The story of the former church, which dates back to the 12th century.
St Augustine, Watling Street was the closest church to St Paul’s Cathedral
The tower overlooks Festival Gardens
Standing just a few feet besides St Paul’s Cathedral is the remains of St Augustine, Watling Street. Today, all that’s left of the Anglican church is the 17th century tower and spire, which has been incorporated into a prep school.
St Augustine, Watling Street dates back to the 12th century when it was built in dedication to St Augustine of Canterbury (d.604). The Benedictine monk was sent to England as a missionary in 597 and converted King Æthelberht of Kent to Christianity. The earliest recording of the church dates back to 1148. Located on the corner of Watling Street and Old Change, the Medieval church was around 61ft long, with a 59ft long extension added in the 13th century. It was partially rebuilt in 1630-31 for £1,200. Writing about its renovation, historian John Snow (1524-1605) called St Augustine “a fair church”, adding “every part of its richly and worthily beautified”.
Prior to the Great Fire of London, St Augustine was one of 109 churches in the City of London. The terrifying blaze of September 1666 ravaged 89 of these, with only 52 being rebuilt. Like most buildings in the City, the Medieval St Augustine was destroyed along with the neighbouring Old St Paul’s Cathedral.
The spire was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor
As rebuilding began, the parish of St Augustine was united with St Faith’s, whose congregation had worshipped in the crypt of the cathedral prior to the fire. Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) designed a new St Augustine, along with 50 other City churches and the current St Paul‘s Cathedral. The main church was opened in September 1683 and was 51ft long, 45ft wide and 30ft high. An arcade of Corinthian columns separated the nave from the aisles with a barrel vaulted ceiling and three skylights on each side. The interior walls had up to 8ft of panelling, while galleries were erected on the north and west sections of the church. The Portland stone tower was rebuilt in 1680-84, with oculus windows and a belfry, topped with a Baroque parapet, obelisks and pinnacles. It was completed with a lead spire designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) in 1695-96.
While the church probably sounds lovely to our 21st imaginations, it didn’t impress one 19th century critic. In the 1838 book, ‘The Churches of London: A History of the Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Metropolis’, architect and journalist George Godwin (1813-1888) writes: “The interior of the present church is plain and very small; and consists of a nave and ailes (sic) formed by Ionic columns that carry a waggon-headed ceiling. These columns are raised on exceedingly lofty plinths, which render the height and consequent diameter of the columns so small as to degrade them to mere props and produce altogether a bad effect.” Read the rest of this entry →
The history of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the Chelsea Pensioners and how you can visit.
The exterior of the chapel of Royal Hospital Chelsea
As the host venue of the Chelsea Flower Show, the Royal Hospital Chelsea sees over 157,000 visitors pass through its gates every May. However, these horticulture lovers only get to see the outside of this historic venue. Known as the home of the ‘Chelsea Pensioners’, parts of the Royal Hospital are open to visitors, including during Open House London.
Wren’s Chapel with ceiling painting by Sebastiano Ricci
The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a retirement and nursing home for around 300 veterans of the British Army. Until the 17th century, there was no state provision to look after retired or injured soldiers. However, King Charles II (1630-1685) recognised these veterans needed care and founded the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 1682. He chose to establish it on a 66-acre site in Chelsea, which housed a theological college named ‘Chelsey College’, founded 73 years earlier by his grandfather James I of England (1566-1625). Charles II and his royal administrator Sir Stephen Fox (1627-1716) commissioned architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) to design and oversee the building’s construction.
Wren designed the Great Hall and Chapel. The 42ft high chapel was completed in 1687 and was consecrated in August 1691. The chapel’s interior features a painting of the Resurrection of Christ by Italian painter Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734) and his nephew Marco Ricci (1676–1730), which was added in 1710-15 during Queen Anne’s (1665-1714) reign. Just to the south-west of the Chapel was the Great Hall, which was originally intended as a dining hall. It featured 16 long tables with a large mural of King Charles II on horseback being crowned by Victory. Meanwhile, outside in the central court, the King was honoured again with a 7ft 6in statue in copper alloy by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721).
