mentioning this in the gardens (and featuring an image of what the church looked like after its reconstruction in Fulton) which still contains the church’s footings (these date from the 15th century when the church was apparently partially rebuilt) and give an indication of what the church’s footprint would have been along with headstones (among those whose remains were buried here was the notorious Judge Jeffreys).
Other features include a memorial to Henry Condell and John Heminge, both involved in the publication of William Shakespeare’s first folio (you can read more about it in our earlier post here).
The garden was laid out after the church was removed. It is a designated Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation and attracts wildlife including birds such as blackbirds, woodpigeons, house sparrows and blue tits. Plantings were added in 2011 to maximise the attraction to bird as well as bees and butterflies. On the corner outside the garden is a fountain.
WHERE: St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Aldermanbury, City of London (nearest Tube stations are St Pauls and Monument); WHEN: 8am to 7pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/St-Mary-Aldermanbury.aspx.
August 5, 2015
Located amid the remains of the medieval church of St Dunstan in the East, the garden was created in the late 1960s after the church was finally – and irrevocably, apparently – destroyed in the Blitz of World War II.
The church’s origins went back to around 1100 and it was subsequently extended with a new south aisle in the late 14th century and repaired in the early 17th century before being severely damaged in the Great Fire of 1666.
Patched up, with a new steeple and tower added to the building between 1695-1701 by Sir Christopher Wren, the building stood until the early 19th century when much of the church – with the exception of Wren’s additions – had to be rebuilt (for more on the history of the church, see our earlier Lost London post here).
The ‘new’ building was, however, badly damaged during bombing in 1941 and it was decided not to rebuild the church in the aftermath of the war.
The City of London opened a garden, sympathetic with the remains of the Grade I-listed building, on the site in 1971 (although Wren’s tower remains). They won a landscape award only a few years later.
Features in these atmospheric gardens – which seem to capture the essence of the Romantic idea of what ruins should look like – include a fountain which sits in the middle of the nave. In 2010 it was one of five public gardens in the City where award-winning ‘insect hotels’ were installed.
Maintenance works were carried out in 2015 and new plantings put in (the picture, above, was taken before this).
WHERE: St Dunstan in the East, between Idol Lane and St Dunstan’s Hill, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Monument and Tower Hill); WHEN: 8am to 7pm or dusk (whichever is earlier); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/city-gardens/visitor-information/Pages/St-Dunstan-in-the-East.aspx
A short-lived addition to Old St Paul’s Cathedral before it burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, the classical-style portico was designed by Inigo Jones as part of makeover King James I ordered him to give the cathedral in the first half of the 17th century.
St Paul’s, which was completed in the early 14th century in the Early English Gothic style (see our post here for more on its earlier history), had fallen into a state of disrepair by the 1620s, thanks in part to a fire caused by lightning which had brought the spire – 489 feet (149 metres) high when built – crashing down through the nave roof in 1561.
The spire wasn’t rebuilt and repair works undertaken to the cathedral roof were apparently shoddy, meaning that by the early 1600s, things were in a parlous state.
Jones started work in the 1620s, cleaning and repairing the massive structure and adding a layer of limestone masonry over the exterior to give the building a more classical look inspired by the temples of ancient Rome he had seen in that city and in Naples and the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio.
This was complemented by the grand portico he added to the west front in the 1630s (and which was paid for by King James’ son, King Charles I). Featuring 10 columns across its breadth and four deep (these, it has been suggested, stood about 45 feet tall), it was topped by a frieze of lions’ heads and foliage with plans for a series of statues which some say were to be saints and others kings to be placed along the top (in the end only statues of King Charles I and King James I were ever placed there). The facade also featured turrets at either side.
Work on the repairs came to a halt in 1642 thanks to the Civil War, during which Parliamentarian forces famously used the cathedral’s great nave for stables.
Following the Restoration in 1660, with Jones now dead (he died in 1652), Sir Christopher Wren was invited by King Charles II to restore the grand old building but Sir Christopher proposed it be demolished instead, a decision which lead to an outcry among London’s citizens.
Wren then changed his plans to instead restore the existing build but replace the spire with a dome. His scaffolding was in place around the cathedral when the Great Fire broke out in 1666 and badly damaged the building (although the portico apparently remained standing until 1687-88 when Sir Christopher had it demolished to make way for his new western front).
