London - Christopher Wren
( Originally Published 1908 )
At the north-east corner of the old street, by the side of the Mansion House, called Walbrook, is the masterpiece among Wren's smaller works, St. Stephens. Any description entirely fails to convey the impression of its loveliness; one must see it to realise its charm. The commonplace exterior is quite forgotten when we enter the building. It is reported that Canova, the great Italian sculptor, said that " He would gladly undertake a journey to London were it only to see St. Paul's, Somerset House, and St. Stephen's, Walbrook."
The beautiful and lofty cupola of eight arches which spring from the entablature of the columns is believed to have been a trial of Wren's, before undertaking the dome of St. Paul's. The whole effect is Italian in style, and is entirely charming. There is a Gibbons' font cover of carved wreaths and cherub heads, and the pulpit and sounding-board are superb.
The church was completed in 1679. Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect and wit, was buried here in 1726 in the family vault; and in the old church Sir Roland Hill, the first Protestant Lord Mayor of London was buried in 1594. Pendleton, the celebrated vicar of Bray, was once rector of St. Stephen's; and during the reign of Edward VI., one Lawrence Saunders—an honest but timid man—said to Pendleton that he feared that he had not the courage or fortitude to endure persecution. Pendleton replied: "I would see every drop of my fat and the last morsel of my flesh consumed to ashes, ere I would swerve from the Protestant Faith." When the hour of trial came it was the timid Saunders who proved faithful unto death, and was burnt at Smith-field. The bombastic Pendleton saved his vile carcass, trimmed his sails to every new wind that blew, and became the vicar of " Bray."
At the junction of Lombard Street and King William Street is the Church of St. Mary Woolnoth. The old church was repaired by Wren after the fire; but the work proving ineffectual the church was taken down and rebuilt in 1737 by Hawksmoor, who was Wren's deputy at the building of Chelsea Hospital and Greenwich Hospital. Hawksmoor's own works in London are: Christ Church, Spitalfields, St. Anne's, Lime house, and St. George's, Bloomsbury. Having taken some small part in the agitation which prevented the destruction of this church when threatened by the Electric Railway Company, the writer always feels quite a glow of satisfaction every time the quaint and original double tower comes into view.
Lombard Street has two interesting churches both on the north side of the street: St. Edmund the King, with a very graceful and pleasing spire, has an interesting association with Addison, who married the Countess of Warwick here in 1716; and All Hallows—now entirely hidden by 'the surrounding houses—which Wren finished in 1694. The interior of All Hallows is dark, but with its handsome wainscote 9 feet high round the walls, and good carvings, looks extremely rich. The reredos loses some dignity and fitness, perhaps by the introduction of seven wooden candles and candlesticks. The awful vision of the Apocalypse thus materialized is a shock to one's sense of reverence. An interesting carved doorway, which stood originally in Lombard Street, is preserved in the church porch.
A little court by the side of All Hallows leads to St. Michael's, Cornhill, which has been restored so severely that most of its value and interest has departed, but the fine screen, fortunately, has escaped mutilation.
The family of John Stow is intimately connected with St. Michael's. The antiquarian was born in this parish, and his father and grandfather are buried here. Thomas Stow left instructions by will that his body was to be buried "in the litell Grene Churchyard of the Parysshe Church of Seynt Myghel, in Cornehyell."
Stow has an interesting story about St. Michael's: "Upon St. James' night certain men in the loft next under the bells ringing of , a peal, a tempest of lightning and thunder did arise, and an ugly-shapen sight appeared to them coming in at the south window, and lighting on the north. For fear, whereof, they all fell down and lay as dead for the time, letting the bells ring and cease of their own accord. When the ringers came to themselves they found certain stones of the north window to be raised and scrat, as if they had been so much butter printed with a lyon's claw. The same stones were fastened there, and so remain until this day. I have seen them oft, and have put a feather or small stick into the holes where the claws had entered three or four inches deep." Stow's was not an age of electrical science, and it was easy to imagine a devil in the lightning-flash which struck the old tower.
St. Michael's Tower is often considered to be a copy of the Magdalene Tower, Oxford but except that they both have four pinnacles, there is no real resemblance. Wren was 92 years old when he built this dignified and impressive tower.
