Once there was more than 100 City of London churches within a square mile. The Great Fire, Victorian modernisation and Hitler’s bombs have done most to reduce that figure. Today, around 50 current or former churches and other places of worship are hidden, either complete, converted into offices, or in ruins.
More than 100 medieval City of London churches
By the time the Taxatio Ecclesiastica was drawn up in 1291, there were 119 churches, including St Paul’s and various churches outside the walls and in Southwark. By the end of the 14th century, it is estimated that there were a total of one hundred and ten Parish Churches, ninety-seven of them within the City walls and the names of these are known to us.
The devastating effect of the Great Fire
This concentration ensured that people could belong to small, tightly-knit groups. The churches themselves became a crucial physical focus for secular parish life. Many churches were substantially rebuilt during the 14th and 15th centuries, primarily financed by the local parishes. The Great Fire of 1666 wrought great devastation, destroying a total of eighty-nine churches.
Christopher Wren’s churches
Many of the surviving churches are, famously, Wren churches. After the Great Fire, he had the unique opportunity of designing over 50 churches, and he gave full rein to his imagination. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that any architect will have such an opportunity again. After nearly one thousand years of building, it seems doubtful that any new churches will grace the City.
1. All Hallows by the Tower
The Church of England church All Hallows by the Tower is so-called as the land it stands on was granted to Barking Abbey in 675 by Erkenwald, Bishop of London. Nearly a thousand years later, Samuel Pepys climbed the church tower to watch the progress of the Great Fire of London. ” … and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw. Everywhere, great flames. Oyle cellars and brimstone and other things burning. I became afeared to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it …”
The church escaped that fire thanks to the efforts of Admiral Penn, who was the father of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. William was baptized here and then educated in the schoolroom. In 1797 the future US President John Quincy Adams was married here.
The interior of the present church, and the spire, are post-war. However, the stones are more ancient in the undercroft, including the fragments of Norman circular piers and the only example remaining in situ in London of a Roman Tasselated pavement.
Byward Street EC3
2. All Hallows London Wall
All Hallows London Wall was rebuilt by George Dance the Younger in 1765 and restored after the blitz. It lies squashed into a narrow site between the road and the ancient Wall of London. Medieval brickwork is visible in the adjoining garden, and the shape of the vestry is determined by an old Roman bastion. Inside it is elegantly sophisticated – a long hall with lapsed end, lavishly decorated. The pulpit, clinging to the wall, has a surprise entry door leading from the vestry, from where the preacher must have been able to burst dramatically upon his audience.
London Wall EC2
3. All Hallows Staining
All Hallows Staining. The name comes from ‘Staniggecherch’, or ‘stone church’. It was probably one of the first to be so built in the City. According to legend Princess Elizabeth, the future Elizabeth I, visited the church on her release from the Tower and presented the church with new bell-ropes as the bells had ‘been music to her ears during her captivity. A bell from the church bearing the date 1458 can still be seen in the Grocer’s Hall. In 1587 its peals had been heard over the Tower of London again, this time ringing “for joye of ye execution of ye Queene of Scots.”
The church escaped the Great Fire but collapsed in 1671 ‘because of excessive burials.’ A new church was built in 1675 in Perpendicular style, and all but the Tower was removed in 1870. The site was sold to the Clothworker’s Company for £12,418 with the provision that they would maintain the Tower in perpetuity.
Mark Lane EC3
4. Christ Church Newgate
Christ Church Newgate. In 1224 an order of the Franciscans was given a piece of land within Newgate. The area where the Friars settled was poor, as evidenced by local streets such as Stinking Lane and the Shambles. In 1306 the Franciscans commenced ‘a magnificent edifice’. It was probably the most prominent church, at around 300 feet in length, in England. After the dissolution, it became a parish church and was rebuilt, on a more modest scale, by Wren after the Great Fire. The church was gutted during the war and has been left as a garden. The steeple is formed of triple-tiered squares of columns that ascend as they diminish into the sky.
Newgate Street EC1
5. St Alban Wood Street
St Alban Wood Street. Offa, King of Mercia, was believed to have had a palace on this site which included a chapel. Offa founded the abbey of St Albans (named after St Alban, who had been Britain’s first martyr) in 793 and subsequently, a number of churches were dedicated to St Alban in the City. The church was rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire and was destroyed in the blitz leaving only the perpendicular, elegantly pinnacled tower, now marooned on a traffic island in the middle of Wood Street.
Wood Street EC2
6. St Alphage London Wall
St Alphage London Wall. St Alfege was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1006. In 1012 he was martyred by the Danes at Greenwich when he refused to pay a ransom for his release. The church was built around 1013. It was demolished in the 16th century, rebuilt in the 17th, escaped the Great Fire, was destroyed and rebuilt in 1777, and finally pulled down in 1923, leaving only the porch and part of the Tower standing. The patio was severely burnt in the blitz. So after nearly a thousand years of history, what remains is now huddled forlornly between the traffic and the concrete walkways of the London Wall.
