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Heritage - 48: Wren's Tribute, Post-1666 Fire Churches & Monuments in London's Square Mile

Updated on February 12, 2019

Before we begin our tour, let's remember...

Iconic Herbert Mason picture taken 29th December, 1940 at the height of the 'Blitz'. St Paul's Cathedral was saved from the flames by men of the Fire Brigade from as far off as Southampton to deal with fires on the worst night of the bombing
Iconic Herbert Mason picture taken 29th December, 1940 at the height of the 'Blitz'. St Paul's Cathedral was saved from the flames by men of the Fire Brigade from as far off as Southampton to deal with fires on the worst night of the bombing | Source

Back to the present: Let's set out from Bishopsgate, near Liverpool Street Station... We'll look at St Botolph's church first

From the front, facing Bishopsgate, the church of St Botolph, patron saint of travellers - there are two other churches dedicated to him in the City, although only this one is a wren church.  the other two sited near the city gates as was this one
From the front, facing Bishopsgate, the church of St Botolph, patron saint of travellers - there are two other churches dedicated to him in the City, although only this one is a wren church. the other two sited near the city gates as was this one | Source
From the west - I had to make sure the modern building behind didn't intrude - the distinct brickwork and window design with the tower and street frontage picked out like icing on a cake
From the west - I had to make sure the modern building behind didn't intrude - the distinct brickwork and window design with the tower and street frontage picked out like icing on a cake | Source

Before the Great Fire of London destroyed most, there were 111 churches within the walls of the City of London - what we call 'the square mile'

Of them eighty were destroyed, fifty-one rebuilt under Wren's guidance and to his designs.

Currently forty-seven of them have survived. In all they reflect a variety of architectural history, from the lofty Norman choir of St Bartholomew the Great near Smithfield Market, by way of the unusual design of St Katherine Cree of the earlier 17th Century. wren's own more classically inclined architectural selection and Nicholas Hawksmoor's St Mary Woolnoth to the late Georgian-Gothic Revival of St Bartholomew the Lesser, and St Dunstan in the West are a few of the examples of the variety of styles extant in the Stuart era in London.

We leave Bishopsgate to walk southward to Mincing Lane, to take a look at...

Between office blocks and shops is the church of St Margaret Patten. You see the tower at an oblique angle before the rest of the building comes into view...
Between office blocks and shops is the church of St Margaret Patten. You see the tower at an oblique angle before the rest of the building comes into view... | Source
Following a raised walkway and stepping onto the stone edging gives this head-on view before following the pedestrianised street towards London Bridge where...
Following a raised walkway and stepping onto the stone edging gives this head-on view before following the pedestrianised street towards London Bridge where... | Source
You come across The Monument, a tower with internal access (stairs) to its pinnacle. If the tower were laid out along he ground it would point to the site of the baker's shop on Pudding Lane where the fire started on 2nd September, 1666.
You come across The Monument, a tower with internal access (stairs) to its pinnacle. If the tower were laid out along he ground it would point to the site of the baker's shop on Pudding Lane where the fire started on 2nd September, 1666. | Source

Following the Great Fire Christopher Wren received instruction from a Royal Commission...

...To rebuild fifty-one of the burnt-out City churches, for which he would later be awarded a knighthood from Charles II.

His masterpiece was definitely St Paul's Cathedral. Yet within a half mile of St Paul's there are many other Wren designs. Of the fifty-one churches he had built, many have either been demolished due to bomb damage suffered in WWII, or to a general depletion of the City's population by the 19th Century.

Among those churches still extant St Stephen Walbrook can lay claim to the most perfectly laid out interior in the Western world. Seeing is believing. A feeling of peace and serenity overcomes the visitor on entry. The crypt was formerly the location of the first branch of the Samaritans - the organisation that takes calls from those desperate to cling on to life and those disappointed in life but not enough to actually go through with suicide. A portrait of founder Chad Varah can be seen beside the telephone that linked the hopeless to him in their time of distress.

Taking the road westward to where Old London Bridge met the north bank of the Thames we come across...