St. Peter's, a few doors away, has a good tower of red brick and a dome of timber covered with lead, which supports a graceful spire. The vane is a large gilt key of St. Peter. The old key-board of the organ by Father Smith, which Mendelessohn played upon when he gave an organ recital at the church in 1840, may still be seen in the vestry.
Interrupting our Wren sequence for a few moments, a few steps eastward from the Bank of England will bring us to Austin Friars, where the remains of the wonderful old Augustinian Monastery founded in the early part of the Thirteenth Century may be found. The building is now called the Dutch Church, and here the services of the Dutch Reformed Church are conducted, and the congregation often comprises the principle Dutch residents and officials of the Dutch Government in England.
The present building is merely the nave of the old Church, which must have been a magnificent structure, almost Cathedral-like in its proportions. The windows although filled with plain glass are very beautiful, and are amongst the finest specimens of the decorated period to be found in London.
The Church was dismantled by the second Marquis of Winchester to the father of whom the Church was given at the Dissolution by Henry VIII.
Stow records some interesting particulars. It seems that the steeple being in a ruinous and dangerous condition, the parishioners appealed to the Marquis to have it repaired. The request was refused but upon the request being repeated the owner proceeded to destroy the steeple the choir, and the many beautiful monuments in the Church and the material was sold for a few pounds.
Many distinguished men are buried in the Church and precincts, among others being the eldest son of the Black Prince, the great Earl of Arundel beheaded 1390, and the Earl of Oxford executed in 1462. The bodies of all the noblemen slain at the Battle of Barnet were also brought here for burial.
The southern portion of the Church has, owing to settlement, now become very much out of perpendicular and some of the columns lean over nearly 18 inches. The curious effect produced can be seen in the illustration.
The present Winchester House is of course a descendant of the Palace of the first Marquis of Winchester who lived here and served under nine Monarchs.
The celebrated Earl of Strafford lived for a short time in Austin Friars.
St. Margaret's, Lothbury, immediately behind the Bank of England, has, by the pulling down of many other parish churches in the neighbourhood, been enriched by much of the carving formerly belonging elsewhere. In 1890 All Hallows, Thames Street, was thus pulled down, and the extensions of the City of London Brewery built upon its site. The pulpit and sounding-board and the very handsome screen which adorned this church were re-erected at St. Margaret's. The south aisle of the church, as already mentioned, is now very unnecessarily divided from the rest of the church by an oak screen, the top of which is new and machine made. At the west-end of the south aisle is a very beautiful Gibbons' font— the carvings depict the baptism of our Lord, the baptism of Philip, our first parents in Eden, and the return of the dove after its journey over the waters—making altogether a most beautiful and handsome work.
In Ironmonger Lane the tower of St. Olaves Jewry alone survives, the church being pulled down in 1887; and St. Stephens, Coleman Street, rebuilt after the fire, but " restored" and - " beautified " so constantly has ceased to be a Wren church, except in name.
According to Defoe in his " Journal of the Plague " one John Hayward, the sexton of St. Stephen's, himself buried all the victims of the plague in the parish, carrying them in his dead cart and burying them with his own hands; yet he escaped all harm, and lived for more than 20 years afterwards. At the entrance to the churchyard is a curious carving of the Day of Judgment, to which reference is made elsewhere.
At the west side of Guildhall Yard is St. Lawrence Jewry, the official church of the Corporation, which in its vestry possesses one of the most beautiful and perfectly preserved rooms in London—the walls are panelled with oak, the doors beautifully carved, and the ceiling exquisite. The clock shewn in the illustration was made at a clock-maker's, whose shop was on London Bridge when it was still covered with houses. In the centre of the ceiling is a painting by Sir James Thornhill, and another over the chimney-piece by Le Soeur, both illustrating the method of the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, who was burnt on a gridiron. The vane of the church — a gridiron — is also in commemoration of the martyrdom.
The doors to the north and south aisles are certainly the finest in the city, and the magnificent organ-case and pulpit are perfect specimens of carving.
The tomb of Dr. Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was buried here in 1694, is to the north of the communion table. Macaulay has a very eloquent—perhaps slightly exaggerated—account of his funeral when he describes the whole of London as being in mourning.