London Wall EC2
7. St Andrew Holborn
St Andrew Holborn escaped the Great Fire, mainly due to the natural barrier of the Holborn Valley, through which ran the river, Fleet. Before the building of the viaduct, the steep Holborn Hill was one of the most dangerous parts of London. The church was rebuilt by Wren anyway. The Tower alone survived the blitz, and the rest of the church was restored. It was one of Wren’s most prominent churches to serve what was then a vast parish.
Chatterton, the much romanticized teenage poet-forger, was buried nearby after his suicide by poison in 1770. Hazlitt was married here in 1808, with Charles Lamb as his best man. In 1817 Benjamin Disraeli, future prime minister, was baptized at the age of twelve. His father made this decision as a reprisal for aspersions cast on the latter by the elders of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Bevis Marks.
St Andrews Street EC4
8. St Andrew Undershaft
St Andrew Undershaft dates mainly from about 1530. It is so-called because it used to be overshadowed by the great Cornhill Maypole. The maypole was destroyed in 1549 after the curate of St. Katharine Cree had denounced it as a heathen idol. Inside are monuments to Hans Holbein, who lived in the parish and died of the plague in 1543, and John Stow, the first chronicler of London. His Survey of London came out in 1598. He died in poverty in 1605
St Mary Axe EC3
9. St Andrew by the Wardrobe
St Andrew by the Wardrobe. St Andrew is a Wren church, gutted in the blitz and then restored. The ‘King’s Wardrobe’ was the Crown’s depot for furniture, armour etc., which moved from the Tower of London to just north of the church in medieval times but burnt out in the Great Fire. Shakespeare worked for over 15 years in the nearby Blackfriars Theatre and lived in the parish. There is a memorial to him next to the window in the west gallery.
Queen Victoria Street EC4
10. St Anne and St Agnes
At one point, St Anne and St Agnes were known as ‘St Anne in the Willows, presumably when this part of the City had a greener aspect… The joint dedication, first recorded in 1467, was to St Anne, the mother of the virgin, and St Agnes, a virgin martyr aged 13 who died around AD 304. The vicar was beheaded when he spoke out against the beheading of Charles I in 1649.
The Great Fire damaged the church and was rebuilt by Wren on the old foundations between 1676 and 1687. The church’s interior comprises a Greek cross interior with an inner square formed by four Corinthian wood columns. It is, according to Pevsner, “spatially.. fine and rare.”
The church has been used by Lutheran congregations since 1954.
Gresham Street EC2
11. St Augustine Watling Street
St Augustine Watling Street is dwarfed beneath the dome of St Pauls. Only the Tower still stands after the church was shattered in the blitz. Famously, St Paul’s remained unharmed during the war, a beacon for Londoners, who felt that “if St Paul’s survives, we will survive.” St Augustine has Wren’s most charming spires, rising to a bit of bulb, almost eastern looking. In fact, the spire is a fibreglass copy of the original design. An office building, St Augustine House, has been built against the Tower in inimitable 70’s style.
New Change EC4
12. St Bartholomew the Great
West Smithfield EC1
13. St Bartholomew the Less
St Bartholomew the Less stands in the grounds of St Bartholomew’s hospital. The hospital, affectionately known as Bart’s, is the oldest in London and continues to this day as a teaching hospital. The original hospital chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, was located on a different site and was moved to its current location in 1184. Following the Dissolution, the chapel became a parish church. The architect Inigo Jones was christened there in 1573. The church fell into disrepair and in 1789 George Dance the Younger replaced the interior with a wooden octagonal skeleton. This was replaced with one built from stone and iron in 1823 by Thomas Hardwick. The building was damaged during the Second World War and restored by Lord Mottistone and Paget.
West Smithfield EC1
14. St Benet Paul’s Wharf
St Benet Paul’s Wharf is by Wren in dark red and blue brick with a lead spire. It looks a bit out of place than most of Wren’s churches, more like a pretty Dutch country church. Inigo Jones, who built the Queen’s House at Greenwich and the Banqueting House in Whitehall and part of the pre-Wren St Pauls, are buried in the chancel.
St Benet is now the Welsh church in the City, holding services in the Welsh language. Inside are the original galleries to the north and the west with bowls of fruit carved on their fronts. There is also a perfect Royal Arms of Charles II over the doorcase beneath the tower.
Queen Victoria Street EC4
15. St Botolph Aldersgate
St Botolph Aldersgate is a modest red-brick church of the 18th century. It contains one of the few stained glass windows to survive the blitz, an Agony in the Garden of the late 1700s. Its churchyard includes an arcade with tablets commemorating acts of heroism – all are for people who gave their lives saving others. It is known as Postman’s Park, as until recently, the Chief Office of the Post Office occupied a large site nearby.