The history of 17th century almhouses on the Mile End Road.
Trinity Green almhouses in Stepney
Standing in a busy, built-up part of the East End, the district of Stepney couldn’t look less rural. However, there’s one particular complex of buildings that have been standing since the area was surrounded by fields. If you walk down traffic-laden Mile End Road, you may find your eye drawn to the historic Trinity Green Almhouses and Chapel.
The eastern end gable is in good condition and features the ship models and cartouche
Originally named Trinity Hospital or Trinity Almhouses, the complex was built in 1695 by the Corporation of Trinity House (est. 1514) to provide housing for “28 decay’d Masters & Commanders of Ships or ye Widows of such”. Captain Henry Mudd of Ratcliffe (1630-1692) – an elder brother of Trinity House – donated the land to the charity in his will. His grave can be found in St Dunstan’s churchyard less than a mile away. Deputy Master of Trinity House, Captain Robin Sandes (d.1721) also contributed funding the building. As well as accommodation, the retired and incapacitated mariners also received a money allowance and coal. It’s been claimed the almhouses were designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and John Evelyn (1620-1706), although this cannot be verified. Many historians believed it was the work of master carpenter Sir William Ogbourne (1662-1734).
The Trinity Almhouses featured two rows of cottages facing a central garden with a separate chapel in the north. Each red brick house features is spread over one storey and a basement, with wood block and bracketed eaves cornices providing some lovely period detail. The front doors feature a wide hood supported by carved brackets.
At the south end of the two rows of cottages stand ornate gable ends facing Mile End Road. Each gable end is two storeys high and features white, rusticated quoins. The top storey features a brick niche surrounded by an ornate, stone architrave, while the building is crowned with a stone pediment. While the eastern gable end is still in good condition, the western one’s windows have been bricked up. The main attraction of the gable ends are the four model boats perched on the corners. These are actually 1950s fibreglass replicas of the original marble ones, which are being protected by the Museum of London. The models are of 42-gun Stuart warships of the 4th Rate and carved by Robert Jones. Each gable end also features a cartouche depicting the purpose of the almhouses, the contribution of Mudd and his widow and the year it was built.
The chapel can just be seen behind the trees with two rows of cottage either side
The centrepiece of the gardens is the Chapel. Built in a Classical Revival style, it stands two storeys high, with rusticated quoins and pediment. The chapel is entered through a white door, at the top of a flight of stone steps curving outwards. Trinity Green is protected from the street by curved brick wall, wrought iron railing and iron gates.
The London Stone stands on the CIty’s Cannon Street
Many of us have heard the urban myth about the ravens at the Tower of London, claiming the Crown and Britain ‘will fall’ if they leave. However, there’s another old legend tying the capital’s success to a piece of stone.
The London Stone has been a part of the city’s history for centuries, yet so many Londoners haven’t even heard of it. Today, the London Stone stands on bustling Cannon Street, protected from the elements in a display in the wall of a modern office building. The block of oolitic limestone measures 53m x 43cm x 30cm, although was originally much bigger. The London Stone was first recorded in 1100, although its origins are believed to date back much earlier. Some historians believe the stone has been in situ since the Romans occupied London, perhaps being related to the local governor’s palace, which stood on the current site of Cannon Street railway station. It’s also been claimed that King Arthur pulled his sword Excalibur from it.
The London Stone in its Georgian plinth on the wall of St Swithin’s Church in 1831. Image from Wikimedia Commons
In Medieval London, it stood on the south side of Candelwrichstrete (Candlewright Street), which was widened to create Cannon Street in the 17th century. It was a popular landmark and listed on many maps of the area. A French visitor to London in 1578 described the Stone as having much larger dimensions of 90cm x 60cm x 30cm. London historian John Stow wrote in 1598 of “a great stone called London stone” adding it was “pitched upright… fixed in the ground verie deep, fastned with bars of iron”. The Stone is even mentioned in William Shakespeare‘s Henry IV, Part II in the 1590s. The scene refers to Jack Cade, leader of the Kentish rebellion in 1450, striking the London Stone with his sword and declaring himself Lord Mayor of London.
