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Christchurch Rebuilt – more London walks

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Over the past few days we have been looking at a church that features on several of our London walks Christchurch Newgate Street, also known as Christchurch Greyfriars. Yesterday, we left it a smoke blackened ruin which had been destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Today, we look at how it was rebuilt by the great architect Sir Christopher Wren, a figure who looms large on many of our London walks.

As the rebuilding of London began in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London. Christ’s Hospital School was rebuilt, and Sir Christopher Wren commenced work on the rebuilding of Christchurch between 1667 and 1687.

The rebuilt church was the most expensive of all his London churches (many of which are featured on our Sir Christopher Wren London walk) and cost the, for those times, astronomical sum of  £11, 778 9 shillings and 6 pence. It was a very wide church with huge sloping galleries for the pupils from Christchurch to sit in during services. The galleries,  so it is said, were designed thus to enable the Master to keep an eye on his charges during the services.

The Tower itself was built in stages and wasn’t actually fully completed until 1704.

By the 1930′s the church was surrounded by buildings of the post office. Then, on the night of 29th December 1940, the church was again destroyed by the bombs of the Blitz. As it blazed two postmen from the nearby post office raced into the furnace and managed to rescue the intricately carved font cover, which had been the work of Sir Christopher Wren’s master wood carver Grinling Gibbons. This now resides inside the nearby city church of St Sepulchre’s, which we cover on our Historic City of London walks.

After the war the Corporation of London wished to widen the curve at the junction of Newgate Street and thus the eastern wall of the churches was pulled down it position marked by a series of large concrete blocks at the side of the road.

In 2005 Kate Renwick, an Irish-American lady, purchased the Tower and converted it into a magnificent 11 floor family home.

Christchurch, Geryfriars, London walks.

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Yesterdays blog about our London walks began the history of one of the bombed out City Churches, Christchurch, Greyfriars. We let it with the Dissolution of the Monasteries having reduced it to the inglorious usage of being turned into a store house for the spoils of war, with the King’s Printer setting up his presses in the nave of the old church.

As our London walks make their way along Newgate Street they pass two blue plaques on the wall of what is now the office building of  Merrill Lynch.  One blue plaque commemorates the Greyfriars Monastery which stood on the site until Henry V111 dissolved it. The other commemorates Christ’s Hospital School and it is with that institution that we shall deal in today’s blog.

In the mid 1540′s the church had been renamed Christchurch. In the 1550′s Edward V1 allowed the City of London to convert the old monastic buildings for use as Christ’s Hospital School for the welfare and education of poor, fatherless children. Famous pupils at the school included the 18th century essayist Charles Lamb and the early 19th century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The school left the site in the early 1900′s and moved to its current location at Horsham in Sussex where it still is a thriving charitable boarding school that caters for children from all walks of life.

However, it was decided that the children should return to their City of London routes once a year and to this day the pupils return to London annually on St Mathews day (September 21st) to march through the streets and meet with the Lord Mayor at Guildhall. The Lord mayor still presents the pupils with  largess or sum of money.

Historically it was on St Mathews day that the school governors were elected which is why this day was chosen for the march.

The pupils dress up in their famous uniform that consist of a blue coat with silver buttons(hence the school also being known as the Bluecoat School). In Tudor times blue was the favourite color for the attire of charity children since it was the cheapest dye. The children also wear bright yellow stockings, reputedly as these were died in saffron and, since it was believed that rats didn’t like saffron, this would deter the rats from nipping at the ankles of the pupils.

Our London walks are full of intrigiong anecdotes such as this so why not check out one of our tours?

City Walks Of London – The Greyfriars

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

City of London walks and tours frequently pass the ruins of a church that is located at the junction of Newgate Street and King Edward Street.

Participants on our London Walking Tours are often very curious about this building as, despite its ruined appearance, it is still very eye-catching.

The scarred walls are, in fact, the bombed out remains of Christchurch, Newgate Street, which was destroyed by bombing during the London Blitz.

Its tall sturdy tower always draws the eye of those on our London walks as it is something of a local landmark, a throw back to bygone London cowering amongst the gleaming offices of  the modern City.

The first church to be built on this site was built by the Franciscans who wore grey habits and were thus known as the Grey Friars. They had established their monastery here in the 1220′s and the church was added in the 1300′s. Such was the reputation of the Franciscans that many well to do citizens sought to be buried here, many of them wearing the garb of a Greyfriar monk in the belief that such attire would speed their passage in to heaven.

The church itself enjoyed a great deal of Royal patronage and several medieval Queen’s were buried there including Marguerite of France, second wife of King Edward I, Isabella, widow of Edward II. The heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, was also interred there.