Aldersgate Street EC1
16. St Botolph Aldgate
St Botolph Aldgate. St Botolph was a Saxon saint who built a large monastery near to modern-day Boston (a corruption of Botolph’s town) in Lincolnshire in 654. He was the English patron saint of travellers and has three surviving churches in the City dedicated to him. They are all situated next to old city gates, presumably so that those about to set off could dedicate so
St Botolph Aldgate. St Botolph was a Saxon saint who built a large monastery near modern-day Boston (a corruption of Botolph’s town) in Lincolnshire in 654. He was the English patron saint of travellers and had three surviving churches in the City dedicated to him. They are all situated next to old city gates, presumably so that those about to set off could save some prayers to him in those days when travelling was more dangerous than it is now.
Daniel Defoe was married here in 1683. The Great Plague describes how a plague pit in the churchyard was filled with over 5000 victims.
The parish was in Medieval times the headquarters of the bellfounders. The earliest recorded is a Richard de Wymbisshe, who cast a bell for Holy Trinity Priory in 1312. There is a surviving bell foundry in nearby Whitechapel High Street.
Aldgate High Street EC3
17. St Botolph Bishopsgate.
St Botolph Bishopsgate. The first known reference was in 1212 when it was called Sci Botulfi exa Bissopeg but there was a church in the location before the Battle of Hastings. In 1247 land to the north of the church was used for the building of the
St Botolph Bishopsgate. The first known reference was in 1212 when it was called Sci Botulfi exa Bissopeg, but there was a church in the location before the Battle of Hastings. In 1247 land to the north of the church was used to build the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem, which later became the Bethlehem Hospital for Lunatics, better known as Bedlam.
The church escaped the Great Fire, but in 1724 it was demolished after becoming unsafe. A new church, designed by James Gold, was completed in 1729. Keats was baptised in the church in December 1795.
18. St Bride’s
St Bride’s is famous for its spire. At 226 feet, it is Wren’s highest. He is thought to have been inspired by illustrations of the Tower of the Winds in Vitruvius. However, it is best known for its lasting influence on weddings. This originated when a Mr Rich, an 18th-century pastrycook of Fleet Street, modelled his famous wedding cakes on the spire.
Samuel Pepys was baptised in the church in 1633. He visited it on the 18th of March 1664 and, with the grave-maker, “chose a place for my brother to lie in, just under my mother’s pew. But to see how a man’s tomb are at the mercy of such a fellow, that for 6d he would – in his own words – ‘jostle them together but I will make room for him’ – speaking of the fullness of the middle aisle, where he was to lie, and that he would for my father’s sake do my brother that he is dead, all the civility he can; which was to disturb others’ corps that are not quite rotten, to make room for him.”
The church is closely associated with journalism which dates back to Wynkyn de Worde, a student of Caxton, who established a press alongside St Brides. The church was restored after the war at the expense of the then neighbouring newspapers as the “Cathedral of Fleet Street”. Newspapers and journalists are remembered inside on labels in the pews.
Bride Lane EC4
19. St Clement Eastcheap
St Clement Eastcheap. There is a record from the 11th century of a ‘St Clement Candlewickstrate’ in the area, which was later to become Eastcheap, or the ‘east market’ (the west market being in Cheapside). The church was dedicated to the saint who was one of St Paul’s ‘fellow labourers whose names are in the book of life (Phil iv.3) and who suffered martyrdom in A.D. 100 by being thrown into the sea with an anchor about his neck. Hence he became the patron saint of seamen.
The church was burnt and destroyed in the Great Fire and was rebuilt by Wren in 1686. It is a plain church stuccoed except for the South West tower, whose top parts expose its brickwork. Inside it has one aisle on the south side, separated from the rest by two columns on high bases. There is a clerestory with small windows. The church was refurbished and modernised in 1872.
Clements Lane EC4
20. St Dunstan-in-the-East
St Dunstans Lane EC4
21. St Dunstan-in-the-West
St Dunstan-in-the-West is the westernmost church in the City. The Great Fire stopped a few doors east, and the church was not burned. However, it was entirely rebuilt in about 1833 in the Gothic style. In the old church, the poet John Donne was once vicar, and Isaac Walton, the author of The Compleat Angler, was a vestryman.
Walton described how Donne would preach “in earnest, sometimes weeping for his Auditory, sometimes with them; always preaching to himself, like an Angel from a cloud…”. On the exterior of the new church is a survivor from the old one – a famous oddity of a clock from 1670, described by Strype: “two savages or Hercules, with clubs erect, which quarterly strike the two bells hanging there..” The clubs still strike at the quarter-hour. The church is used by the Russian Orthodox Church and contains impressive iconic imagery. Read more about exploring St Dunstan with kids.
Fleet Street EC4
22. St Edmund the King
St Edmund the King is another Wren church, with a tower of Portland stone topped by an unusual lead lantern and spire. The church is unorthodox as it runs from south to north rather than east to west. The altar is at the north.
