st-olave-silver-streetMany of the monuments commemorating the Great Fire of London, date from succeeding centuries (the Monument being a notable exception), one of the earliest can apparently commemorating the site of the Church of St Olave Silver Street.

The church dated from at least the 12th century and is one of a number in London which were apparently named after King Olaf, the first Christian King of Norway who fought alongside the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred II against the Danes in England in the 11th century.

The church served as the parish church of the silversmiths and apparently in recognition of that boasted a figure of Christ on the cross which had silver shoes.

The church had been rebuilt in the early 1600s but was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London and never rebuilt, the parish united with that of St Alban Wood Street.

The site of the church, now on the corner of London Wall and Noble Street, is now a garden and boasts an almost illegible plaque featuring a skull and crossbones, which is believed to date from the late 17th century, and which commemorates the destruction of the church in the Great Fire.

PICTURE: © Chris Downer/CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

St-Alban's-Wood-StreetThe 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.

The playwright is believed to have lived in several different locations in London and is also known to have invested in a property. Here we take a look at a couple of different locations associated with him…

St-Helen'sBishopsgate: Shakespeare is believed to have lived here in the 1590s – in 1596 tax records show he was living in the parish of St Helen’s. The twin-nave church of St Helen’s Bishopsgate (pictured), which would have been his parish church, still stands. In fact, there is a window to Shakespeare’s memory dating from the late 19th century.

•  Bankside: In the late 1590s, Shakespeare apparently moved across the Thames to Bankside where he lived at a property on lands in the Liberty of the Clink which belonged to the Bishop of Winchester. The exact address remains unknown.

Silver Street, Cripplegate: It’s known that in 1604, Shakespeare moved from Bankside back to the City – it’s been speculated outbreaks of plaque may have led him to do so. Back in the City, he rented lodgings at the house of Christopher and Mary Mountjoy in on the corner of Monkwell and Silver Streets in Cripplegate, not far from St Paul’s Cathedral. Mountjoy was a refugee, a French Huguenot, and a tire-maker (manufacturer of ladies’ ornamental headresses). The house, which apparently stood opposite the churchyard of the now removed St Olave Silver Street, was consumed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the church was also lost in the Great Fire). The former church site is now located on the south side of London Wall. Silver Street itself was wiped out in the Blitz and is now lost under the Barbican redevelopment but the house lives on in a representation found on a late 16th century map created by Ralph Agas.

Ireland Yard, Blackfriars: In 1613, Shakespeare purchased the former gatehouse of the Blackfriars Priory located here, close to the where the Blackfriars Theatre was located. It is believed the property was purchased as an investment – there’s no evidence he ever lived there but it was passed to his daughter Susanna after his death. Incidentally, there is some speculation that Shakespeare may have lived in Blackfriars when he first came to London – a man believed to have been a boyhood friend from Stratford, Richard Field, who was known to have lived there.

For a more in-depth look at Shakespeare’s time in Silver Street, see Charles Nicholl’s The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street.

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.