Interestingly, it is said Wren used blocks from the portico to create the foundations for the building which now stands on the site.
PICTURE: Wenceslaus Hollar’s rendering of Inigo Jones’ West Portico/Wikipedia
For more on the history of St Paul’s Cathedral see Ann Saunders’ St Paul’s Cathedral: 1,400 Years at the Heart of London.
The first great stone cathedral on the site where Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s now stands was a relative – and as yet incomplete – newcomer in 1215. Construction on it had started more than 120 years before in 1087 but it eventually took more than 200 years to finish.
It was Bishop Maurice, chaplain to William the Conqueror (he donated some Caen stone for its construction), who began the project after the previous wooden Saxon church on the site – the latest in a succession of them dating back to the 7th century – had been destroyed by fire (although it was under successor Bishop Richard de Beaumis that work began to really take shape).
The first part of the building to be completed was the quire in 1148 – its opening was delayed by another fire in 1135 caused during civil unrest following the death of King Henry I – but it wasn’t until after the Magna Carta’s advent – in 1240 – that the church was eventually consecrated by Bishop Roger Niger.
Originally designed in the Norman Romanesque-style, the architectural style changed during the building process into the Early English Gothic style.
Enlarged and renovated several times since construction began, it wasn’t fully completed until the 14th century – when it was the largest church in England and the third largest in Europe featuring the tallest steeple, built in 1221, and spire, built in 1315, ever built (that is, until 1561 when it was knocked down by lightning).
It later contained a number of important relics including the arms of Mellitus, the first bishop of London (see our earlier post on him here), St Mary Magdalene’s hair, the head of King Ethelbert and, importantly for the time, some pieces from the skull of St Thomas á Becket. Among the tombs inside the emerging church in 1215 were those of Sebba, King of the East Saxons, who had been buried in the north aisle in 695, and that of King Ethelred “The Unready”.
While the exterior was remodelled in the early 17th century – including the addition of a monumental new porch by architect Inigo Jones – the medieval building remained standing until the Great Fire of 1666.
PICTURE: Via Wikipedia
April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
We finish our series on Winston Churchill, we take a look at a couple of the more odd memorials to him in London.
First up, it’s the remains of the church of St Mary Aldermanbury in the City. Among the scores of churches destroyed in the Great Fire of London, it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren but was again gutted by fire during the Blitz of 1940, leaving only the walls standing. In 1966, the town of Fulton, Missouri, in the US had the remains of the building transported to their town where they were reconstructed in the grounds of Westminster College. It was there that he had made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 and the citizens had the church restored as a memorial to him (beneath the reconstructed church now lies National Churchill Museum). The scant remains of the church in London (pictured above), meanwhile, is now a green oasis in the midst of the city. There’s a memorial plaque at the site which were added by the US college. (The grounds, incidentally are also home to a monument to John Heminge and Henry Condell, two actors and friends of Shakespeare – you can read more on that in an earlier post here).
The second odd Churchill memorial we’re looking at is a clock face located on the facade of Bracken House – a building which sits opposite St Paul’s in the City. The astronomical clock, the work of Philip Bentham, features shows the time, date and astronomical symbol as well as a sunburst at its centre – look closely and you’ll see a familiar face at the centre. The building, which dates from the 1950s, is apparently named after Brendan Bracken, onetime chairman of the Financial Times which was published in the building until the 1980s. The Churchill connection comes in thanks to the fact that Bracken was a close personal friend of Churchill and served as his Minister of Information from 1941 to 1945.
And that brings to an end our series on Churchill. Next week we kick off a new Wednesday series.
Still on designs for royal palaces and today we’re looking at two designs for the same palace. Both Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) drew up designs for the remodelling and expansion of Whitehall Palace.
First up was the neo-classical architect Jones who drew up plans for a vast complex of buildings (pictured left) which would replace the Tudor palace King Henry VIII had created when he transformed the grand house formerly known as York Place into a residence suitable for a king (York Place had previously been a residence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and prior to that, the London residence of the Archbishops of York).
Jones’ complex – which apparently featured seven internal courts – covered much of what is now known as Whitehall as well as neighbouring St James’s Park with a magnificent River Thames frontage.