Although the reason for the Stone’s reduction in size is not known, it’s highly likely it was damaged during the Great Fire of London in 1666. By 1742, the Stone was considered an obstruction to traffic so was moved to the north side of Cannon Street, beside the door to the Church of St Swithun, London Stone. Fifty-six years later, it was moved again when it was built into the south wall of the Church. It was during the 18th century that it was claimed the success of London depended on the stone’s survival. Georgian writers claimed there was an ‘old saying’ referring to the London Stone’s other name as ‘the Stone of Brutus’. It read: “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish.” In the 1820s, it was relocated a third time when it was set on its own plinth in the middle of the church wall. It was later covered by a protective iron grille at the request of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society in 1869. Read the rest of this entry →
I’m sure I’m not alone when I admit Greenwich is one of my favourite parts of London. It’s history, architecture, views and atmosphere make it one of the capital’s most attractive areas, drawing both tourists and Londoners alike. The jewel of the crown is Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and Nicholas Hawksmoor’s (1661-1736) Old Royal Naval College, a […]
The church used to be the first thing people passed as they entered the City from London Bridge
St Magnus The Martyr Church stands on Lower Thames Street in the City of London
Dwarfed by the modern architecture surrounding it, St Magnus The Martyr church in the City of London is not such a prominent building as it used to be. However, for hundreds of years, this very church stood at the head of London Bridge, with its frontage as an unofficial ‘gate to London’. For visitors crossing into the City from Southwark, it was the first building that would greet them after they stepped off London Bridge. With the capital’s oldest bridge being relocated further west in 1830, the grand entrance to the church is now hidden away in a small courtyard.
The church tower was inspired by St Carolus Borromeus in Antwerp
St Magnus The Martyr is named after Magnus Erlendsson, Earl Of Orkney (1080-1116 or 1118AD), who was executed following a power struggle with his cousin. He was canonised in 1135 and was remembered for his piety and gentleness. It is believed the church was established in the early 12th century, after the previously marshland area of the riverbank was developed and one of the many London Bridges to stand on the site was rebuilt. Thames Street – the road on which the church stands – was built in the second half of the 11th century just north of the Roman river wall. One of the pilings from the Roman wall dating back to 65AD was discovered in 1931 and is now encased in the base of the church tower at the entrance.
It is believed the first St Magnus The Martyr Church was built by 1128-33. During the building’s early years, there were a series of wooden London Bridges, which never seemed to last long. Finally in 1209, the Old Medieval London Bridge was opened. Made of stone, it took 33 years to build. The new bridge was aligned with Fish Street Hill so all pedestrians walking into London from the bridge would walk directly in front of St Magnus. The bridge included a chapel dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, where pilgrims would stop on their journey to visit his tomb at Canterbury Cathedral. The chapel and two 3rds of London Bridge were part of St Magnus’s parish. Read the rest of this entry →
The bombed out ruins of a Christopher Wren church is now a public garden.
Ruins: One of the Gothic-style windows on the north wall on the remains of St-Dunstan-in-the-East
The City Of London is a bustling, noisy place, especially on weekdays. For hundreds of years, the City’s churches have always been a place of solitude for those seeking quiet and today that is no different. However, not all churches consist of four walls and a ceiling thanks to the damage ravaged by the Nazis during World War II. Located just north of Lower Thames Street is a hidden garden in the ruins of a former church. Although the steeple and tower and some of the walls now remain, the roof and interiors are long gone, having been replaced by a peaceful garden.
St Dunstan-in-the-East is located in the south-east corner of the City of London, a short walk from the Tower of London. The original St Dunstan church was originally built in 1100, but like many in the City, was damaged in the Great Fire Of London in 1666. Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) was given the responsibility of repairing and renovating the church. The building was patched up between 1668 and 1671 with Wren adding a needle spire during 1696 and 1701. Inside, the church contained carvings by Dutch-born carver Grinling Gibbons (1648–1721), whose work also features in St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace.
