The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Inspired as I am by that famous ditty Oranges and Lemons, it is with particular pleasure that I realise that the churches enumerated in it actually existed in the City of London. In fact, many of them are still standing. So the wife and I decide to take a stroll across the Square Mile in search of every one of them.

From edgy Islington, that bastion of New Labour, to the Tower of London is a distance best covered on foot on a sunny day, but not if your intention is to find and gawk at the old churches of the city. We amble casually over to King's Cross, grab the first Circle Line train that passes, and find ourselves twenty minutes later disgorged at Tower Hill. The wife is feeling peckish. We buy a sandwich from a local deli and sit on a bench in Trinity gardens, munching happily and grinning at each other.

In front of us is that ancient fortress of terror. We are not particularly fussed at the thought of all those great and small who were gaoled or tortured or killed in the Tower. Nor are we bothered by the ravens whose wings are clipped in the name of the legend that London will fall when the birds fly away. What exercises us is the knowledge that the Koh-i-Noor and other priceless Indian jewels are imprisoned deep inside the ramparts. The wife glares at the tourists lining up, muttering something about getting the treasure back, while I peer around at the fancy apartment blocks overlooking the Tower.

There are two naked guys high up on a balcony in the swankiest of the blocks. I point them out to the wife.

"Yuck", she says, grinning, and reaches for her glasses for a better look.

"Man", she adds presently. "These gay chaps have incredible taste."

She is thinking reverently of the likes of Dolce and Gabbana, and other kings of style. I, on the other hand, have finished my sandwich, and am keen to start on our tour of the old churches. I point out the weather-vane in the shape of a ship on top of Trinity House. What is the maritime connection? I have no idea.

I usually like to pontificate while we go sightseeing; this time is no different as I try to impress the wife with my knowledge of London, its plagues and fires, and its magisterial reconstruction and planning by Sir Christopher Wren. She herself is widely read regarding this great city, but humours me patiently.

The first church, All Hallows-Barking on our way is past Byward Street. The original church here is older than the Tower by over 400 years. It has been linked with seafaring England, and has a large collection of model ships, lovingly constructed and beautifully preserved. The Marine chapel has a crucifix made of wood from the Cutty Sark, but we don't see it. Awesomely, this is one of the few survivors in London of both of the Great Fire of 1666, and the Blitz nearly three centuries later, but we don't linger long as we have another thirty-eight churches to see, and really, can you please walk a bit quicker?

A few minutes later, past Seething Lane, past the Corn Exchange, we realise that we haven't picked up the leaflet with the opening times for the various churches from All Hallows. Too late for that , though, and we are in St Olave's. What a lovely, lovely garden this one has. There is a tumult and a crush of people outside, but in this garden is an ethereal peace. The wife is particularly thrilled to be here, because here lie buried Samuel Pepys, whose diaries she had read out avidly to me when I least expected it.

"Our own church", he affectionately called it, and indeed, it is a welcoming spot, tranquil and cool.

A quick right turn onto Mark Lane and we behold the tower of All Hallows Staining (meaning 'stone', as opposed to all the other Hallows which were wooden). This is all that remains of the second church on the site (after fires, bombing and demolition). We do not give it a second look, dwarfed as it is by modern edifices around it, and we nip around the corner onto Fenchurch Street.

Tried to note the blue plaque on Plantation House in honour of some worthy or the other, but it was hidden under masses of scaffolding. In fact, the whole damned building was a construction site. Guess what it looks like now?

Onward and forward! Second left onto Rood Lane, then into St. Mary-at-Hill, and we see St. Margaret Pattens. This is the first of the churches on our walk rebuilt by Christopher Wren, so we spend at least two minutes looking at it. The usual story informs it: built originally of wood around 1067, rebuilt in stone, demolished in 1530, reconstructed eight years later, only to be gutted by the Great Fire. Enter Sir Christopher, stage left - spending £5000 on its reconstruction - and exeunt the wife and I, stage right.

This is all part of the old Eastcheap, of butchers and old fish-markets. The romance is gone, as is the smell and filth. It's a good thing, I dare say. I would not have looked forward to wading through entrails, shit, and sweaty Cockneys on my way to work every day.