On Michaelmas Day the Lord Mayor and Corporation attend service in the church, and afterwards proceed to the election of Lord Mayor. The old square pew is of course occupied by the chief magistrate.
Two paintings have recently been placed in the north and south panels of the east wall.
They must evidently be the work of some well wisher of the church, but artistically they are so dreadful that their introduction is unspeakably jarring and out of place. They should be re-moved at all cost.
St. Mary Aldermanbury, in the adjoining thoroughfare, is interesting as containing the tomb of brutal Judge Jeffreys of the Bloody Assize. His body is buried it is supposed under the altar. Timbs has this note concerning him:
"Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, there was a rough country boy, a pupil of St. Paul's School, who stood watching a procession of the Judges on their way to dine with the Lord Mayor. The father of the boy wished to bind him apprentice to a mercer; but the aspiring lad, as he looked on the train of Judges, registered a vow that he would one day ride through the City, the guest of the Mayor, and die a Lord Chancellor. His sire pronounced him mad, and resigned himself to the idea that his obstinate son would one day die with his shoes on. The boy's views, however, were completely realised, and the prophecy was also in part fulfilled. The connection of the notorious Jeffreys with the City, was, from an early period, a very close one. He drank hard with, and worked hard for, the City authorities, and was as well-known of Aldermanbury as Shaftesbury was in the same district, when he was inspired by the transitory ambition of himself becoming Vice-king in the City. From the time that Jeffreys became Common Serjeant—but more especially from the time he became Recorder—he kinged it over the Vice-king. He was Lord Mayor, Common Council, Court of Alderman, the supreme judge all in one; and the first-named officer had a really melancholy time of it during the period Jeffreys had sway in the City."
Milton here married his second wife, Catherine Woodcock, November 12th, 1657, and she alas only lived fifteen months afterwards, and with her was buried the happiness of the great poet. And in the graveyard is an interesting monument to Heminge and Condell, the publishers of the first volume of Shakespeare's plays in 1623.
Close by in Wood Street is the Church of St. Alban, dedicated, to the first Christian martyr in England. Maitland thinks that this was probably one of the first Churches built by Alfred when he had driven out the Danes. The present building is by Inigo Jones and dates from 1634, and though consider-ably damaged by the great fire there is evidence that it did not suffer so much as is often supposed, and the restorations by Wren were more in the nature of repairs than construction; the tower however is Wren's. On a bracket at the side of the pulpit is a quaint old hour glass by which the preacher regulated the length of his sermon if the patience of his hearers did not show signs of exhaustion.
St. Anne's, Gresham Street, is directly to the north of the General Post Office. The history of this quaint little Church can be traced back to the year 133o. It was formerly called St. Anne's Under the Willows and it seems a pity that the very restful little churchyard with its lime trees cannot be thrown open to the public as so many other churchyards are. It is certainly one of the pleasantest and most garden-like places in the City. Wren finished this Church in the year 1680. The compo front since added unfortunately destroys the charm which the original red brick gave to the structure.
There is one quaint inscription worth seeing which is as follows: " Peter Heiwood, who apprehended Guy Fawkes with his dark lanthorn and for his zealous prosecution of Papists, as Justice of the Peace, was stabbed in Westminster Hall, by John James, a Dominican Friar, A.D. 1640, obiit November 2nd, 1701."
"Reader, if not a Papist bred, Upon such ashes gently tred."
Returning to Cheapside by way of Foster Lane we notice St. Vedast's Church. In a vault here are some Roman stone coffins, one of which was hollowed out in shape to fit the body, and was discovered some 10 ft. below the surface of the present street opposite to No. 17, Cheapside. As we turn into the latter wonderful thoroughfare the spire of Bow Church is seen to the left. This spire, one of the greatest triumphs of Wren's genius, has been described by Mr. G. H. Birch, as " one of the most beautiful objects the master mind of man ever conceived, and as a vision of beauty it is a joy and will be so for ever—if " ever" may be applied to any finite thing." The foundations of the spire are built upon an ancient Roman Causeway, and the Norman Crypt upon which the Church is built is particularly fine, the arches can be seen in full beauty. Part of the Crypt was bricked off in the 18th century, but since my photograph was taken the brick wall has been removed.
