Address: Fore St, London EC2Y 8DA
It is thought that there has been a church on this spot for one thousand years. St Giles' Cripplegate is one of the few remaining medieval churches in the City of London, and claims attendance by, among countless others, Oliver Cromwell (married there in 1620), John Milton (buried there in 1674), Thomas Morley (organist around 1589) and William Shakespeare (lodged nearby in Cripplegate). The church was damaged by fire and extensively rebuilt on three occasions, but astonishingly survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. During the Second World War, however, Cripplegate was so extensively bombed that barely any buildings remained standing in the entire ward and the church was devastated. Fortunately, restoration plans from 1545 were found in Lambeth Palace, and were used to make the restored church as much as possible like the original. The name 'Cripplegate' refers to one of the gates through the old Roman City wall. It is likely that the word comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a covered way or tunnel, which would have run from the town gate to the Barbican, a fortified watchtower on the City wall. It now sits at the heart of the brutalist architecture of the modern Barbican development.
St Bartholomew the Great
Address: Cloth Fair, Barbican, London EC1A 7JQ
St Bartholomew the Great, which has just celebrated its 900th anniversary, is London’s oldest parish church: a church in the heart of the Smithfield area, with its hospital, pubs, restaurants, and market, built when Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, was King of England. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 and the bombs dropped in Zeppelin raids in World War I and during the Blitz in World War II.
Today the Church has a reputation not only for wonderful Romanesque architecture, but also for traditional formal worship, marvellous music and intelligent preaching. It has also appeared in a series of award-winning films and television programmes including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, The Other Boleyn Girl, Spooks, and The League of Gentlemen.
St Bartholomew’s was established by Rahere, a courtier and favourite of King Henry I who fell ill while on a pilgrimage to Rome. As he lay delirious he prayed for his life vowing that, if he survived, he would set up a hospital for the poor in London. His prayers were answered and he recovered. As he turned for home the vision of Saint Bartholomew appeared to him telling him also to found a church in the saint's name.
Rahere duly set up both a church, a priory of Augustinian canons, and the hospital. He lived to see their completion – indeed served as both prior of the priory and master of the hospital – and may have been nursed at Barts before his death in 1145. His tomb lies in the church.
The Priory was dissolved in 1539 and the nave of the Church was demolished. The monastic buildings were largely intact and the Canons’ choir and sanctuary were preserved for parish use. Under Queen Mary, there was briefly a house of Dominican friars here, before it reverted to being a Parish Church under Queen Elizabeth I. Various parts of the building were damaged or destroyed through the centuries until the restoration began in the 19th century, first in the 1860s and then, under Sir Aston Webb, in the 1880s and 90s and on into the 20th century.
St Bartholomew the Great is a living church but it also attracts those of no particular religious belief because of its architecture and sense of history.
St Lawrence Jewry
Address: Guildhall Yard, London EC2V 5AA
Described by Sir John Betjeman as "very municipal, very splendid", St Lawrence Jewry stands on the south side of Guildhall Yard. “Jewry” distinguishes the church from others nearby also dedicated to St Lawrence, and refers to the Jewish community that lived in the area after the arrival of Jews in London at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, before their expulsion by Edward I in 1290.
Since its earliest days it has been the official church of the Corporation of London, the City administration which meets at the historic Guildhall just a few paces to the north. Thought to have been built in 1136, the medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. The new church is the lavish recreation of Sir Christopher Wren (one of his most expensive in the City), completed in 1677.
During the Second World War, the church was extensively damaged by bombing but not completely destroyed, and was restored in 1957. Since then, St Lawrence has ceased to be a parish church and serves solely as the the official church for the City of London, hosting regular events and ceremonies involving the Lord Mayor of London.
Address: Cheapside, London EC2V 6AU
Home of the legendary Bow bells that summoned Dick Whittington, and within whose sound true Cockneys or Londoners are said to be born, St Mary-le-Bow was founded around 1080 as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London headquarters. Having had the misfortune to suffer both fires and tornado during its long history, it was totally destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 and completely rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren as the second most important church in the City after St Paul’s Cathedral. It suffered badly again during the Blitz in 1941 and now stands beautifully restored. During the Second World War the BBC’s World Service broadcast a 1926 recording of Bow bells as a symbol of hope to the people of Europe.