As you may have gathered by now, our intent is to walk and admire the churches en passant. So do not complain if your favourite edifice has been given the short shrift by me. I am shortly shrifting all of the churches I encounter on my walk.

St. Mary-at-Hill looms in an apologetic fashion on our way. I can't think of a single thing to recall it except for a fire in 1988 that destroyed a wonderful 140-year old William Hill organ (why was it wonderful? Hell, I don't know. But these guys swear by it.), and the fact that in 1638, Widows Faucet, Fox, Matthew, and Corne each forked out a quid as rent to the parish of this church. In fact, here are the details, have fun:

The total sum of the rents of the parish of St. Mary at Hill moderately valued 1486 0 0
The total sum of the tithes yearly due to the parson according to the proportion at 2/9 in the pound 204 11 6
The total sum of the tithes now yearly paid is 122 0 0
The casualties and Easter Book with the Glebe 42 0 0
A parsonage House
Tenths to his Majesty 3 13 8
Procurations to the Lord Bishop and Archdeacon 10 0
To a Curate 10 0 0
£14 3 8

A nifty left turn leaves us whizzing by St. Dunstan's in the East. The lovely steeple is another Wren reconstruction. Campanologists would surely appreciate the fact that on 25 July 1702, a notice in the Post Boy says "Whereas Mr. Abraham Rudhall of the city of Gloucester, bell-founder, was lately employed to cast 8 bells for the Parish Church of St. Dunstan's in London. This is to give notice that he has performed his contract to the universal satisfaction of the gentlemen of the said Parish, and in the opinion of the ablest judges has made them the best peal of bells in all England." Much as I would love to come back to hear the eight glorious bells pealing in a 21-0-14 E flat tenor, I will not be able to: they were removed in 1970, and can now be found in Calistoga.

We continue down St.Dunstans Hill, bear right along Lower Thames Street, pass the Customs House and Old Billingsgate Fish Market, and arrive panting at the church of St Magnus the Martyr (Wren again, and this time to the tune of £9579 19s 10d). 'Magnus the Martyr' is a delightfully alliterative name, and his life doesn't disappoint. He was a minor ruler of the Orkney Islands, and was recruited by Magnus the Barefoot of Norway on an invasion of some incidental place or the other. He tagged along but refused to do battle, preferring instead to chant a hymn or two. Somehow he escaped being slaughtered in the ensuing fracas, and earned the distaste (and possibly a look or two askance) of his Nordic countrymen. The long and short of it is that they decided to do away with him, and soon did so. His death-place became a focal point for jobless pilgrims, and the Catholic Church, in its eternal wisdom, granted him sainthood. Let it not be said that chanting the Old Testament does not improve your prospects for immortality.

By now I am fairly bursting with excitement, for turning right on Fish Hill Street, passing by Wren's Monument (to the victims of the Great Fire) and galumphing on King William Street into Clements Lane, we arrive at the footsteps of St Clement's Eastcheap. Indeed, this is the first church from our ditty, and the one whose bells clamoured for Oranges and Lemons. And I am happy to say that Wren did his thing here, too.

The Catholic Church seems to have sanctified any number of characters for the flimsiest of reasons. The fourth Clement, Pope, was chucked into the sea with a toilet seat (okay, okay, it was an anchor) around his neck; while drowning, I dare say, he offered to protect all seamen, and before he knew it, he was a saint.

Mediaeval mystery plays are still performed here by the Players of St. Peter, and I'll be sure to bring the boy along for an evening of skullduggery, murther and mayhem. Okay, fine, it's not that kind of mystery. Sheesh, can't a guy have his joke?

Not being done with martyrs, for some reason, we rush headlong past St. Edmund King and Martyr on Lombard Street. I'm getting tired of saying Wren to the wife, and indeed, to you as well, so from now on, I'll mention the architect's name only if the church has not been touched by him. (If, that is, I remember my own strictures.) These days, this is not much of a church; having been deconsecrated (the Church giveth, and the Church taketh away), it is a mere centre for spirituality. What manner of spirits are consumed there, I cannot say.