Stow tells us, without authority, however, that the Church received its name in the reign of William the Conqueror, being the "first in this City built on arches of stone." Before the Great Fire, the Court of Arches, as it was called, was. held here, and although Ecclesiastical Courts have long since ceased, Bow Church is still used for the ceremony of the election of Bishops of the Southern Province who still have to take the oath of their allegiance to the Primate of England in this Church
Bow Bells have for centuries been the best known and oftenest heard bells in London, and Whittington's prophetic ear has made their tones a household word wherever the English tongue is spoken. The chimes have recently been revived and a well-known air is played daily at 12 o'clock—the bells being operated automatically by the clock.
The Church where Milton was baptized, in Bread Street has been pulled down, but to those who would see a specimen of Wren's work untouched and undefaced, St. Mildred's, Bread Street, offers an excellent example. The interior of the Church is somewhat bare, but is covered with a large and very beautiful cupola. In the church are interesting monuments of the Crisp family. Among others that of Sir Thomas Crisp, a son of Sir Nicholas Crisp, who rendered such conspicuous services to the Stuart cause during the reign of Charles I. and later, and who at the restoration was made a Baronet by Charles II. The inscription states that "Sir Nicholas Crisp, anciently an habitant in this parish and a great benefactor to it, was the old faithful servant of King Charles I. and King Charles II. for whom he suffered very much and lost £100,000 in their service." Many important missions between the friends of the Stuarts were constantly undertaken by Sir Nicholas, and it is recorded that he disguised himself as a fish porter at Billingsgate, and a butter woman with donkey and panniers at Negate market and elsewhere, to obtain information from and forward letters and parcels by the various carriers who brought goods to market. Shelley was married to Mary Godwin at this Church on December 30th, 1816.
The handsome tower of St. Mary Aldermary is a prominent landmark, at the junction of Bow Lane with Queen Victoria Street. Wren is supposed to have copied the architecture of the old building when erecting the present building after the fire. The aisles are separated from the nave by clustered columns bearing flat arches and enriched with very beautiful fan groining and oval panels.
Crossing now to the south-side of Cannon Street,we walk down College Hill to St. Michael's. The towers of St. Michael's, St. James, Garlick Hill, and St. Stephen's, Walbrook, are modelled on very similar lines. The upper portion of St. Michael's may perhaps look somewhat narrow for the lower or tower portion which is of considerable width. The steeple being circular somewhat detracts from the otherwise beautiful work.
St. Michael's, Paternoster Royal, has many delightful associations with Whittington. In addition to rebuilding the church, he established a college and almhouses on College Hill.
The almhouses were removed about a century ago to Highgate, and the college was dissolved by Henry VIII.; but until a few years back the Mercers School occupied the old almshouses, and the ancient doorway, some 250 years old, yet remains. Whittington was buried in the church he had built, but church and tomb were utterly destroyed in the great fire.
The present church was built under Wren's supervision by Edward Strong, Wren's master man, and with its Gibbons' carvings--(much of which was brought from Allhallows when the latter edifice was destroyed)—memorial windows, and pictures, is full of interest. Two stone figures of Moses and Aaron, which stood at the side of the reredos of Allhallows, are now placed in the vestibule, and are worth notice.
St. James, Garlickhithe, Upper Thames Street, close by, was opened for services in 1682. The tower, 86 ft. high, is one of Wren's most pleasing designs. The interior is good, though not specially noteworthy.
The church of St. Mary, Somerset, in the same street, was pulled down in 1868, the tower alone, which was preserved by a special Act of Parliament, surviving. Its cluster of pinnacles makes it a prominent landmark. Some two or three hundred yards to the west of this old tower is St. Benets, Paul's Wharf. Wren erected this church in 1682, and it has fortunately escaped any, serious alteration. Many of Wren's brick buildings have suffered so much from being covered with compo that the red brick of St. Benets gives it a unique appearance, and the tower is extremely picturesque and quaint. In 1878 the parish was united with St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey, and the building given up to a Welsh congregation, the service being performed in the Welsh tongue.