With the roof gone, what remains of the wall encloses a public garden
Wren’s needle spire and clock tower managed to survive the Blitz
The grand Gothic doorways remain intact, but are covered in vines
In 1817, the church was in a sorry state so it was rebuilt in a perpendicular style to a design by architect David Laing (1774-1856), who designed the New Custom House and was a former apprentice of Sir John Soane. Laing was assisted by architect William Tite (1798–1873), who went on to design the Royal Exchange, West Norwood Cemetery and various train stations, including Vauxhall, Barnes, Chiswick and Kew Bridge. The heavy weight of the roof of the nave had been pushing the walls out seven inches, so it was decided the whole structure – bar Wren’s tower – should be rebuilt. The new design was built with Portland Stone, cost £36,000 and spanned 115 feet by 65 feet. The makeover was revealed to the congregation on January 1821 and could accommodate up to 600-700 parishioners. (For a photo of the church interior, click here or exterior in 1910, click here.)
However, Laing’s redesign was not to last either, with the Nazi bombing campaign of World War II wreaking havoc on St Dunstan’s 120 years later. On 10 May 1941, the bomb destroyed the nave and roof and blew out the stained glass windows. In 1960, St Dunstan was linked with All Hallows by the Tower. The City of London Corporation decided not to rebuild and instead turn the ruins into a public garden, which opened in 1971. The tower’s eight bells were transferred to the Sterling Winery in California’s Napa Valley.
Today, the garden contain lots of plants, trees, a fountain and benches, while the tower is home to a wellbeing foundation. Occasional religious services are held in the open air in the garden, such as Palm Sunday, organised by All Hallows.
St Dunstan-in-the-East, St Dunstan’s Hill, off Lower Thames Street, City of London, EC3R 8DX. Nearest stations: Tower Hill or Monument.
The eastern wall (right) of the church has been largely destroyed, while the south wall managed to stay standing
Read more about Sir Christopher Wren’s churches and life:
The history of the lone church tower in Wood Street in the City of London.
Marooned: The church tower of St Alban stands in on a traffic island in the middle of Wood Street
The original church window
World War II caused a lot of damage and destruction to Sir Christopher Wren‘s churches in the City of London. Some were completely destroyed by bombs, while some damage was repairable. In some cases, the main church buildings were beyond repair, while their towers were able to be saved. One such church tower now stands alone, stranded on a traffic island with cars and taxis weaving along tarmac roads in the very spot where the congregation used to sit and pray.
St Alban church tower stands on a traffic island on Wood Street, separating the north and southbound traffic. The road starts north of Cheapside and crosses London Wall. A church has stood on the site since at least 930AD, with some arguing it dates back to the 8th century, during the time of Offa, King Of Mercia (757-796AD). The Anglo-Saxon ruler was believed to have had a palace on the site which included a chapel. Offa founded a monastery and abbey dedicated to Saint Alban (the first English martyr, who died in the 3rd or 4th century) in what later became St Albans, Hertfordshire. Offa also dedicated several churches in the City to the martyr, hence the theory the church went back this far. However, later parish records date the church to 930AD. During King John’s (1166-1216) reign, the church was called St Alban Wuderstrate. Records in the 16th century show the Medieval church included five bells.
The tower was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in a late Perpendicular Gothic style
By 1633, the church was in a pretty bad state. Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), landowner/politician Sir Henry Spiller (1570–1649) and others inspected the building and found it was beyond repair so it was demolished with a new one constructed on the site a year later. After designing the first 17th century St Alban, Jones went on to repair and remodel St Paul‘s Cathedral. However, Jones’s replacement of St Alban’s Church didn’t stand long thanks to the Great Fire Of London in 1666, which destroyed great swathes of the City.