St Stephen Walbrook
Address: 39 Walbrook, London EC4N 8BN
Sir Christopher Wren himself lived in Walbrook, the street bearing the name of the stream which used to run across London from the City Wall near Moorfields to the Thames, and was responsible for building a beautiful new church after the Great Fire of 1666. Its predecessor had stood on the site since 1428, and before then Walbrook had been home to a monastery (founded by Henry I’s cupbearer), a Saxon church, and the Roman temple of Mithras dating from the 2nd century AD (the remains of which are beautifully preserved and can be seen to this day). The church was damaged by the Blitz, but survived, and in 1953 became the first branch of Samaritans when the charity was founded by its rector, Dr Chad Varah. This unique and historic building now houses a stunning round white altar by Henry Moore.
Address: Fleet St, London EC4Y 8AU
St Bride’s is one of the most ancient churches in London. To enter its doors is to step into 2,000 years of history, which had begun with the Romans some six centuries before the name of St Bride, daughter of an Irish prince, even emerged from legend to become associated forever with the site.
The story of St Bride’s is inextricably woven into the history of the City of London. By the time the Great Fire of 1666 left the church in ruins, a succession of churches had existed on the site for about a millennium, and the area had already assumed its unique role in the emergence of English printing. It took nine years for St Bride’s to re-appear from the ashes under the inspired direction of Christopher Wren, but for the next two and a half centuries it was in the shadow of the church’s unmistakeable wedding cake spire that the rise of the British newspaper industry into the immensely powerful Fourth Estate took place.
In 1940, St Bride’s fell victim once again to flames as German incendiary bombs reduced Wren’s architectural jewel to a roofless shell. This time 17 years elapsed before rebuilding was completed, although a series of important excavations in 1953 amid the skeletal ruins, led by the medieval archaeologist Professor W F Grimes, came up with extraordinary results, uncovering the foundations of all six previous churches on the site.
Out of the inferno of that hellish night in December 1940 has emerged something beautiful, which remains the spiritual heart both of the parish of St Bride’s and of the journalistic and news media community in Britain and throughout the world. Today the church embraces the new occupants of the now-silent newspaper offices – chiefly lawyers, accountants and investment bankers.
The church retains strong City links, has built up an enviable musical reputation, and is home to thriving Sunday congregations, as well as being a major tourist landmark. Set back from Fleet Street, only yards from the tremendous bustle of Ludgate Circus, yet seemingly existing in its own peaceful
space, St Bride’s is one of the most historic, vibrant and beautiful churches to be found anywhere in London.
Holy Sepulchre Church
Address: Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2DQ
There has been a worshipping community at Holy Sepulchre since at least 1137 when a charter records that Rahere (the founder of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital) appointed ‘Hagno the Clerk’ as priest of Holy Sepulchre.
The interior is an amalgam of many different styles and re-designs. The current building dates from c.1450 when it was ‘newly re-edified or builded’ by Sir John Popham. The walls, porch and most of the tower all date from this rebuilding. The church was completely gutted in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the interior had to be totally re-built. Legend has it that Sir Christopher Wren was supposed to do the work, but the church wardens at the time got bored of waiting and organised it themselves! Since that time, the interior has been substantially changed several times.
The Musicians’ Memorial Chapel
Thanks to a close association with Sir Henry Wood (founder of the Proms), the church’s reputation for music grew through the 20th century, culminating in its designation as the National Musicians’ Church. Until 1931 the organ occupied a space on the north side of the church, and it was here that the young Henry Wood learnt to play the organ. After his death, his ashes were interred in the space, and funds raised to create a Musicians’ Memorial Chapel which was re-dedicated in 1955. Windows, kneelers, and other furnishings were given in memory of particular musicians. One of the chapel’s centrepieces is the Musicians’ Book of Remembrance which records the names, dates and specialisms of hundreds of musicians. There is an online register of those whose names are recorded in the book, and an active community of Friends of the Musicians Chapel who organise services.
The church is also home to the Royal Fusiliers’ regimental chapel which was dedicated in 1950.