Most important of all in connection with St. Benets is the fact that Inigo Jones was buried in the old church, 1651.
St. Anne's, Blackfriars, opposite St. Paul's Railway Station, is another specimen of Wren's skill in the artistic employment of red brick. The records of the Church include the name of the great Vandyke who lived and died in this parish, and left money by will to the poor. His daughter Justinia was baptized in the old Church on the very day that her celebrated father died.
There is yet to be seen a small part of the old burying ground in Ireland Yard, Carter Lane.
The Heralds College, at the corner of Godiliman Street, is referred to in another part of the volume. A little distance to the east is St. Nicholas Cole Abbey, the first church Wren completed after the fire. Canon Shuttleworth was for many years Rector here, and he introduced the enjoyable musical services. that were such a delightful feature here. St. Nicholas has recently suffered a consider-able eclipse by the erection of a new block of offices over what was formerly a ventilation shaft of the underground railway, and the south wall is thereby entirely hidden. Within the Church also it is disappointing to observe that a part of the interesting old carved oak reredos has been taken down and banished to a dark cavern under the organ.
The printer's Parish Church, St. Bride's, Fleet Street, is distinguished by what is most likely Wren's best known spire. The spire loses something possibly from the various stages being exact repetitions of one another, giving it a little the appearance of a telescope.
The celebrated 16th century printer, Wynkyn De Worde, Caxton's successor, for many years lived and worked in Shoe Lane, and he was buried by his own instructions before the altar of St. Catherine which was in one of the side chapels of the previous building, and in the old Church, Sackville and Lovelace, the cavalier poets, also were buried. Lovelace died of starvation in Gunpowder Alley close by. The entrance to the vault of Mr. Holden in the north part of the Churchyard is a relic of the old building. In the central aisle Samuel Richardson, the novelist and friend of Goldsmith and Johnson, who died in 1761 in Salisbury Square is buried.
The wonderful view of St. Paul's from the western end of Fleet Street, is sometimes said to suffer from the introduction into the middle distance of the spire of St. Martin's, but it may be well argued that the contrast between this graceful spire, 168 ft. high, with the massive Cathedral piling up behind adds to the impressive dignity of Wren's great masterpiece.
St. Augustine, Watling Street, immediately to the west of St. Paul's, is now closed to the public. The Rev. R. H. Barham (Thomas Ingoldsby) was Rector here from 1842 to 1845.
The old cloister of the Grey Friars with Christ's Hospital, Newgate Street, is now alas but a memory, and Christ Church with its hundreds of empty seats which used to be occupied by the Bluecoat School-boys is all that remains of the interesting foundation. The old Priory Church used to extend as far to the west as the end of the present Churchyard.
The Church itself is plain, but it has a very graceful spire. The triple openings of the belfry and the pilasters are exceedingly beautiful. The carvings also are good and most carefully and reverently preserved.
Richard Baxter, the celebrated Nonconformist minister, who having refused to comply with the act of Uniformity, became an alien from the Church of England, and was one of the victims of the notorious Judge Jeffreys, is buried in this Church.
St. Sepulchre's, Holborn, being so close a neighbour to the prison of Newgate, naturally became a part of the fatal machine of punishment. Its clock gave the time to the hangman, and in its parish records are notes of various bequests for the benefit of the prisoners. John Dowe, citizen, left £5o, the clerk of the church being appointed to ring "certain tolls with a handbell beneath the condemned cell the night before execution, to put the prisoner in mind of his approaching end," as though it were possible that any human creature would need such a gruesome message; and condemned highwaymen on their last journey to Tyburn were presented with nosegays at the church door. The great fire burnt it-self out a few yards north of this spot but the church was entirely destroyed, except some portions. of the porch. Poor St. Sepulchre's has had to submit to so many merciless restorations (in 1837, 1863, 1875, 1878-80), that it is now a modern building. In the choir lies the body of Captain John Smith, who died 1631, "some time Governour of Virginia and Admirall of New England." The monument is gone long since, but a tablet with the words of the original inscription—" Here lies one conquer'd that hath conquer'd kings " marks the spot where it stood. Roger Ascham (died 168), was also buried in the old building.