A sketch of St Alban church in 1839 from the The Churches of London by George Godwin (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
St Alban became one of the many churches rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire. Construction was completed in 1685 and was fashioned in a late Perpendicular Gothic style at a cost of £3,165. The new building featured piers shaped as clustered columns separating the structure into naves and aisles. At the north end of the church was a bell tower, which stood tall at 92 foot (28 metres) and included two bells. In the 19th century, the church was restored by another acclaimed architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). Sir George was famous for building St Pancras station and the Albert Memorial and had a fondness for a neo-Gothic style, which would have suited Wren’s original design. Scott added an apse (a semi-circular recess) to the structure during his restoration.
However, around 274 years after the Great Fire Of London destroyed the City of London, this time it was the Nazi bombing campaign. St Alban was hit by a bomb on 29 December 1940, which left the building burnt out and partially destroyed, with only the tower intact. The main church building was eventually demolished in 1955, but it was decided the tower should remain after being designated a Grade II-listed building in January 1950. Today, the bells have long since been removed and the tower was converted into a private building in the mid 1980s.
Other existing Wren church towers in London missing the main church building included Christ Church Greyfriars, St Dunstan-In-The-East, All Hallows Staining, St Augustine Watling Street, St Mary Somerset and St Olave Old Jewry.
St Alban church tower stands on Wood Street, City of London, EC2. Nearest stations: Moorgate, Barbican or St Paul’s.
The church tower was listed in 1950
Read more on Christopher Wren’s churches and other designs
The Georgian terrace has a plaque claiming to be the former home of Sir Christopher Wren… but what’s the truth?
Cardinal’s Wharf, aka No.49 Bankside, is a rare survivor of 18th century architecture in the area
Cardinal’s Wharf isn’t usually on a tourist’s checklist of things to see in London. However, inevitably a large proportion of visitors will pass by it while on the way to the Globe or Tate Modern and be attracted to the row of 18th century terraced houses juxtaposed by 20th century architecture. Standing out amongst the three buildings is the tallest – No. 49 Bankside – a three-storey cream building with red door. If you get close enough, you’ll find a cream, ceramic plaque linking it to a very important Englishman – Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Renowned as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and many of the City of London’s churches, Wren is an important name in the history of the capital. The plaque claims: ‘Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine Infanta of Castile and Aragon, afterwards first queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.’
No.49 was built in 1710
If you stand with your back to the building, you have a lovely view of St Paul’s over the Thames. It’s easy to imagine Wren retiring with a glass of something to the first floor in the evening after a long day at work and gazing out of the window surveying the progress… however, sadly it’s not quite what happened. Wren was tasked with rebuilding a lot of the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666 and is believed to have based himself at Bankside… but at a building a few doors down from No.49, which has long been demolished.
Writer and historian Gillian Tindall uncovered the truth behind the myth of the building in her 2006 book The House By The Thames: And The People Who Lived There. It turns out No.49 was actually built in 1710 – the same year St Paul’s Cathedral was completed, so that already debunks the theory Wren was based there during the decades it took to build his masterpiece. Tindall believes the plaque stood on the actual house that Wren did live in, but a few houses east – situated where a modern block of flats stands today behind the Founders Arms pub. Her theory suggests Malcolm Munthe (1910-1995), who owned the property in 1945, retrieved the plaque when the original Wren building was demolished and placed it on No.49 to protect it from demolition (for a photo of No.49 in 1946, click here). While the act may have led many to confuse fact and fiction, the plaque’s incorrect placing has managed to save the house from destruction. Bankside was heavily bombed during World War II, before there was mass demolition and redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, so the continued existence of these three houses in Cardinal’s Wharf is a remarkable thing. According to Nicky Haslam’s 2009 memoirs ‘Redeeming Features’, antiques dealer and ‘King of Chelsea’, Christopher Gibbs (1938-2018) lived at No.49 at some point in the 1960s. Situated next to the 1940s-built Tate Modern (formerly Bankside Power Station) and the modern reconstruction of The Globe theatre (opened 1997), Cardinal’s Wharf is a striking contrast to the modernity around it. The house used to stand a lot closer to the Thames, until the Greater London Council revised the waterline back in the 1970s, creating a larger pedestrianised area we see today. No.49 remains the oldest house on Bankside today. Read the rest of this entry →
The history of the gate leading to Paternoster Square, which previously stood in Fleet Street.