Isabella is one of the characters who features on our London walks as she, in conjunction with her lover, Roger Mortimer, was, allegedly, behind the horrific murder of Edward 11 at Berkeley Castle.

The original church was rebuilt in the 1300′s and was the second largest church in the City of London, only St. Paul’s Cathedral was larger than it.

But following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign og King henry the V111, the church’s glory days were over and it sufferred the inglorious fate of being used as storage for spoils captured in the wars with France. The King’s printer also set up his printing presses in the nave of the church.

We will continue our history of Christchurch in our next blog but for now why not check out the other London walks that we have to offer.

More on the London Blitz and Its Aftermath.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

In yesterday’s London walks Blitz blog it was explained how the Luftwaffe was unaware of the extent of the destruction they had caused to London and that General Sperrle regarded the raid as a failure.

He believed this to be the case because the second wave did not strike. Aerial reconnaissance was impossible as the low cloud still hung over the target city.

However, the official Luftwaffe report states, ‘Rarely if ever were fires of such number and size perceived during a single attack against the capital.’

Sixteen firemen had been killed and 250 detained in hospital, largely with temporary blindness, but many with severe burns and smoke-damaged lungs. One hundred and sixty-three civilians had been killed (largely living in the residential areas immediately outside the City), and 509 had been seriously injured. St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City had received 123 casualties in the course of the night.

Seven areas that our covered on our Historical London walks had been completely burned out.

Looking at a map of the city, the areas can be traced along the streets. The first ran along Beech Street and Chiswell Street, turning north to take in the Artillery Ground with a northern limit at Bunhill Fields, south along Moorgate to Gresham Street, turning south again at Milk Street down to Cheapside, then south at Bread Street to Queen Victoria Street running along as far as Bracken House, next turning south to the riverside, along the river to Blackfriars, along both sides of New Bridge Street, turning west at Tudor Street, north again to cross Fleet Street running back east to the railway line at Seacoal Lane, north into Old Bailey along Newgate Street, crossing over to Christchurch Newgate Street and the Post Office’s King Edward Building, then turning onto Aldersgate Street running north to complete the area at Beech Street. This was the largest area of devastation.

Another devastated area that is covered on our London walks is that bounded by Chancery Lane on the west, Holborn on the north, Shoe Lane on the east and Fleet Street on the south.

The third area ran along Queen Street on the west, Cannon Street on the north, London Bridge on the east and the river on the south.

The fourth area covered Leadenhall Street at the north, bounded by the Tower and Fenchurch Street to the east and ran south from Leadenhall Street down to Lower Thames Street.

Area five was from Houndsditch on the south to Middlesex Street on the north, with its eastern boundary reaching nearly to Bishopsgate.

The sixth area was the zone mentioned at the beginning of this chapter: centring on the Minories, it encompassed the stretch from Aldgate Bus Station down to the river south and west of the Tower.

The seventh area was across the river in Southwark. The riverfront from Tower Bridge to London Bridge consisted entirely of burned-out warehouses, with the destruction stretching back through London Bridge Railway Station and along Borough High Street as far as St Thomas’s Street.

All mainline railway termini were out of action with the exception of Liverpool Street Station.

Hundreds of banks, offices and warehouses were gutted wrecks.

But it was the destruction of the Wren churches which gripped the minds of the press and public.

The City was never an area distinguished for the beauty of its buildings. The old offices of the City had a certain aggregate charm and character. The Livery Halls of the City’s Guilds were opulent structures, some with splendid interior woodwork and fine collections of gold and silverware, but they tended to express corporate wealth and pomp rather than good taste.

It was London Bridge ‘s churches which represented what was most glorious and beautiful in this commercial capital.

Sir Christopher Wren, the architect to the King in the years after the Great Fire of London, 1666, had built fifty churches in the ‘Square Mile’ apart from St Paul’s Cathedral. This may sound a little excessive, but eighty-nine churches had been destroyed by the fire, so Wren had in fact rationalized with his fifty new buildings.

Wren was a Classical architect, moving over to Baroque towards the end of his long career. Each church had a distinct appearance; each tower or steeple some mark of individuality to distinguish it from the surrounding forest of spires; the interiors, richly decorated with plaster were tranquil refuges for contemplation away from the noise and bustle of the City.

Time, and more particularly the Victorians, had dealt harshly with these churches. Between 1870 and 1890 nearly twenty had been demolished to make way for banks.

Tomorrow we’ll describe briefly a London walk around the main area of devastation.