The church of St Magnus the Martyr  on Lower Thames Street stands where the approach arch led onto Old London Bridge (read about St Magnus in the last of the VIKING series, and about London Bridge in an earlier HERITAGE page)
The church of St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street stands where the approach arch led onto Old London Bridge (read about St Magnus in the last of the VIKING series, and about London Bridge in an earlier HERITAGE page) | Source
This Wren arch was part of the approach way to Old London Bridge - at the time extensively 'altered' in order to stop the fire from spreading to the south bank at Southwark
This Wren arch was part of the approach way to Old London Bridge - at the time extensively 'altered' in order to stop the fire from spreading to the south bank at Southwark | Source
St Michael Peternoster Royale displays tall, narrow windows, more in keeping with tradition than Wren was associated with. London's first Lord Mayor Richard ('Dick') Whittington - thrice returned to the post - was interred in the crypt here
St Michael Peternoster Royale displays tall, narrow windows, more in keeping with tradition than Wren was associated with. London's first Lord Mayor Richard ('Dick') Whittington - thrice returned to the post - was interred in the crypt here | Source
Looking closer from Upper Thames Street, an uninterrupted view of the tower overlooking College Street, a narrow road that leads northward into a myriad of City thoroughfares
Looking closer from Upper Thames Street, an uninterrupted view of the tower overlooking College Street, a narrow road that leads northward into a myriad of City thoroughfares | Source
Further along Upper Thames Street is St James Garlickhythe (where garlic was unloaded from river vessels). This is the view east to the tower, the church flank facing the street (there are no roads in the City, only streets) .
Further along Upper Thames Street is St James Garlickhythe (where garlic was unloaded from river vessels). This is the view east to the tower, the church flank facing the street (there are no roads in the City, only streets) . | Source
I suppose the tower of St Mary Somerset counts as a 'monument', as the rest of the church was destroyed in the Blitz. A workers' canteen was held in the church (on the route my mother-in-law's bus took, hence a favoured stopping-off point for crews)
I suppose the tower of St Mary Somerset counts as a 'monument', as the rest of the church was destroyed in the Blitz. A workers' canteen was held in the church (on the route my mother-in-law's bus took, hence a favoured stopping-off point for crews) | Source

St Lawrence Jewry takes its name from its location on the eastern side of the City.

Home originally to the Jewish community in the Middle Ages, many moved away eastward or north to the outer suburbs in recent decades. St Lawrence was severely damaged on bombing during a night when the Luftwaffe aimed at starting a fire storm on 29th December, 1940. The church was restored to its former glory as Wren would have seen it.

Since 1174 a church stood at St Martin within Ludgate, although rebuilt several times. Destroyed in the Great Fire, it was rebuilt again early in the 18th Century with little further damage inflicted during the 'Blitz'. Stairs lead to the organ loft where instructions are left on show for organists.

St Bride's may be the oldest of London's churches, parts dating back to the 7th Century. The old Saxon walls can be seen in the crypt, laid bare as the result of a direct hit on 29th December, leaving the church severely damaged. St Bride's being located behind Fleet Street, has a historic link with journalists who worked for the newspapers until the mid-1980s when the Press in general moved away from the Street. Frequently spoken of as the journalists' church, neighbouring 'press barons' paid into the restoration fund. There are seats in the choir stalls designated for use by the editors, although the likelihood of seeing them after roughly three decades away from Fleet Street is significantly remote... I may be wrong, I hope so... .

A quick glimpse at a favourite before we go on...

Not quite ancient and modern: a sighting of Wren's masterpiece St Paul's Cathedral seen from the Millenium (pedestrian) Bridge approach. And to the right...
Not quite ancient and modern: a sighting of Wren's masterpiece St Paul's Cathedral seen from the Millenium (pedestrian) Bridge approach. And to the right... | Source
Between towers of steel, glass and concrete we catch another glimpse of the tower of St Mary Somerset
Between towers of steel, glass and concrete we catch another glimpse of the tower of St Mary Somerset | Source
And now for something completely different: just off Queen Victoria Street is the church of St Benet, Paul's Wharf, a church with character and a touch of individuality, where services are held in Welsh.
And now for something completely different: just off Queen Victoria Street is the church of St Benet, Paul's Wharf, a church with character and a touch of individuality, where services are held in Welsh. | Source
St Andrew by the Wardrobe, Castle Baynard (Besnard) Ward. The 'Wardrobe' a building  nearby was where James I retained the gowns that once belonged to Elizabeth ! for his queen Anne of Denmark to dress up in
St Andrew by the Wardrobe, Castle Baynard (Besnard) Ward. The 'Wardrobe' a building nearby was where James I retained the gowns that once belonged to Elizabeth ! for his queen Anne of Denmark to dress up in | Source

These churches are free to enter (except St Paul's) and open on weekdays.

Weekend openings may vary. Donations are their lifeblood, and a small token of appreciation in the box near the door is welcome. St Bride's has a daily guided tour - you can find details online.

Walking from Liverpool Street Station via the Monument to St Bride's can be wearying. I stopped off at 'The Bell' for refreshment (as I used to occasionally when I worked at The Telegraph' - and saw a pair of veteran newspaper journalists deep in discussion more than once; Jon Akass and Keith Waterhouse have passed on to the Great Editor in the hereafter, let's hope they get on as well with him as they did their earthly bosses). Time to head out for home. I scaled Ludgate Hill, past St Paul's and headed for the Underground and a welcome sit-down on the Central Line back east to Stratford...

I hope you enjoyed this cultural diversion as much as I did in writing it. I can still taste the pint I had in 'The Bell'!

Finally Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill environs...