The first part of Jones’ grand scheme – the Banqueting House (see our earlier post here) – opened in 1622. It still survives today – pictured above – and gives a taste of the grandeur of his overall scheme.
Yet, despite the eagerness of King James I for the project, it failed to materialise. English Heritage chief executive Simon Thurley told the BBC in 2012 that the hall represented only five per cent of what Jones had planned.
King James I died in 1625 and his son King Charles I was apparently keen to continue the project – so much so that Jones submitted new plans in 1638 – but he didn’t find the funds the project needed (and, of course, as we know, then became consumed by the events of the Civil War before being beheaded outside the Banqueting House in 1649).
Following the Restoration, in the 1660s King Charles II apparently had Sir Christopher Wren quietly draw up plans to redevelop the palace but these weren’t follow through on although during the reign of King James II he did work on several projects at the palace including a new range of royal riverside apartments, terrace (remains of which can still be seen) and a chapel.
In 1698, much of the bloated Whitehall Palace – then the largest palace in Europe with more than 1,500 rooms – burnt down although the Banqueting House, though damaged, survived basically intact (in fact there’s an interesting anecdote, its veracity questionable, which has it that on hearing of the fire Wren rushed to the site and had an adjacent building blown up to create a firebreak and ensure the Banqueting House was saved).
The then king, King William III, approached Wren and he again submitted plans for its rebuilding (prior to the fire, he had already worked on several aspects of the palace including a new range of royal apartments and a chapel for King James II).
But Wren’s plans – images show a grand domed building – were largely never realised (although he did convert the Banqueting House into a chapel) and the destroyed palace never rebuilt (no doubt in large part due to the fact that King William III preferred a more rural and less damp location – such as that of Kensington Palace – thanks to his asthma).
For more on the history of the Palace of Whitehall, see Simon Thurley’s Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History.
November 11, 2014
Pictured is the south bank of the Thames showing the buildings of the former Thames Tunnel Mills (now converted to residences). The tower of the Church of St Mary the Virgin is in the background – the church dates from 1716 and was designed by John James, an associate of Sir Christopher Wren.
Constructed on the site of the Duke of Somerset’s Tudor-era mansion, Somerset House as we know it today owes its origins to a national scheme aimed at creating public buildings in London which would rival those of Continental cities.
The campaign led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1775 for the construction of a new public building at Somerset House to house government agencies such as the Navy Office, Salt Office, Surveyor General of Lands, the King’s Bargemaster and the offices of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall as well as various learned societies.
The former building – which had been worked on by the likes of Sir Christopher Wren and which had been used as a residence for the likes of King Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, following his death, had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair and was demolished in 1775.
William Robinson, secretary of the Office of Works, was initially given the job of designing the new building (much to the discontent of some) but after his sudden death the same year, the task was given to Sir William Chambers, comptroller of the Office of Works and one of England’s leading architects.
The basic design was as it appears today – four ranges built around a central court (now named the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court). The Strand Block, located to the north and the most highly decorated of the buildings inside and out, was built first and largely completed by 1780, the Embankment Building (home of the Navy Office) in 1786 and the east and west ranges two years later.
When Chambers died with the work unfinished in 1796, it was carried to completion by James Wyatt and declared complete in 1801, despite the fact elements of Chambers’ design were still outstanding. It had cost more than £460,000, in excess of three times Robinson’s original estimate.
One of the first new occupants – thanks to a decision by King George III – was the fledgling Royal Academy of Arts (it had been one of the last occupants of the former premises) and its focal point was the Great Exhibition Room where exhibitions were held until 1836. Others in the new building included The Royal Society (it remained until 1837 when, like the RA, it moved to Burlington House) and the Society of Antiquaries (it moved to Burlington House in 1874).
As well as being home to various offices of the Navy Board (the southern building, where it was housed, contains the stunning, now restored, Nelson stair), Somerset House was also home to the Inland Revenue.
New additions were made to the original design in the nineteenth century – the extension of the south block to the east and addition of a New Wing to the west – and the construction of the Victoria Embankment (see our earlier post here) meant the two watergates Chambers had designed became landlocked. Somerset House no longer rose directly from the water as he’d intended but from a roadway (as it does today – we’ve mentioned this before but you can see the original riverbank by looking through the glass floor of the building’s Embankment entrance).