Next up, St Mary Woolnoth. This is the latest installment of a series of churches that have stood here since Roman times. In 1191, its name was recorded as Wilnotmaricherche - which I can't pronounce without gargling. We enter it as it is so lovely and distinctive. Even a soulless chap like yours truly can appreciate Hawksmoor's brilliance at work here. [Nicholas Hawksmoor was tasked with its reconstruction after the Great Fire. Hawksmoor is responsible for some of the loveliest buildings in the City, but his name has generally been held secondary to that of his friend and teacher, Wren. A man of humble beginnings, he is now considered one of Britain's finest architects. His work, unlike those of his wealthier counterparts who travelled in and were influenced by baroque Italy, is redolent of ancient Rome.]

We nip across King William Street and into St.Swithins Lane and then twist right into Mansion House Place. Behind Mansion House, on St.Stephens Row, is St.Stephen Walbrook. Now I ain't entirely sure, but wasn't Stephen the first Christian martyr? At least, so claimed all his co-religionists back in my college. This Stephen may not be that Stephen, but I do know (and so won't hesitate to boast of the fact) that Walbrook was a little stream that flowed from London Wall near Moorgate to the Thames. Our man Kit Wren was paid all of twenty guineas to design this little marvel.

This sure is thirsty stuff. But we persevere down Dowgate Hill, passing the Halls of the Tallow Chandlers, Skinners and Dyers, swishing right into College Street, whizzing by the Innholders Hall, we behold St.Michael Paternoster Royal. What is special about this church? It falls smack in the same tradition of buildings destroyed by the Great Fire, rebuilt by Wren, smashed in the second World War, and restored to a semblance of its original glory by concrete-loving brutalists in the 1960s. On the other hand, Dick Whittington (of the cat and four times Lord Mayor of London fame) is associated with this edifice, but it is dedicated to the Archangel Michael (he who is the field commander of the Armies of God, wielder of a mighty sword, and such-like graceful appellations). Paternoster Lane on which it stood is mildly more interesting: sellers of rosaries traded here. Whittington was buried in the chancel of this church, but some nefarious so-and-sos, convinced there was treasure interred with his corpse, dug him up; finding nothing but bones, they destroyed the leaden sheet in which he had been wrapped. He was later rewrapped in lead and interred, so please - don't start any rumours of his dissatisfied ghost haunting the place. London has enough spectres already.

What do we find on Skinners Lane, but St. James Garlickhythe? Hythe is Saxon for jetty, and garlic, that stinky preservative, was offloaded at the nearby docks and possibly traded on Garlick Hill, where the church now stands. St James is our man Santiago of Compostela fame, apostle of Jesus and all round nice guy. The church has two distinctions: one, its ceiling is the second highest of any City church (after St. Paul's, of course), and two, it is home to several of London's oldest livery companies (that is, mediaeval guilds). Remember I mentioned the Skinners and Dyers above? These are among the ones patronised by our James. The Skinners are the senior guild (of eleven at this church): check out their coat-of-arms here. Also, take a look at the lovely little map showing the church's location.

Going up Garlick Hill and into Bow Lane brings us abruptly to a yet another church of St. Mary. St.Mary Aldermary is supposedly the elder (i.e. oldest) church to the mother of God and of the immaculate conception. John Milton married his third wife here in 1663. After the Great Fire (I really should say A.T.G.F from now on), Wren couldn't be bothered with reconstructing this church, so he passed on the duties to a flunky, John Oliver. Interestingly, this is the only Wren church in the City built to a Gothic design. While much has been made of England's seventeenth century Gothic revival, there's really no comparison between, say, Chartres and this little edifice, is there? Therefore, we do not linger long.

And anyway, we are in a hurry to get up Cheapside to St. Mary-le-Bow, whose great bell rang out and named everybody within range a true Cockney. This is yet another church mentioned in my favourite nursery rhyme that triggered this whole expedition - I do not know, says the great Bell of Bow - which is just the sort of plea of ignorance that appeals to me. Nope, no clue, I know zilch, can't blame me...This was the London headquarters of the Archbishops of Canterbury from 1080 or thereabouts. The first three churches on this site suffered collapses. A.T.G.F, Wren resuscitated it, only for the Luftwaffe to flatten it in 1941. It was reconstructed in 1964 and consecrated again, and these days serves to succour the spiritually inclined in the Square Mile. Among those offering service to the church is the Worshipful Company of Grocers; no doubt, this now represents the 'Buy Local' brigade, desperate to hold off the continual onslaught of the pesky Tesco and Sainsburys. (No. I am being unjust to these worthies, dedicated as they are to their simple creed: be a nursery of charities and a seminary of good citizens).