With its 'wedding cake' tower, St Bride's was the newspapermen's church - see text below. Hit on the same night as St Paul's also suffered minor damage, the 7th Century Saxon crypt wall was revealed
With its 'wedding cake' tower, St Bride's was the newspapermen's church - see text below. Hit on the same night as St Paul's also suffered minor damage, the 7th Century Saxon crypt wall was revealed | Source
St Bride's flagstoned Church Yard, with its high, wide decorative windows - on the other side of the narrow pathway is 'The Bell', a pub I visited several times during my employment in Fleet Street during the 1970s and 1980s until 1986
St Bride's flagstoned Church Yard, with its high, wide decorative windows - on the other side of the narrow pathway is 'The Bell', a pub I visited several times during my employment in Fleet Street during the 1970s and 1980s until 1986 | Source
Ludgate Circus at the junction of Fleet Street (behind me), New Bridge Street (right), Farringdon Street (left) and Ludgate Hill (ahead). Compare with the picture below. Railway bridge demolished 1990-91 (Thameslink line diversion)
Ludgate Circus at the junction of Fleet Street (behind me), New Bridge Street (right), Farringdon Street (left) and Ludgate Hill (ahead). Compare with the picture below. Railway bridge demolished 1990-91 (Thameslink line diversion) | Source
From around the same place, St Paul's nestles behind office buildings and shops at the top of Ludgate Hill where old St Paul's stood until 1666. The railway bridge  in Granger's pre-WWI photo took the line from Blackfriars to Holborn Viaduct Station
From around the same place, St Paul's nestles behind office buildings and shops at the top of Ludgate Hill where old St Paul's stood until 1666. The railway bridge in Granger's pre-WWI photo took the line from Blackfriars to Holborn Viaduct Station | Source
The ornate front of St Martin Within Ludgate, within a stone's throw of St Paul's. It's cupola was designed so as not to interfere with the view uphill of St Paul's beyond
The ornate front of St Martin Within Ludgate, within a stone's throw of St Paul's. It's cupola was designed so as not to interfere with the view uphill of St Paul's beyond | Source
Taken from the same point halfway up Ludgate Hill, the majestic front of St Paul's. Visit the tombs both of Wren and Lord Nelson, and walk the Whispering Gallery around the base of the large cupola
Taken from the same point halfway up Ludgate Hill, the majestic front of St Paul's. Visit the tombs both of Wren and Lord Nelson, and walk the Whispering Gallery around the base of the large cupola | Source

A route for all seasons - to take in all Wren's City churches (take your time, they've been there for centuries and they won't go away)...

The City of London and a systematic way of visiting them without retracing your steps - there are several London Underground and main line stations scattered around the City to enable you to carry on where you left off
The City of London and a systematic way of visiting them without retracing your steps - there are several London Underground and main line stations scattered around the City to enable you to carry on where you left off | Source
London Underground Central Area - Monument Station is on the centre right side, a useful starting point if you want to begin the route shown above
London Underground Central Area - Monument Station is on the centre right side, a useful starting point if you want to begin the route shown above | Source

© 2018 Alan R Lancaster

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    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      14 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      So there we are then. The area by the Strand was a long beach by the Thames where the river once meandered and provided fishing. The 'Danes' connection was that only those Danes married to Middlesex Saxon women were entitled to live in the neighbourhood. The others lived beyond the River Lea in what was East Saxon territory and within the Danelaw. At one stage, while Aelfred still struggled against the Danes only the Danes settled in what had been the Roman city, as the Saxons considered it to be haunted, and decided to settle west of the River Fleet (now an underground sewer main under Farringdon Street and New Bridge Street, leading to the Thames). .

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      14 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Alan

      I've heard about the statue. A big thing was made of it over here. NZ also sent six squadrons over to Europe during the war, so it was pretty major when it got recognized.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      14 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Welcome Lawrence, there's a church Wren built that didn't replace a burnt one. St Clement Danes stands near where the Strand meets the Aldwych. A statue of Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris stands near the front door. It's before your time 'Down Under , but there were a lot of Kiwis and Aussies in Bomber Command.

      Got a page planned about Docklands, with views of the Millennium Dome (O2) the average postcard never shows. Plus there's a picture of the Thames Ironworks, 19th C origins of West Ham United Football Club.(WHUFC)

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      14 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Alan

      Thanks for the tour

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      14 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Follow the yellow brick road, Mary. The diagram at the bottom of the page should see you well. There are lots of wren's churches I couldn't cover, but the appetite has been whetted, hasn't it. The furthest west is St Clement Danes on the Strand near the university and the turn for the Aldwych. I think the furthest north is on the Barbican near the Museum of London, so you'd get 'two for the price of one'. I don't know when you last visited St Paul's, but the area to the north of the cathedral has been remodelled. Worth a look... that leads to a small ruined church (bomb damage) across the road. Good hunting.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      15 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is a good theme to follow when visiting London again. Thank you for sharing. We always pay homage to St. Paul's but I don't think I know the others well.

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