Edmund was born in Saxony around 840 and became the King of East Anglia in 855. In 870, he was defeated by invading Danes and was martyred when he refused to renounce his Christian faith.
Around the end of the 13th century, there was a reference to ‘St Edmund towards Garcherche’ (Grasschurch), which referred to a market in the area for the sale of hay, herbs, and vegetables.
Lombard Street EC3
23. St Ethelburga
St Ethelburga, entirely destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993, is the smallest of the City churches at 56 feet long and 30 feet wide. The parish covered just three acres, an acre more petite than the area covered by the Bank of England.
The church had survived since 1390, having been outside the area destroyed by the Great Fire. In a unique arrangement, until 1932, a little shop and a house (built in 1577 and 1615) stood against the western end of the church adjoining the street…
The church has now been restored using as many original materials as possible and medieval building techniques. It will now be a centre for peace and reconciliation.
24. St Ethelreda Ely
St Ethelreda Ely is a fragment of a medieval ecclesiastical palace belonging to the Bishop of Ely. It used to be the chapel and dates from 1293. The crypt incorporates older walls that may have been part of the Roman basilica. Ely Place is still a sanctuary, and its entrance is surveyed by a lodge with a beadle. Once in the street, you cannot be arrested.
St Ethelreda was abbess of Ely in the seventh century. Her hand, accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, was found in a farmhouse in 1811. A piece of it is now in the church. One of the very few medieval churches to do so, the church reverted to the Catholics in 1874.
Ely Place EC1
25. St Giles Cripplegate
St Giles Cripplegate, The origin of Cripplegate could be from the Anglo-Saxon ‘crepel’, a burrow, denoting the long, narrow underground or covered way leading to the gate. Alternatively, it could be that more cripples gathered at this particular gate begging alms than at other gates of the city.
The first known church was built during the 14th century on the ground outside the gate close to where the Walbrook ran under the London Wall. It was rebuilt in the 17th century and much altered in Victorian times.
Oliver Cromwell was married here, and in 1674 the poet John Milton was buried. In 1790 during repairs to the chancel, a search was made for Milton’s coffin. A coffin was exhumed, no definite evidence of it being Milton was found, and it was buried again. During the night after much excitable speculation, the corpse was dug up again. Teeth, bones and bits of hair were wrenched from it, and many were later sold as souvenirs.
26. St Helen Bishopsgate
St Helen Bishopsgate was formed originally of two medieval churches joined together. On the left is the nave of a Benedictine Nunnery, which, in the early 13th century was built onto the existing parish church. The two congregations were then separated by a solid screen (now columns). The nuns were once rebuked for waving over the screen, and another time were instructed that “alle daunsyng and revelyng be utterly forborne amongst you except Christmasse….”. Inside the church is packed, Westminster Abbey style, with tombs and memorials dating back to the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages. Many of the City merchant adventurers of those times are here, from the great Thomas Gresham, to the (by all accounts) mean Lord Mayor Sir John “Rich” Spencer.
Great St Helens EC3
27. St James Garlickhithe
St James Garlickhithe was built by Wren in 1676-83, but its spire was later, 1714-17. The spire relates closely to the west turrets of St Paul’s, which were by then much in Wren’s mind. Apart from St Paul’s, the forty-foot high ceiling is the highest in the City. Wren was so successful at introducing natural light into the church that it became known as ‘Wren’s Lantern’. In the early nineteenth century, the great east window was causing structural weakness.
It was replaced by a painting of the Ascension by Andrew Geddes. The church was not severely damaged in the blitz, but it has suffered death-watch beetle and damage from a falling crane since then. The interior is famous for a profusion of original ironwork, from sword rests to wig-stands. The name derives from the garlic, which was apparently sold around here. Chaucer was probably born in this area about 1340.
Garlick Hill EC4
28. St John’s Chapel
St John’s Chapel is situated on the second floor of the White Tower – the original Norman keep of the Tower of London. The chapel has echoed with the prayers of many of England’s crowned heads.
It has also seen its fair share of historical action. During the Peasant’s Revolt, Wat Tyler and his followers broke in here. They dragged off several of Richard II’s ministers who were praying at the altar. They were taken to Tower Hill and beheaded.
In Charles II’s reign, two bodies were found hidden under the staircase leading to the chapel. They were analysed in 1933 and found to be the bodies of the young Prince Edward V and his brother, the Duke of York. He had been murdered in the Bloody Tower by their uncle Richard III.
And here in 1554, Queen Mary was betrothed by proxy to Phillip of Spain, while her sister, the future Elizabeth I, was held prisoner in the Tower accused of plotting her overthrow.