Somerset House is these days home to a range of cultural and artistic organisations – from the British Fashion Council to the National Youth Orchestra and, in the north wing, the Courtauld Institute of Art. And as well as hosting various art installations, the central courtyard is host to an ice-skating rink over winter.
For more on Somerset House, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.
This iconic church on the edge of Trafalgar Square, known for its musical associations, is another of the works of architect James Gibbs and, as with St Mary le Strand, the current building was constructed in the first half of the 18th century to replace an earlier building.
The first references to a church on the site of the present building date back to the 13th century when, constructed upon a Roman burial site, it was apparently used by monks from Westminster. It was replaced by King Henry VIII around 1542 and enlarged in 1602 before finally being demolished in 1721.
Gibbs’ apparently first suggested the design feature a round nave with a dome over the top but the proposal was rejected as too expensive and a simpler, rectangle-shaped church was subsequently agreed upon and eventually completed in 1726. Part of the design inspiration comes from Sir Christopher Wren, although Gibbs’ integration of the tower into the church was a departure from Wren’s designs (the church spire rises 192 foot into the air).
Among the features of the interior are ceiling panels in the nave which feature cherubs and shells and are the work of ceiling experts Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti. Other items of interest include Chaim Stephenson‘s sculpture, Victims of Injustice and Violence, remembering all victims during apartheid in South Africa (it was dedicated by Desmond Tutu in 1994), a statue of St Martin and the Beggar by James Butler, and, on the porch, Mike Chapman‘s sculpture marking the millennium, Christ Child. Paintings include one of James Gibbs himself by Andrea Soldi and dating from 1800.
Among those buried in the church are furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac and notorious robber Jack Sheppard (he’s buried in the churchyard). The crypt also contains a life-sized marble statue of Henry Croft, London’s first pearly king, which was moved there from St Pancras Cemetery in 2002.
As well as being the location of the first religious broadcast, its musical heritage includes performances by Handel and Mozart and being the location of the first performance of its namesake chamber orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
Since the early 20th century, the church has been noted for its work with the homeless (thanks in particular to the work of Vicar Dick Sheppard). Meanwhile, its connections with music – which date back to its rebuilding – continue in the concerts held in the crypt cafe. The crypt also hosts art exhibitions.
The church underwent a £36 million renewal project in the Noughties. Additions included the new east window by Shirazeh Houshiary.
WHERE: St Martin-in-the-Fields on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square (nearest tube stations are Charing Cross, Leicester Square and Embankment); WHEN: Open weekdays and weekends – times vary, see website for details; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org.
This oddly located church on the Strand is the work of acclaimed architect James Gibbs – the first public project he embarked upon after returning from Italy where he had trained.
While the history of St Mary le Strand goes at least back to the Middle Ages (and it initially stood just south of the current churches’ position on land currently occupied by Somerset House), the construction of the current church – the first of 50 built in London under a special commission aimed at, well, seeing more churches built in the capital to meet the needs of the growing population – began around 1715 (the foundation stone was laid on 25th February, the year after the accession of King George I.)
While building was briefly delayed by the Jacobite rising which broke out in 1715, the church was finally consecrated for use on 1st January, 1723.
Gibbs, who trained under a baroque master – a style which contrasted with the Palladian-style favoured by Lord Burlington and others, had apparently originally intended the church to be in the Italianate style with a campanile over the west end instead of the steeple but this scheme also included a 250 foot high column surmounted by a statue of Queen Anne located to the west of the church which would celebrate the work of the commission (it’s also worth noting that the churches built by the committee – and they didn’t get close to building 50 – were known as “Queen Anne Churches” despite their construction taking place largely after her death).
However, plans for the column were abandoned on the queen’s death on 1st August, 1714, and instead Gibbs – a Roman Catholic who thanks to his supposed Jacobite sympathies apparently finished the project without pay, was ordered to use the stone which had been gathered to build the steeple and, thanks to that, amend his plans for the church into an oblong form rather than the square form he had initially intended. The work shows the influence of Sir Christopher Wren as well as churches in Italy.