Sir Christopher Wren’s Temple Bar arch stands at the south entrance to Paternoster Square in the City of London
Always open: The 1.2 ton gates were opened to the public in 2004
Like many ancient cities, London was surrounded by a wall, with visitors and returning residents gaining entrance through a variety of gates. There have been numerous gates – or archways – into the City of London over the past two millennia, but today, only one remains. Temple Bar is currently located just north of St Paul’s Cathedral – half a mile east from where it originally stood on Fleet Street until the late 19th century. While the current structure is a 17th century design by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), it replaced a previous wooden structure and before that a chain and posts. Many of London’s gates – Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Newgate (which no longer exist) – date back to Roman times. However, Temple Bar dates back to the Middle Ages when the City of London authority erected a passageway to control traffic between the juxtaposing cities of London and Westminster. The name Temple refers to the area south of Fleet Street known for its law courts – which now features Temple underground station on the Circle and District line. The Bar at Temple was first mentioned in 1293, which historians believe was a simply a chain between two posts. However, over the years, many different structures were erected on the site. In the late Middle Ages, a timber arch stood on the spot and amazingly avoided being destroyed by the Great Fire of London in September 1666.
Stuart Royals: Statues of King Charles I (1600-1649) and his son Charles II (1630-1685) are on the south facing part of the arch
Temple Bar on its original Fleet Street site in 1878 – the year it was dismantled and taken to Herts (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Following the Great Fire, the City was due a big makeover – building by necessity and also an attempt to build a more flowing, ordered space – 17th century town planning. The wooden Temple Bar was falling into disrepair so Wren was given the task of building a new gate, along with all the other structures he was designing and overseeing in the City. King Charles II (1630-1685) commissioned Wren to create the new Temple Bar. Made from Portland Stone, it took three years to build and was completed in 1672. The gate features a wide arch for road traffic and two smaller arches for pedestrians to pass through. In alcoves on each side of the Temple were statues of Charles I (1600-1649), Charles II, James I (1566-1625) and Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), which were carved by John Bushnell (d.1701). In the 18th century, the heads of traitors were put on spikes above the roof of the arch to serve as a warning to those thinking about breaking the City’s laws.
Despite the respect of such a historic monument, the City of London Corporation wanted to widen the road and it was decided to dismantle it carefully stone-by-stone in January 1878. After its 2,700 stones were put in storage, two years later the arch was bought by brewer, Sir Henry Bruce Meux (1856-1900) for his wife Lady Meux (1847-1910), to be reconstructed at their Hertfordshire estate Theobalds Park.
Horace Jones’ Temple Bar marker today outside the Royal Courts of Justice
So for 123 years, Temple Bar stood in a clearing in a wood in Cheshunt. It had deteriorated and suffered vandalism over the years. The arch was bought by the Temple Bar Trust (founded by Sir Hugh Wontner in 1976) in 1984 with the hope of restoring it and bringing it back to the Square Mile. Finally, on 10 November 2004, the bright, shiny Temple Bar was completed and open to the public, now situated at the entrance to Paternoster Square by St Paul’s Cathedral. The gates of the arch, weighing just over 1.2 tons each, were opened by the Lord Mayor at the time and the 14 stonemasons who had worked on the rebuilding Temple Bar. Meanwhile, on its previous site where Fleet Street meets the Strand (in the City of Westminster) outside the Royal Courts of Justice, there now stands a marker – a neo Renaissance pedestal by Horace Jones featuring Charles Bell Birch’s sculpture of a dragon – the symbol for the City of London. The pedestal, which was unveiled in 1880) features likenesses of Queen Victoria and Edward VIII (the then-Prince of Wales), who were the last royals to pass through Wren’s gate.
Temple Bar is located at Paternoster Square, just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. Nearest stations: St Paul’s, Temple or City Thameslink.
Sculptures of King James and Queen Anne of Denmark face Paternoster Square