29. St Katharine Cree
St. Katharine Cree. The name comes from ‘Creechurch’ or ‘Christchurch’. It now holds the offices of the Industrial Christian Fellowship and an exhibition space but still functions as a church as well. The tower dates from 1504, and the body from 1628 before the Great Fire. The organ is famous. It dated from 1686 and was played on by Handell and Purcell. The church is associated with Archbishop Laud, Charles I’s archbishop, who consecrated the church with the high and elaborate ritual related to him and was hated by the puritan majority. They had their revenge when he was beheaded on Tower Hill. The manner of the church’s consecration was cited as evidence against him at his trial.
Leadenhall Street EC3
30. St Lawrence Jewry
St Lawrence Jewry was founded in the 12th century and dedicated to St Lawrence, roasted alive on a gridiron in 3rd century Rome. The church was rebuilt by Wren in1670-87. It was one of Wren’s most expensive City Churches and was badly gutted on 29th December 1940. Restored in 1957, it is now the official Church of the Corporation of London. Its impressive bulk stands next to the Guildhall. Like most Wren Churches, few walls are at right angles. The white interior with its gold leaf and chandeliers is spectacular. There is a commemorative window to St. Thomas More, who preached here.
Gresham Street EC2
31. St Magnus the Martyr
It is believed that the first St Magnus The Martyr Church in London was built in 1128-33. Several wooden London Bridges were constructed during the early years of the building, but they never seemed to last. Finally, in 1209, the Old Medieval London Bridge opened. It was constructed of stone and took 33 years. It was built in stone and aligned with Fish Street Hill so that all pedestrians crossing London’s bridge could walk straight in front of St Magnus. A chapel was dedicated to St Thomas a Becket. Pilgrims could stop at this chapel on their way to Canterbury Cathedral to see his tomb. The parish of St Magnus included the chapel and 2/3 of London Bridge.
Being so close to Pudding Lane, it is no surprise that the church was one of the first to be destroyed during the Great Fire Of London in 1666. Thomas Farriner’s bakery is less than 300 meters from the church, so it wasn’t long before St Magnus arrived. Farriner, a former St Magnus churchwarden, was later buried in St Magnus’ aisle in December 1670. This was likely to be within a temporary structure used for church services as it was being rebuilt. As with most churches in the City, architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was tasked with rebuilding St Magnus The Martyr. Building the new church was granted to George Dowdeswell, master mason, who worked under Wren’s direction from 1671 through 1687.
This Church of England church is dedicated to St Magnus the Martyr, earl of Orkney, who died on 16 April 1118. The Orkneys were part of the Kingdom of Norway for centuries, and Magnus was related to Norwegian royalty.
The bridge was rebuilt a hundred yards or so to the west in the 19th century. Some stones from the old bridge and the remains of a Roman wharf stand in the churchyard. Inside the church is equally magnificent, and was described by TS Eliot in The Waste Land as an “inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold”.
Lower Thames Street EC3
32. St Margaret Lothbury
St Margaret Lothbury, a Wren church of 1686, raises its white stone tower and lead obelisk in front of some of the tallest buildings in the City. It is the parish church of the Bank of England. Fittingly, its interior is a treasure-house of the finest church furnishings rescued after the blitz from other churches in the City. Highlights include a great screen from All Hallows Dowgate with a weighty central pediment and a vast spread eagle, supported on delicate twisted openwork balusters. There are also communion rails and a font cover with dove and bough from St Olave Jewry.
33. St Margaret Pattens
St Margaret Pattens is one of Wren’s plainest churches, with a severe, un-Wrenish, but beautiful spire. The church gets its name from the nearby makers of pattens in medieval times. Pattens were devices that you wore under your shoes to elevate you several inches off the ground. They often took the form of plain iron rings. You needed them as you walked through the medieval streets, which were regularly awash with mud (or worse). Inside are some of the few remaining canopied pews in London. Beside the pulpit is an hourglass for timing sermons. There is also a ‘punishment bench’ carved with a devil’s head in the north transept, where miscreants were made to sit during services.
Today St Margaret Pattens is the regular home of the Anglo-Filipino Charismatic Episcopal Church.
Rood Lane EC3
34. St Martin Ludgate
St. Martin Ludgate forms part of a famous view from the East end of Fleet Street. There its spire stands like an elegant exclamation mark bisecting the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. It is a Wren church with one of its most noble facades. Inside the ceiling is a tunnel vaulted in a Greek cross, accentuated by a vast brass candelabra. There is a large screen with a gallery above it that separates the body of the church from the entrance, which was designed to keep out the noise of Ludgate Hill. There is a Greek palindrome in the 17th-century font – Niyon anomhma mh monan oyin (Cleanse my sin and not my face only).
Ludgate, like the other City gates, was demolished in about 1760. It is thought that it got its name from Lud, an old pagan god. The west wall of the church is part of the old medieval city wall.
Ludgate Hill EC4
35. St Martin Orgar
St Martin Orgar. All that remains is the churchyard. On its north side, the Italianate former rectory and slender corner campanile built by John Davies for St Clement Eastcheap in 1851-3. The church went in 1666. However, the tower survived, and it was restored by French Protestants and used for worship for more than a century and a half. It was finally demolished in 1820.