We were told that a crumbling plaque on the side of the church recognised the birth of John Milton (he of Paradise Lost, and when his wife died, Paradise Regained). I shall not say if the plaque is there or not, leaving it as an exercise for the dear reader. We continue along New Change, making a rapid left past St. Augustine House, into Distaff Lane, and come upon St. Nicholas Cole Abbey. It stands forlorn and unused as a church, and seems to be the target of an ambitious reconstruction (and reconfiguration?) into a National Centre for Religious Education.

I have little to say on spiritual matters, except that they give me the pip, and we hie ourselves past the Royal College of Arms, to where St. Benet Fink's church once stood. Boy, I can just picture the graffiti making the poor saint's life a misery growing up (Benet is a Fink!)

This persecution, no doubt, led to the sanctification of Benedict. In truth, however, the Fink arises from a Robert Finch, who finding himself with a bit of spare cash in the 13th century, thought of saving his immortal soul by bribing the powers that be, and having the church rebuilt. Who said that mediaeval religion was without any humour (albeit dark)? In 1673, the church warden fell into a vault on Paternoster Row. His body was discovered eleven days later, and the parish record of his death admonishes Let all who read this take heed of drink.

Much as we'd have liked to gaze upon Fink's (and Wren's) church, it no longer is there. Demolished in 1846, there is now a soulless office block in its place, housing, among others, Trailfinders. Mammon is our new God.

Some of England's greatest charms are its evocative names, and St-Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe is no different. In 1361, the King Edward II's wardrobe (i.e. his ceremonial garments) were moved to a building near this charming little church, hence the name. I don't think the Lion or the Witch had much to do with it. A.T.G.F and D.D.T.S.W.W (Destroyed during the Second World War), it was reconsecrated in 1961. William Shakespeare was a parishioner here for fifteen years, and there is a memorial to him in the church (we do not look for it). However, we do hear desi singing! Attracted by it, we enter the premises. The pews are filled with our very own people - Malayalis. The Syrian Orthodox worshippers have been served here for the last three decades, and the sonorous liturgy, sung in what sounds like Malayalam (in actual fact, it is Syriac sung with a strong Malloo accent), brings a brief lump in my throat.

But Andrews Hill beckons to us, whereupon we cross into Creed Lane and down Ludgate Hill to encounter St.Martin within Ludgate. The west wall of this church is part of the old London Wall, which is good to know. While some say that it was the bells here that chimed I owe you five farthings, say the bells of St. Martin's, the consensus seems to be that that church referred is St. Martin Orgar, which unfortunately no longer exists in its entirety (only the tower survives, merged into the campanile - a free-standing bell tower - of St Clement Eastcheap).

It is time to move on, and move on we do - towards Fleet Street (where Gop used to work before his office moved to Canary Wharf, and he moved to Dubai), into Bride Lane, and arrive at St. Bride's. This worthy has taken it upon herself (sweet Bridgit, such a lovely girl) to be the patron saint of journos, and her church has long been known as the Cathedral of Fleet Street. An extant wooden church was replaced by Wren A.T.G.F - he setup the tallest steeple of any of his churches, 226 feet high. Much of it was D.D.T.S.W.W, except for the steeple, a testament to Wren's craft. The incendiary bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe here on 29 December 1940 melted St Bride's famous bell. After the war, the church was reconstructed by Godfrey Allen, who stayed faithful to Wren's original design without any of its later accretions.

St. Bride's Avenue takes us back to Fleet Street and we continue all the way up to St. Dunstan in the West. The patron saint of jewellers and locksmiths has been popularly envisioned with a large pair of tongs in his hand, threatening to tweak the Devil's nose. Depicting this legend, the pub of the Devil and St Dunstan's stood nearby till 1788 (a blue plaque points out this marvel), made popular by the likes of Shakespeare, Jonson, Goldsmith and Samuel Johnson.

