The Welsh-born “merchant adventurer” Sir Hugh Myddelton (also spelt Myddleton or Middleton) is best remembered in London for the construction of the New River, a water engineering project which still provides some of city’s water.

Sir-Hugh-MyddeltonBorn about 1560, the sixth son (and one of 16 children) of Richard Myddelton, governor of Denbigh Castle in Wales, Hugh Myddelton travelled to London to seek his fortune and there became apprenticed to a goldsmith before himself becoming a member of the Goldsmith’s Company in 1592 (he later became warden of the company).

Operating out of premises in Bassishaw (now Basinghall Street), he gained a reputation among the wealthy and nobility for his work and was appointed Royal Jeweller to King James I (he had apparently also supplied jewellery to Queen Elizabeth I).

Myddelton became a wealthy merchant and banker, and, in 1603, he also succeeded his father as MP for Denbigh Borough, a post he held repeatedly until 1628.

Sir Hugh became one of the driving forces behind the New River project which aimed to address the strain on London’s water sources by bringing clean water from the River Lea in Hertfordshire via a 39 mile-long canal to New River Head in London.

After an aborted earlier attempt to build a canal from Hertfordshire to London (which had run into financial difficulties), Sir Hugh was granted authority to carry out the works for the New River in 1609 and employed mathematicians like Edward Pond and Edward Wright to direct the course with the man behind the earlier attempt, Edmund Colthurst, overseeing the works.

By 1611 it became clear to Myddelton that he wouldn’t have the necessary funds to complete the works so he obtained the financial aid of the king (in return the king was to get half of all profits).

The project was eventually completed in 1613 and a ceremony was held at the New River Head in Islington where the canal then terminated (just south of where Sadler’s Wells Theatre now stands).

Myddelton, who continued to diversify in business and made considerable sums from his ownership of lead and silver mines in Wales as well as from a land reclamation project on the Isle of Wight, became the first governor of the New River Company when it was created by royal charter in 1619 and remained a key figure in it until his death. He was created a baronet in 1622.

Myddelton, who married twice, had 15 or more children to his second wife – only about half of whom survived him. He died on 7th December, 1631, and was buried in the now demolished St Matthew Friday Street where he had been a church warden (some of his children were buried there as well). One of his brothers, Sir Thomas Myddelton, was a Lord Mayor of London.

Among memorials to Sir Hugh in London is a statue of him on Islington Green which was unveiled in 1872 by William Gladstone, later PM. There is also a statue of him on the Royal Exchange (pictured) and a number of Islington streets have been named for him.

For more on London’s historic water sources, see London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide.

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This strangely named church has its origins at least as far back as the 12th century when it was under the jurisdiction of the Prior and Convent of Canterbury. 

The name St Vedast is in itself unusual – St Vedast (known as St Vaast elsewhere) is said to have been the Bishop of Arras in northern France during the late fifth and early sixth centuries. How his name came to be associated with a church in London remains a matter of speculation but one plausible explanation is that the church was founded in the twelfth century by a small group of French merchants who had emigrated from Arras.

The ‘alias Foster’ part of the name is perhaps easier to explain although it has led to considerable confusion over the years. While some have in the past suggested the name refers to a different obscure saint – that is, the church is dedicated to St Vedast and St Foster – Foster is actually just an corrupted Anglicised version of Vedast.

But back to the church’s history. The medieval building was apparently replaced at the beginning of the sixteenth century and in the early 1600s this was enlarged and “beautified”. It escaped total destruction during the Great Fire of London but was badly enough damaged to require restoration and this was carried out, albeit not very well, so that in the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren was asked to rebuild it.

Given the demands of Wren’s time elsewhere, it’s not known if he personally designed the resulting church (the spire is possibly the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor), but the church was rebuilt and stood until 194o when the body of the building was ruined in the Blitz. The spire, however, survived and the restoration of the remainder of the church was completed in 1962.