Martins Lane EC4
36. St Mary Abchurch
St Mary Abchurch. The name comes possibly from ‘Up Church’. It is a little square box of a church, by Wren, tucked away in a little courtyard which was once the graveyard, but now a place to sit and eat your sandwiches.
It is not only one of Wren’s prettiest churches but also the least altered since it was built in 1686. It is renowned for its splendid carved wood interior, especially the reredos, or altarpiece, by the master Grinling Gibbons, with its lively swags of flowers. Unfortunately, after the church was bombed in 1940, the reredos lay in over 2000 pieces. It took five years of painstaking work to restore it. Sadly the dog kennel, which used to be under one of the pews, has not survived.
Abchurch Lane EC4
37. St Mary Aldermary
St. Mary Aldermary is Wren’s most Gothic church. The tower survived the Great Fire and is probably much as it was when built in about 1510. Inside, Wren made a light and airy concoction, leading to St Mary being called the earliest Gothic Revival church in London. It includes a ceiling with a unique fan tracery made of plaster. It is now one of the so-called ‘Guild Churches’, a church without a parish but serving the weekday needs of the City workers.
‘Aldermary’ is old English for ‘older Mary’, probably because the church is older than the neighbouring St Mary le Bow. Milton and his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, were married here in 1663.
Queen Victoria Street EC4
38. St Mary le Bow
39. St Mary at Hill
St Mary at Hill is the old fisherman’s church, as for centuries, the fish trade was carried out at nearby Billingsgate and in the surrounding streets. So it is by Wren (1670-6), except the tower of 1780, on the site of an earlier church dating from the twelfth century. The historian Stow says that Thomas Becket was a parson there.
In the late 19th century, the church was closed for two years for major refurbishment. During the closure, 3,000 bodies were exhumed and re-interred at Norwood Cemetery.
Lovat Lane EC3
40. St Mary Somerset
The tower of St Mary Somerset stands forlorn in a heavily blitzed stretch of the City. However, it was not a victim of the second world war but was demolished by an Act of Parliament in 1874. Only the efforts of an architect, Ewan Christian, managed to save the tower for posterity. Wren is in pure experimental mode, being topped with a futuristic cluster of stone pinnacles jostling into the sky. It looks fabulous on a clear morning from the nearby Millennium footbridge.
Lambeth Hill EC4
41. St Mary Woolnoth
St Mary Woolnoth was said to have been founded originally by Wulfnoth, a Saxon noble, on a Roman Temple to Concord. The church is famous among architects. It was built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1716-1721. The front, heavily rusticated, rises as if two towers have been fused together and finally separates into two sturdy turrets. It is situated in a prime location by the Bank of England, Mansion House and the Royal Exchange. There have been many attempts to sweep St Mary’s away. The side entrance to the left of the church no longer leads to the crypt but to Bank underground station. The dead were evacuated to Ilford in 1900.
Lombard Street EC3
42. St Michael Cornhill
The gothic tower of St. Michael Cornhill is sometimes called Wren’s last work (it was finished in 1721) but was actually designed by his pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor. The rest of the church is by Wren. Thomas Gray, the author of Elegy in a Country Churchyard, was baptised here, and the church has his walking stick. He was born only a few yards away in 1716.
St Michaels Alley EC3
43. St Michael Paternoster Royal
St Michael Paternoster Royal is one of Wren’s later churches (1714-17), with a charming, three-tiered spire. Richard Whittington, Mayor of London, who lived next door and paid for the church to be rebuilt in 1409, was buried in the pre-Wren church. The ‘Royal’ of the church’s name comes not from any connection with royalty but from the wine merchants who once populated this area of London made a lot of trade with the vineyards of La Réole in Bordeaux.
Inside there is a stained glass window by John Hayward depicting Dick Whittington and his cat.
College Street EC4
44. St Nicholas Cole Abbey
St Nicholas Cole Abbey was the first City church rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire, at £5042 6s 11d. Among the expenses incurred were ‘Dinner for Dr Wren and other Company – £2 14s 0d’ and ‘Half a pint of canary for Dr Wren’s coachmen – 6d’. St Nicholas was the patron saint of children, the model for Santa Claus, and ‘Cole Abbey’ comes possibly from a nearby ‘Coldharbour’ or resting place for travellers in medieval times.
In 1951, Cole Abbey featured prominently in the Ealing comedy, ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’. The gold bullion robbery takes place just outside the church on Queen Victoria Street. The film gives an insight into how the City looked for some years after the war. The devastation of the Blitz is still evident – the church is without window glass, roof or spire, and it is surrounded by open bombsites.
St Nicholas is presently rented out to the Free Church of Scotland.