Remarkably ecumenical, this Anglican building is also home to the Romanian Orthodox Church in London. A lovely icon adorns the left of the altar screen. The only statue of Queen Elizabeth I in London is to be found here. Whilst today it is a centre for Christian Unity, in the 17th century, it was also known for its fiery preachers, one of whom, William Tyndale, created one of the first translations of the Bible into English, which later served as one of the sources of the great authorised version of King James. The silver-tongued Dr. Bates was so popular that the throng coming to listen to him spilled out of the church and into the street outside. Pepys mentions having stood in a crowd and did exceedingly sweat all the while after having pushed his way to the front to attend Dr Bates's last sermon. No doubt he, feeling spiritually refreshed, betook himself later to some willing trollop and refreshed himself physically.

We, in our turn, betake ourselves through Chancery Lane, High Holborn and into Leather Lane. The imposing Victorian Gothic Prudential Assurance building stands here, all red and angular, but in its place stood for nigh on 600 years, Furnival's Inn, an original law students digs (commemorated by the plaque at the side of the entrance). Insurance matters little to us at the moment, so we speed via Greville Street along Hatton Garden and then turn left into Ely Court, passing the Mitre public house, where Queen Elizabeth I danced around a cherry tree, and emerge in Ely Place, before St. Ethelreda's Church. This, the oldest Catholic church in England, is named after an early royal known both for her celibacy and liberal views: she set free all the bondsmen on her lands and for seven years led a life of exemplary austerity; her post-mortem fate was even more remarkable for the time: fifteen years after her burial, her body was found to have been in a perfect state of preservation, and indeed 450 years later, when the Normans began the construction of the great Cathedral at Ely, her body was intact and smelling of roses, no doubt.

Awed by this information (and slightly revolted by it), we continue across Charterhouse and turn left along Holborn Viaduct to St. Andrew's. Written records date the original church at this location to 951 AD, but recent excavations have revealed ruins from Roman times. The Great Fire spared this church in 1666 owing to a last minute change in the direction of prevailing wind. However, it was in such a sad state of repair that Wren decided to rebuild it anyway. It became the largest parish church he constructed, and is famous for such worthies as William Marsden, who founded the Royal Free Hospitals (now in Hampstead).

At the end of Holborn Viaduct, past the Old Bailey, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre without Newgate. The third in the list of churches in the Oranges and Lemons rhyme (bells of Old Bailey, this stands opposed to where once was Newgate prison (demolished in 1902 to make way for the current criminal courts), sending chills of horror and fear into the breasts of prisoners whenever its bell tolled to announce an impending execution. Cheery. Originally dedicated to a sainted minor king named Edmund, this mirrored the eponymous church in Jerusalem, and knights set off on the Crusades from here. The Great Fire stopped near the original building (although it did manage to gut it with the intense heat - scorch marks are visible in the stone basin - a piscina - on the south wall of the building), which spot is memorialised by the statue of a fat golden boy signifying gluttony, the deadly sin that was said to have brought God's vengeance upon the city.

Onward we continue: past St. Bartholomew's Hospital we come to St. Bartholomew-the-Less. There's not much to say about this church, except that Inigo Jones, considered by many to be the first great English architect, was baptised here, and it has possibly oldest bell frame in the City of London. So, we move on to St. Bartholomew-the-Great, one of the oldest churches in London. Primarily built in the Romanesque style, it is famous for its Normal chancel, the fourth marriage ceremony in Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Benjamin Franklin who was a journeyman printer here. Check out this atmospheric snap of its interior by Homemade@Flickr. Most Sundays the Choir of St Bartholomew the Great sings Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer, one of the great spiritual experiences offered in London. We do not stay to nourish our souls.

Nipping along Little Britain, we encounter St. Botolph-without-Aldersgate. An 18th century edifice, it has little to recommend itself bar its lovely little garden. I am not entirely certain why, but old Botolph looks to have associated himself with various gates into the City. Near where I work is the church of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate (which we also visit later during the walk): it has been reduced in these sad and desperate times to providing a venue to various vendors - of shoes, no less; there's another one in Aldgate. Botolph was a vastly popular saint in the mediaeval period, and lives on in the name of Boston, Massachusetts, but nowadays who gives a hoot? Not I, and we move on.