It was also after World War II that the city parishes were reorganised and St Vedast-alias-Foster was united with three other former parishes – St Alban Wood Street, St Anne & St Agnes, St Lawrence Jewry, St Mary Aldermanbury, St Michael-le-Querne, St Matthew Friday Street, St Peter Chepe, St Olave Silver Street, St Michael Wood Street, St Mary Staining, St Mary Magdalene Milk Street, St John Zachary, and St Michael Bassishaw, of which only the buildings of St Lawrence Jewry and St Anne and St Agnes remain along with the tower of St Alban Wood Street).

Although the bulk of the building of St Vedast-alias-Foster is modern, the church does retain its seventeenth century Great West Doors and the font also comes from that century, having been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons for the church of St Anne and St Agnes. The reredos which stands behind the altar, meanwhile, is inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and The Creed, and originally stood in St Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street. Other features to come from other churches include the seventeenth century pulpit (All Hallows, Bread Street) and swordrest (St Anne and St Agnes).

The church’s Fountain Courtyard features part of a Roman floor found under St Matthew Friday Street and a stone (actually baked brick) upon which is inscribed cuneiform writing. The latter, which comes from a Zigurrat in modern Iraq built in the 9th century BC, was presented to Canon Mortlock, rector of the church, marking his work with novelist Agatha Christie and her husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan and was found during his 1950-65 dig on the site. The lump of stone bears the name of Shalmaneser who reigned from 858 to 834 BC.

Famous figures associated with the church include John Browne, sergeant painter to King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII who was born in nearby Milk Street, and Thomas Rotherham, rector of the church from from 1463-48 and later Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of King Edward IV.

WHERE: 4 Foster Lane (nearest Tube station is St Paul’s). WHEN: 8am to 5.30pm weekdays/11am to 4pm Saturday (Mass is held between 12.15 and 12.45 weekdays and a sung Eucharist at 11am on Sundays) COST: Free but a donation of at least £1 per head is asked; WEBSITE: www.vedast.org.uk.

Look a little deeper and you’ll find there’s often a fascinating story behind many of London’s seemingly odd place names. Churches are no exception and in this new series we’re looking at some of the stories behind the name. First up, it’s the church of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, a rather austere-looking church which looms up over Queen Victoria Street.

While the present church largely dates from after World War II – it was bombed during the Blitz and only the outer walls remain of what was there before (the previous church was itself a rebuild to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren after an earlier version was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666) – there has apparently been a church on the site since at least the 12th century. Indeed, in the 13th century it was associated with the then royal residence known as Baynard’s Castle.

The church’s rather unusual name owes its origins to King Edward III’s decision in 1361 to move the Royal Wardrobe – which included his state robes and other valuables – from the Tower of London to a new building which lay near to the church (there’s a plaque in nearby Wardrobe Place marking the former location of the King’s Wardrobe which also burnt down in the Great Fire and was subsequently relocated). Hence St Andrew-by-the Wardrobe.

While the interior of the church is a complete reconstruction of Wren’s original, it does still boast some early treasures including  an original pulpit as well as a font and cover of Wren’s period (these come from the now long gone church of St Matthew Friday Street), a figure of St Andrew dating from about 1600 and another of St Ann (mother of Mary), who is holding her daughter who is in turn holding Jesus, dating from about a century earlier. There’s also a royal coat of arms – dating from the Stuart period – which originally came from St Olave’s Old Jewry.

Among the most prominent residents in the church’s parish was the playwright William Shakespeare (there’s a rather odd oak and limewood memorial to him and a contemporary composer, singer and musician, John Dowland – who was  buried in the churchyard, inside). Another Shakespearian contemporary, Ben Jonson, also apparently lived in the parish. The church also has links with with the Mercers, Apothecaries and Blacksmiths livery companies.

Earlier this year St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, which is a sister church to St James Garlickhythe (another unusually named church), celebrated 50 years since its post war reopening in 1961.

WHERE: Access is via St Andrew’s Hill or Queen Victoria Street (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s and Mansion House). WHEN: The church building and the Chapel of St Ann are normally open for visitors between 10am and 4pm weekdays while the nave is open on Fridays from 11am to 3pm (check with the church before going); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.standrewbythewardrobe.net.