London walks around the environs of the Bank of England reveal a mournful succession of blue plaques commemorating the beautiful Sir Christopher Wren Churches that were victims of Victorian arrogance.
But, following the bombing raid of the 29th December 1940, ten more Wren churches stood in ruins.
The principal parish church of the City was a wreck — St Mary le Bow on Cheapside had once been the church of the Archbishop of Canterbury when resident in London. With its great bell, it stood on the main market street (in Old English a ‘cheap’ is a market).
The bell rang out in former centuries to signal the curfew; to be born within the sound of it was to be a ‘cockney’ or a Londoner. When the church was bombed the bell fell out of the tower and melted. In a sense, there would be no more true-born Londoners until 1956, when the bell was recast.
Reference has already been made to the destruction of St Bride’s on Fleet Street. The interior of the church was somewhat marred by the Victorian pews, but it was its steeple that attracted affection.
St Bride’s steeple is a series of concentric drums reducing as they ascend, and it gave rise to the design of the tiered wedding cake, the church itself being known as the ‘wedding cake church’.
St Lawrence-in-the¬Jewry-next-Guildhall, the church of the government of the City, had burned before the eyes of the Guildhall fire- watchers, its steeple crashing down in flames into the body of the church.
St Alban’s, Wood Street, was likewise a shell and later the authorities would seize the opportunity to demolish the remains of the body, leaving only the tower, since the church stood in the middle of a narrow street.
The church of Christchurch, Newgate Street, stood next to the postal headquarters, and as it blazed two postmen rushed into the furnace to rescue what they could. They seized the carved font cover made by Grinling Gibbons, Wren’s master woodcarver, and this now resides in the church of the Holy Sepulchre-without-Newgate.
Here, too, there would be no restoration as the City Corporation wished to broaden the curve at the corner of Newgate Street. The remains of the church are now a garden dominated by the old tower.
St Olave’s church on Ironmonger Lane would have its body replaced by a new one, but finally became an estate agent’s office. St Nicholas Cole Abbey on Queen Victoria Street, the church of the Hudson Bay Company, with a weather vane in the shape of the Nonsuch — the company’s first ship — would be restored to use.
The church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe on Queen Victoria Street, which features on our Shakespeare London walks, had been badly abused by Victorian beautifiers and would now suffer the further indignity of having an office built in its interior to house the Society for Ancient Monuments.
The little brick church of St Anne and St Agnes, the cheapest of Wren’s churches with only a wooden turret instead of a tower, would be restored to become a Lutheran Church with services in Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian.
Tucked away behind the cathedral was the minuscule church of St Augustine, the church of St Paul’s Choir School. Here only the tower was left standing. A committee of architects called the Architects Co-partnership would conspire to erect a bizarre replacement built of concrete and lead in the modernist style. It is difficult to imagine anything more incongruous with the Wren tower and the great cathedral next to it.
Strangest of all was the fate reserved for the church of St Mary Aldermanbury, on Love Lane.
In 1966 the remains of the church were shipped to Fulton, Missouri, USA, where the restored church now stands as a memorial to Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech made at Westminster College, Fulton, in 1946.
The bombing of London and other cities in Britain continued after the night of the ‘Second Great Fire’.
On the 11 January 1941 a direct hit on Bank Underground Station blasted a great crater in the middle of the road, under which lay the station ticket office. Bodies were thrown up from the station and scattered all around. The crater was of such depth that army engineers had to erect a bailey bridge across it for traffic at this major intersection.
During mid-January to mid-March there were a number of minor raids known as ‘nuisance raids’.
On 8 March there was a heavy raid of 125 bombers, then from March through to mid-April an average of one raid per week, the heaviest of these being on 19 March, when there were 479 bombing sorties dropping 400 tons of high explosive.
On 16 and 19 April there were two heavy raids. These were remembered by Londoners as ‘The Wednesday’ and ‘The Saturday’. ‘The Wednesday’ saw the destruction of Chelsea Old Church, the church of Sir Thomas More.
On The Saturday’ St Paul’s was hit again.
We will continue with our London walks Blitz Blog tomorrow.