We cross Aldersgate into Gresham Street (is the name of the writer of legal thrillers a corruption of this? I don't know) and come to St. Anne and St. Agnes. Hmm, now is this the female equivalent of the Saints Peter and Paul, whose names seem to appear always together? I hasten to answer my own question in the negative: this pairing of names is rare (certainly unique in the City), and while the Anne is the mother of Virgin Mary, Agnes is one of (I wouldn't be surprised) hundreds of virgin saints in the Christian pantheon. This is yet another Wren church, though what interests me is that there may have been contributions by the valiant and underrated Robert Hooke. It has slipped from Anglican hands, and has been consecrated as a Lutheran house of worship. Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists - dash it, I say - aren't they are all the same?

Quivering with self-righteous secularism, I drag the wife along to the next church on our list. Only the tower of St Alban on Wood Street remains, dwarfed as usual by soulless glass and concrete, the rest having fallen victim to the unscrupulous Luftwaffe. Damn you, unscrupulous Luftwaffe, I yell, to the consternation of the odd passerby. Alban, of course, was the first English martyr for Christ, and the historic town named after him is one of the oldest in the country. (We had considered moving there (excellent connections to London, don't you know, but others had had a similar idea wa-a-ay before us, and we were pretty much priced out of it. Dash it. In revenge, however, I am pleased to point out that it appears to be a private residence now. Which infernal fool would live on a traffic island, though, is beyond me.)

We shimmy across London Wall, left into Fore Street, and find ourselves before St. Giles-Without-Cripplegate. Mighty inventive, these Londoners, and filled with invective. And, for all the talk of the rights of the disabled, most of the Underground network is inaccessible to wheelchair users. I know all about it, having lugged my son's push-chair up and down a myriad steps. Ooh, my back - it doesn't bear thinking about. I must, however, hasten to point out that Cripplegate has nothing to do with cripples. The old Saxon word cruple from which it derives meant covered way, and this was one of the great Gates in London Wall into the City.
St Giles' Cripplegate flanked by the Barbican (Barbara Rich)

Well, anyway, St. Giles. This is the Barbican's church. If you lived in the Brutalist monstrosity that is the Barbican estate, you would need all the saintly succour you could get. The old Cripplegate ward had been destroyed during WWII and the powers that be decided to build up a concrete jungle in its stead. Thankfully, St. Giles was not levelled during that fit of iconoclasm. In fact, the church escaped 1666 rather handily, so Wren did not get his grubby little hands on it either. It is famous for various worthies on whom I shall not dwell, but I am forced to point out that John Milton (he who got married and wrote Paradise Lost, and when his wife died, penned - oh wait, I've said this already) infested the area, and is buried here. More than a century later, someone opened the his grave, knocked out his teeth, stole a rib bone, and tore hair from his skull. I dare say it was an unhappy descendant of his wife.
Heraldry of the Salters

The next church on our itinerary is reached by sauntering past Salter's Hall (the livery company of purveyors of salt), over London Wall, ignoring the Armourers and Brasiers Hall (exactly what it says on the tin), and entering Lothbury: St. Margaret's. The usual story pertains again: church from the 12th century, whammy during 1666, Wren does his thing. Sigh....
Heraldry of the Armourers and Brasiers

Caxton, ye olde printer, apprenticed himself to a Master of this church, and such worthies as the Scientific Instrument Makers, Tylers and Bricklayers, and Glovers of London all appeal to St. Maggie for protection.

Next, we pass along the side of the Bank of England into Throgmorton Street, and left into Austin Friars. The Friars Hermits of the order of St. Augustine, as they were formally known, were not as popular in London as their Franciscan brethren, neither abnegating themselves nor adhering rigidly to the vow of poverty. A priory used to stand here in mediaeval times. After the dissolution of monasteries by King Henry the Eighth (who took a thucthethion of mateth, and inthithted that the monkth were a lazy bunch of thkunkths), this was torn down and a church put in its place. Where is it now, though? Huh? Where? Where? All I can discern is the Nederlandse Kerk, which, according to this site, is the first Dutch Protestant Church in the world, consecrated (1550) in the nave of the old Austinian building that stood here.

Through Austin Friars Passage into Great Winchester Street and we come up on All-Hallows-On-The-Wall, which is now the headquarters of organisations such as Stamp Out Poverty. This is possibly the third church to stand here since the 1120s, and was 1) untouched by the Great Fire, 2) unsullied by Wren, but 3) damaged in the Second World War. The current church is a creation of George Dance the Younger (who was only 24 when he designed it, and who was also involved in the design of some of London's bridges).

