Saintly in the City

Five Sacred Structures

The year 1666 was a defining point for the City of London. The Great Fire of London destroyed almost 90 churches including St Paul’s Cathedral. From the ashes 52 new churches were rebuilt by Oxford graduate, Sir Christopher Wren.

However, Wren was not principally an architect, he was a mathematician, geometer and astronomer whose father was the Dean of Windsor. It was important for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral that a new “Protestant” style of architecture was adopted. As the son of a Protestant Dean Wren was perfect for the job.

Wren set about creating plans for 52 new churches using the existing plots and often the foundations of the original churches. This publication examines four of these churches along with St Paul’s Cathedral and their surroundings.

These sacred structures played a major role in the re-shaping of the post-fire city. They are the City’s survivors, withstanding not only past developmental changes to the City but also the devastation of the Blitz. Today, although largely redundant as religious buildings these listed structures continue to shape the environment around them dictating the heights and placements of new buildings whilst preserving an essence of the City’s past.

The Walbrook

St Stephen Walbrook

St Stephen Walbrook was built on the west bank of the Walbrook river on a site originally occupied by a Roman temple. The river played an important role in the settlement of the Romans, being a crucial trade route. However, over the centuries it has become covered and now runs entirely underground.

Today the essence of the river is echoed in the Bloomsberg and the Walbrook buildings, both designed by Fosters and Partners. The Bloomsberg building is designed to be respectful of its historical neighbours and uses stonework which blends with St Stephen Walbrook’s.

St Stephen Walbrook is the most complex and elaborate of Wren’s City of London churches. The church was completed in 1680 however the spire, which consists of columns and square urns, wasn’t added to the church until around 1715.

The most important feature of the church is its dome, which was the prototype for St Paul’s Cathedral. Wren designed the dome to let in natural light; inside the church it is very light and airy. St Stephen Walbrook’s dome was the first classical dome to be built in England.

Shadowed by Modernity

St Margaret Pattens

St Margaret Pattens (1684) is a plain but well proportioned geometric stone church sitting on Rood Street, a small lane to the left side of 20 Fenchurch Street.

The area directly around St Margaret Pattens has undergone significant regeneration. To the left of the church is Plantation Place, a large modern geometric structure which is materially sympathetic to the church. The façade of the building incorporates stonework similar in colour to that of the church, hiding a vast glass structure behind it.

The church lies in the shadow of the vast irregular postmodern building nicknamed the “Walkie Talkie”. On first sight the building has little in common with the church – it is a mass of reflective glass and steel – but its grid structure seems to reference that of Plantation Place, thus creating a sequence between the three buildings.

A second theme emerges between these three buildings. They are purposeful rather than ornate. The church is rather plain and one notices that the area surrounding is minimalist. Although, the church does have one rather redeeming feature; its spire.

The spire of St Margaret Pattens is unique, the only gothic spire that Wren designed for his City of London churches. Sheathed in lead the spire was once the third highest in the City, reaching up 69 metres. Today the church is dwarfed by 20 Fenchurch Street which exceeds its height by 91 metres.

Incorporated in the Past

St Lawrence Jewry

St Lawrence Jewry Next Guildhall is the only church in the City of London to be situated next to a building which pre-dates it. Part of the Guildhall (the Great Hall) dates back to 1440 and is the oldest non-ecclestiastical stone building to have survived to the present day.

The grand entrance to the Guildhall was built in 1788 by George Dance in the Hindoostani Gothic style, hiding most of the 15th century Great Hall behind. The Gothic turrets are however still visible from the Guildhall Yard.

The West Wing of the Guildhall Yard, directly next to the church was destroyed during the Blitz. It current building was designed by Giles Scott Senior and completed by his son in1974 after his death. The brutalist architecture references shapes and forms from the Guildhall’s Hindoostani Gothic style façade.

On the East Wing sits a more recent building, by Giles Scott Junior, completed in 1999. Interestingly this building, although with a modern feel, is far more sympathetic to its historical neighbours. It also conceals a basement of historic treasures; the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre.

From the front, St Lawrence Jewry is an uninspiring church with a centralised tower. However the alter side of the church is quite ornate with Corinthian columns similar to those Wren later incorporated on the front of St Paul’s Cathedral. This wall consists of simple geometric shapes – circles, squares and triangles – as well as being perfectly symmetrical.

A True Cockney?

St Mary-le-Bow

St Mary-le-Bow, built 1683, once lay at the heart of one of the busiest streets in the world, in the middle of London’s financial district. The church still occupies a prominent place on this once important street, in contrast to many of Wren’s City churches, which are tucked away down alleyways.

Today, Cheapside is somewhat downgraded in stature, occupied now by shops and offices. The building of One New Change has revived the area and the recent buildings in Bow Churchyard are considerate to their historic surroundings. However, there are still reminisces of the street’s demise not least in some of the 1960s buildings hastily placed to fill gaps created during the Blitz.

Although the tower is built from stone, the main body of St Mary-le-Bow is built from red brick, although this is hidden when viewing the church from Cheapside. Bow Lane (a traditional alleyway) runs to the left of the church. The bricked theme of the church is echoed down the alley, consisting mainly of 19th century buildings, some former warehouses. Today Bow Lane is filled with brand named shops and cafés.

As legend goes, to be a true Cockney someone needs to be born within earshot of the Bow Bells.

Past Reflections

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most influential buildings in London. The Cathedral has significantly shaped its surroundings; the view of the Cathedral is guarded by planning laws and great detail and considertion has gone into the construction of the buildings around it.

As the first protestant cathedral to be built post the reformation, it was paramount that the Cathedral should represent a new-found protestant style, distinct from that of the old, converted and ornate Catholic cathedrals of the medieval era.

The famous dome has reigned the London skyline for over 300 years. Even today it is one of the tallest domes in the world and remains the largest dome in Great Britain.

Wren was principally a mathematician and the dome is an awe-inspiring use of mathematics in architecture. However, the dome proved to be a headache for Wren. It took a number of reiterations to get right. Thus, the dome is constructed of three layers.

Wren used neoclassical grandeur to define his Cathedral, using Corinthian columns, like those he had used in the design of St. Lawrence Jewry. The Cathedral is, as expected, the most ornate of Wren’s City churches.

Echoes of the Cathedral are all around, from the re-use of the Corinthian columns in the recent Juxon Building, the small dome on 4 St Paul’s Churchyard and the impressive reflection in One New Change.



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