Queen Victoria Street EC4
45. St Nicholas Olave
Located on the west side of Bread Street Hill in Queenhithe Ward in the City of London. Together with 85 other churches, St Nicholas Olave was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Fifty-one churches were chosen to be rebuilt, but St. Nicholas Olave was not on the list.
Its unusual dedication to two saints refers to the combination of two parishes: St Nicholas and St Olave Bradestrat. Described by John Stow as a “convenient church”, the parish had strong connections with the Fishmongers, many of whom were buried in the churchyard. Following the fire, it was united with St Nicholas Cole Abbey.
Queen Victoria Street EC4
46. St Olave Hart Street
As one of several churches in London with Scandinavian connections, St Olave Hart Street is often claimed to have been established as early as 1056. However, this may be true, as the memories of Olaf’s London adventures were at their best during this period. Furthermore, it was just a short period of time before Norway attempted to invade England in 1066.
It was almost sure that St Olave’s first existence was as a wooden structure. In the 13th century, St Olave’s stone construction was restored and rebuilt again in the 1450s. Many alterations and additions were made to the church over the years, as with other churches of this age.
According to legend, the Great Plague of 1665 broke out right next to St Olave’s. 300 victims were buried in St Olave’s churchyard, along with the woman widely blamed for spreading the disease to the capital. The names of plague victims are noted with a “p” in the parish register.
London’s Great Fire reached St Olave’s within a distance of about 100 yards in 1666, just before the wind changed its direction. Samuel Pepys, the most prominent worshipper, saved the church by making sure that nearby wooden structures were destroyed before the fire spread.
Although this Church of England church was severely damaged during the Second World War bombing, enough fabric survived to allow the building to be beautifully restored in the 1950s. King Haakon VII of Norway, attended the rededication ceremony, who also worshipped at the church during the war.
Hart Street EC3
47. St Olave Jewry
St Olave Jewry – a Wren church, was demolished except for its tower in 1888. As with many City churches destroyed in the Victorian era, the proceeds from the sale of land were used to build a new church in the developing suburbs – St Olave’s at Manor Park.
The tower still stands in the old churchyard as a rather grand entrance to a small office building. It is just off the long, winding Ironmonger Lane. Ironmonger Lane runs off Cheapside, where the medieval market was, and names of streets in the surrounding area such as Bread Street, Poultry, Milk Street etc., attest to the different goods on sale there. This is a street that gives you a sense of what the medieval city was like. It is just wide enough to allow two horse-drawn carts to pass each other at fourteen feet wide. Here Thomas Becket was born in 1118.
St Olave’s Court EC2
48. St Olave Silver Street
Named after King Olaf of Norway, St Olave Silver Street is one of many places in London with connections to the Vikings.
Barbican, London EC2
49.St Peter ad Vincula
St Peter ad Vincula stands within the bounds of the Tower of London. The chapel was founded in the 12th century, shortly after the white tower was completed, and is aptly dedicated. ‘St Peter ad vincula’ is ‘St Peter in chains’. The present building is primarily the 16th century and is stuffed with famous bodies, often minus their heads. The chapel is a short walk from Tower Green, where many executions took place. Two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, are buried here, as well as the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey.
Sir Thomas More is also here. The traitor’s fate of being drawn and quartered was commuted to beheading by Henry VIII. ‘God forbid the king shall use any more such mercy on any of my friends.’ he is said to have commented. He asked for help to climb the scaffold. ‘I pray your, Mr Lieutenant to see me safe up, and for my coming down, let me makeshift for myself.’
50. St Peter upon Cornhill
St Peter upon Cornhill Peter upon Cornhill was built by Wren in 1677-87. It has a red-brick tower topped with a dome and a little obelisk. Then a ten-foot-long St Peter’s key, all looming over a tiny, tucked away churchyard still surrounded by shops, as all City churches once were. Inside it is extensive, with a tunnel vault, aisles, and a chancel screen designed by Wren’s daughter. St Peter upon Cornhill is reputedly the oldest place of Christian worship in London, having been founded on the Roman basilica site by Lucius, the first Christian ruler of Britain, in AD 179.
51. St Sepulchre
St Sepulchre is dominated by its grey 15th century Gothic tower. Captain John Smith, the famous Governor of Virginia, rescued by Pocahontas, was buried here in 1631.
But St Sepulchre also has darker associations. In a glass case in the church is a hand-bell used to rouse prisoners in the adjoining Newgate prison on their final night. “All you who in the condemned hole do lie, Prepare you, for tomorrow you shall die…” At one time, they were hung on gallows in the street outside the prison, and many must have raised their eyes to the tower of St Sepulchre as they were sent to the hereafter.
To the east of the church, there used to stand (until the war) a watch-house built in 1792 to survey the graveyard, which had become the primary supply source for grave-robbers. Purloined corpses were stored in an inn opposite the church until they were ready to be used at St Bartholomew’s hospital just down the road.