In a collection of anecdotes, written about the beginning of the 18th century, in the Rawlinson MSS., is the following singular narrative:
"Dr. Airy, Provost of Queen's College, Oxon (1599-1616), passing, with his servant, accidentally through St. Sepulchre's Church-yard: (Holborn Viaduct now almost covers this spot), where the sexton was making a grave, observing a skull to move, showed it to his servant and then to the sexton, who, taking it up, found a great toad in it; but withal observed a tenpenny nail stuck in the temple bone, whereupon the doctor presently imagined the party to have been murdered, and asked the sexton if he remembered whose skull it was. He answered it was the skull of a man who died suddenly, and had been buried twenty-two years before. The doctor told him that certainly the man was murdered, and that it was fitting to be inquired after, and so departed. The sexton thinking much upon it remembered some particular stories talked of at the death of the party, as that his wife, then alive, and married to another person, had been seen to go into his chamber with a nail and hammer, whereupon he went to a justice of the peace, and told him all the story. The wife was sent for, and witnesses were found who testified that and some other particulars. She confessed, and was hanged."
St. Andrew's, Holborn, the last on our list of Wren's Churches is at the west-end of the Viaduct, and was rebuilt in 1688, Wren building his new tower round the old one. The celebrated Dr. Sacheverell was made rector of St. Andrew's as a reward for the trial he had undergone, and the services he had thereby rendered to the Tory party in 1713. The registers of the church are particularly full of interest. They record the baptism of Richard Savage, the poet, in January, 1696, and the burial in the burial-ground at Shoe Lane of "that marvellous boy," Chatterton. Charles Lamb came here to support his friend, Hazlitt, the essayist, who was married here on May 1st, 1808.. Benjamin Disraeli (Lord Beaconsfield), when a lad of 12 years old, was here christened, and that friend of our boyhood, Strutt, the author of " Sports and Pastimes," here sleeps his last sleep.
Wriothesley, Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII., was buried in the old church. He is remembered especially for his extreme ferocity. Says Pennant—" Not content with seeing the amiable Anne Askew put to torture for no other crime than difference in faith, he flung off his gown, and with his own hands gave force to the rack."
When one sees in the Tower of London the tiny cell, the weapons, and the rings and bolts all used by this ferocious savage to crush a child of seventeen, the age of chivalry loses something of its glamour. It was Wriothesley's congenial task to go to the Palace to arrest Catherine Parr. wife of Henry VIII., for heterodoxy. - When he arrived to take her into custody, however, he found that Henry had made friends again with his sixth and last wife.
The record of the marriage of Sir Edward Coke, " the Queen's Attorney General," in 1598, with my lady Elizabeth Hatton, who proved a dreadful Tartar, may also be seen, with that of Colonel Hutchinson and Lucy Apsley, whose devotion to one another during the stormy period of the civil war has been recorded in that most charming of human records, " Mrs. Hutchinson's Memoirs."
Lucy Apsley was the daughter of Sir John Apsley, Governor of the Tower, whose wife devoted herself to soothing the last sad hours of the many prisoners confined in that terrible palace of agony. Among others she ministered to the wants of Sir Walter Raleigh, and brightened his pathway to the tomb.
Hutchinson's was a romantic courtship, but at last all the difficulties had been overcome, but when the day fixed for the marriage settlement arrived, Lucy had disappeared. She had been smitten by that dreadful scourge, smallpox, and for many weeks was kept in a dark room hidden from her lover; but after a long illness she began slowly to recover—her beauty: gone, her face mutilated and almost unrecognisable, " the most deformed person that could be seen." Lucy describes the interview with her lover—" He was nothing troubled at it, but married her as soon as she was able to walk from her chamber, when the priest and all that saw her were affrighted to look at her. But God recompensed his justice and constancy by restoring her, though she was longer than ordinary before she recovered to be as well looking as before."
When Charles I. raised his standard at Nottingham, Hutchinson, who was a Member of Parliament, threw in his lot with the Parliamentary forces. His wife followed her husband to the battle-field, and as records show proved herself a ministering angel, as she attended the wounded and dying of both parties.
Hutchinson on the Restoration was arrested, and died a prisoner at Sandown Castle, near Deal, in 1664.