Meandering into Old Broad Street and Bishopsgate Yard finds us before St. Botolph Bishopsgate. I went there recently to check out a sale of fine leather shoes. Wasn't too impressed by any, although my colleague Michael came away with a few pairs. A church stood here before the Norman conquest, but the first known name is Sci Botulfi exa Bissopeg from 1212, which stood for 512 years before being demolished for being unsafe. The current edifice dates from 1729, designed by James Gold and constructed by George Dance the Elder, father of the Younger (see above). Keats is known to have been baptised here in 1795, and soon after - as soon as he could, possibly - he ran off to Scotland, where he found that a yard was as long, etc. as in England. The Worshipful Company of Fanmakers is associated with this church. In keeping with Anglican ecumenism, the Antiochian Church worships here as well.

St. Helen's Bishopsgate, by Wallyg
Turning left on Bishopsgate onto St. Helen's Place brings us to St. Helen's Church, dwarfed completely by the Erotic Gherkin right behind it. This happens to be our gathering place whenever there's a fire alarm, and it is a good choice: St Helen's is a very evangelical church and no doubt successive fire alerts will prompt us all to convert en masse, especially in these troubled times. This is one of the few churches to have escaped both the Great Fire and the Blitz, but the IRA managed to take the roof off the church with a powerful explosion in 1992 and 1993, which also destroyed a large and lovely stained glass window. Originally it was part of the nunnery of St Helen of the order of St. Benedict, but with the dissolution of monasteries by fat King Henry, the convent and adjoining land was eventually taken over by the Company of Leathersellers.

We head along St. Mary Axe to St. Andrew Undershaft. This is a special church in its architecture - a style called Perpendicular - and also because it was unaffected both by the Great Fire and the Blitz. Its curious name derives from the shaft of a maypole that used to be installed every May Day across it (accompanied by much pole-dancing and ribaldry, eh? Eh?), until a rampaging horde of Puritans demolished the maypole in 1547 claiming it was a pagan idol. The current version of the church dates from 1532. John Stow, a famous antiquarian and surveyor of the City who worshipped here, said about this church: At the north-west corner of this ward [Aldgate], in the said high street, standeth the fair and beautiful parish church of St Andrew the Apostle; with an addition, to be know from other churches of that name, of the knape or undershaft; and so called St Andrew Undershaft.

A left turn on Leadenhall brings us to St. Katherine Cree. Handel and Purcell played on the great organ in this church, which is also notable for its decidedly hybrid style: the outside walls appear Tudor, but with Classic Porch and trimmings. the interior is similarly hybrid with classical columns supporting Renaissance arches but with Tudor clerestory. The name Cree comes from Creechurch meaning Christchurch, and the church used to stand within the grounds of the Priory of the Holy Trinity. Inigo Jones is said to have designed the present building in the 17th century, although this is disputed.

And so we come to the last church on our tour, when we turn left onto Aldgate: St. Botolph Aldgate. The wife has callouses and I have a rather cramped tummy after biting into a cupcake at a nearby Starbucks, but we do persevere long enough to note that 1) Daniel Defoe married here, 2) George Dance the Elder designed it, 3) it was bombed merrily during the Blitz, 4) was restored several times, including after an inexplicable fire in 1965.

View of St. Botolph Aldgate with the Gherkin, by Homemade.

Next stop: Aldgate Underground, and the Circle Line to King's Cross, and a brisk walk home. And so to bed...


Robert said...

An excellent resource. I think I visited most of the churches on various of the London Walks podcast episodes, but there may be some I have missed so far. It would be good to see the entire walk on one page, rather than having to click through so many pages. Maybe you can do that in due course? Best wishes,
Robert Wright

Fëanor said...

@Robert: Thanks for the comment. It took a month, but here it is - all on one page!

Sumona Misal said...

The religious sentiments of the English are profiled well through the medium of these churches. Hope their influence on people like you never dies. Great job Murali!

- Sumona

Sumona Misal said...

The religious sentiments of the English are profiled well through the medium of these churches. Hope their influence on people like you never dies. Great job Murali!

- Sumona

Anonymous said...

Most impressed Mr. Feanor. You don't cease to amaze me -- I think it is just about little more than 20 years of having known you

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