Newgate Street EC1
52. St Stephen Walbrook
St Stephen Walbrook has the most beautiful interior of all Wren’s churches reputedly. He was experimenting with his plans for St Paul’s Cathedral. St Stephen is a variation on the same theme – an un-English central dome married to a traditional English church plan of nave with aisles, chancel and crossing transepts. The effect is of graceful, harmonious complexity, full of light and space. Many have praised it highly, including Lord Burlington, John Wesley and Canova, the sculptor of the ‘Three Graces’. The altar is a large white marble slab by Henry Moore and has been moved to sit right in the middle of the church.
The church was built on the bank of the Walbrook, a stream that ran down through the centre of London and around which many Roman buildings clustered. The stream still runs, of course, but in a deep pipe underground. In the 20th century, the Samaritans were founded at St Stephen.
53. St Vedast alias Foster
St Vedast alias Foster. St Vedast is a rare saint in England. He was the 5th century Bishop of Arras who converted Clovis. “Foster” is an English bastardisation of his name. This was Wren’s cheapest church, as he was able to re-use some of the earlier walls. Now restored after being gutted in the war, the Guild Church of the Actor’s Church Union is brightly decorated, with a gold and silver ceiling and black and white marble floor. The spire is considered by some to be Wren’s most subtly elegant work and was designed to contrast with the elaborate steeple of nearby St Mary le Bow.
54. The Temple Church
Inner Temple Lane EC4
55. St Mary Moorfields
St Mary Moorfields. The first post-Reformation Catholic chapel in the City was established in Lime Street in 1686, in the brief reign of James II. The Lime Street chapel was suppressed, only to be re-established in Rub Street (now Milton Street), Moorfields. In an age when Catholics were excluded from public life and forbidden to build churches, there is evidence of a succession of chapels in the Moorfields area. In 1780 when “No Popery” rioters attacked the homes of Catholics, a chapel in White Street was destroyed, and the priest died soon after of injuries received at the hands of the mob.
Following the Catholic Relief Act of 1791, a new church was built and named St Mary Moorfields in 1820. The present church of the same name, designed by George Sherrin (architect of the dome of the Brompton Oratory), was dedicated in 1903. There is a small shrine to St. Thomas More at the back of the church.
Eldon Street EC2
56. The City Temple
The City Temple stands next to St Andrew Holborn. It was initially built in 1874 to replace a nonconformist chapel in Poultry. In the 1920’s it was made famous by speakers such as Dr F Norwood and Leslie Wethered. They led open discussions on then-controversial subjects such as birth control. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in the blitz and rebuilt very lavishly as the “Cathedral of the Free Churches”, with two halls and offices.
Holborn Viaduct EC1
57. The Dutch Church
The Dutch Church is tucked away up the winding cul-de-sac of Austin Friars. It was once part of an Augustinian monastery. After the dissolution, the nave and aisles were given over to Dutch and other Protestant refugees by Edward VI. The rest of the church was used as a granary and coal store until all, but the nave was pulled down in 1603. This was destroyed by fire, and the church was rebuilt in 1865. It was destroyed in the second world war and rebuilt again, entirely in modern, ‘sub classical style.
Austin Friars EC2
58. The Jewin Welsh Church
The Jewin Welsh Church. Jewin Street was utterly destroyed in the blitz and not rebuilt. The area had been granted to the Jews in 1177 for use as a burial ground. When the Jews were expelled from England in 1290, the Dean of St Pauls gave the land. Milton lived there while writing ‘Paradise Lost’. In the 19th century, a nonconformist chapel was built at the end of the street.
After the second world war, the brick Welsh Church was built in nearby Fann Street. It is the ‘Mother Church of the Welsh Presbyterian Church in London.
Fann Street EC1
59. The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue
The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue is the oldest surviving synagogue in Great Britain. It was built in 1701 by a Quaker, Joseph Avis, for the thriving local Jewish community. Sephardi Jews began to resettle in London under Oliver Cromwell (to whom they still acknowledge their gratitude) for the first time since their expulsion in the middle ages.
The plan is a plain oblong, and inside are galleries borne on Tuscan columns, similar to many of Wren’s churches. The rich woodwork, similarly, was carved by the same craftsmen as worked for Wren. The ark opens up to reveal the scrolls with their silver bells, and the air is dense with the dipping branches of gleaming Dutch brass candelabras.
Which is the City of London’s oldest church?
All Hallows by the Tower founded in AD 675 survived the Great Fire in 1666 but was heavily damaged during World War II
How many churches are there in the City of London?
There are 42 places of worship within the Square Mile, as well as nine towers and standing remains of lost churches.
How many churches were destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666?
The horrible fire that swept across London in 1666 destroyed 13,200 houses and 87 parish churches.
How many churches did Sir Christopher Wren build?
Wren’s office was commissioned to build 51 churches and one cathedral after the devastating fire destroyed or damaged most of the City of London’s churches.