The interior has been remodelled several times since its creation. The white and gold plastered ceiling was apparently inspired by the work of Italian sculptor and architect Luigi Fontana on two Roman churches and other features include paintings by American artist Mather Brown (these were put in place in 1785 and are located on panels on the side walls of the chancel – they were restored in 1994), while the crucifix behind the altar was presented by parishioners in 1893.
It the late 1800s, the London County Council proposed demolishing the church so it could widen the Strand for traffic but this plan was abandoned after an outcry led by artist Walter Crane (although the graveyard was removed).
Famous faces associated with the church include Charles Dickens’ parents, John and Elizabeth, who were married here in 1809, and there’s a story that during a secret visit to London in 1750, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) renounced the Roman Catholic Church by receiving Anglican communion here. The parish currently includes that of nearby St Clement Danes after the church was bombed in 1941 (it’s now central church of the Royal Air Force).
WHERE: St Mary le Strand, Strand (nearest tube stations are Temple, Covent Garden, Holborn, Charing Cross and Embankment); WHEN: Usually open 11am to 4pm from Tuesdays to Thursdays and 10am to 1pm Sundays; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmarylestrand.org.
October 21, 2013
This central London thoroughfare runs through the heart of the City of London and has been a main thoroughfare since Roman times.
Stretching from Eastcheap (near the Monument) to Leadenhall Street, the street runs over the site of what was Roman London’s forum and basilica (see our earlier post on the Roman buildings here).
The name, meanwhile, comes from the former medieval church of St Benet Gracechurch which was once located on the corner of Gracechurch and Fenchurch Streets.
The church, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren before finally being demolished in 1876, was named for St Benedict (St Benet is a short form) while Gracechurch – which was used after the Great Fire – was a corruption of Grasschurch, a reference to it being located near a hay market (in fact, the church was also known as St Benet Grass). The street was also known as Gracious Street.
PICTURE: Looking down Gracechurch Street toward the Monument.
For more on London’s Wren churches, see John Christopher’s Wren’s City of London Churches.
September 20, 2013
The ruins of this medieval church can still be found in the eastern end of the City of London and now play host to a rather delightful little park.
Originally built around 1,100 in the Gothic style, the church – which stands between St Dunstan’s Hill and Idol Lane (off Great Tower Street) was enlarged and repaired in ensuing centuries before suffering severe damage in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Not enough to destroy the church, however, and it was repaired in the late 1660s with a new steeple and tower designed by Sir Christopher Wren to fit with the existing structure, was added in the late 1690s. Inside were carvings by Grinling Gibbons.
But by the early 19th century, however, the weight of the roof had pushed the walls dramatically out of line and, after an unsuccessful attempt to repair the church, it was decided to demolish it (with the exception of Wren’s tower) and rebuild.
Built in the Perpendicular style to the designs of David Laing, the new church reopened in 1821.
The church lasted for more than 100 years before it was again severely damaged, this time during the Blitz of 1941. Wren’s spire and tower thankfully remained but other than that it was a shell with only the north and south walls remaining.
The Anglican Church decided not to rebuild – the parish was incorporated into that of All Hallows by the Tower – and the City of London Corporation opted to turn the (now) Grade I-Iisted remains into a public park. It was opened in 1971 by the then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Peter Studd.
It remains there today, with beautiful climbing foliage – including many exotic plants – and a fountain in the nave. The tower, meanwhile, is used by a complementary medical centre.
A great place to pass a lunch hour!
September 9, 2013
The street, which is just 180 metres long, bears the same name as a great Roman road which ran all the way from Dover through London to the long gone Roman town of Viroconium (now known as Wroxeter in Shropshire).
The Roman road followed, to some extent, the route of an ancient Celtic pathway. But while the Celtic pathway crossed the Thames at Westminster, the Roman road, once the bridge was constructed, crossed at London Bridge and headed through London, apparently taking in this surviving piece.
The building itself – located on the intersection with Bow Lane – is said to have been constructed from old ship’s timbers by none other than Sir Christopher Wren in 1668. The upstairs rooms were said to have been used as a drawing office during the construction of Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral. It may have also been used as pub by the workmen building the cathedral – in fact it’s said to have been the first pub built after the Great Fire of 1666.
The pub is part of the Nicholson group. For more on it, check out www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/yeoldewatlingwatlingstreetlondon.
PICTURE: Duncan Harris/Wikipedia