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Modern Britain

Gallery: Churches of Central London

by Peter Kessler, 6 December 2009

 

 

City of London Part 7: Churches of Moorgate & Bishopsgate

All Hallows-on-the-Wall

All Hallows-on-the-Wall is on the northern side of London Wall, close to Old Broad Street. Dedicated to All Hallows, or 'All Saints', the suffix distinguished it from the seven other churches of the same name in the City. The original church was of Norman construction and was erected before 1120 on a bastion of the old Roman city wall, which was maintained and built up until at least the fourteenth century. It became renowned for the hermits who lived in cells in the church.

All Hallows-on-the-Wall

The Norman church was demolished and replaced in around 1300, although not much is known about this version. In 1666, it escaped destruction in the Great Fire thanks to its position under the wall, but it subsequently became increasingly derelict. A new church building was constructed by George Dance the Younger in 1767 (at the age of twenty-four). This version was damaged during the Second World War, but was rebuilt in the 1960s. It is now a Grade I listed building.

St Mary Moorfields

St Mary Moorfields is a Catholic church at 4-5 Eldon Street, on the northern side of Finsbury Circus. A chapel was opened in the area in 1686, when Catholic worship was still illegal, and was suspended in 1689, in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Other chapels subsequently sprang up, known locally as 'Penny Hotels', as people had to pay a penny to a man behind a grill in the door before they were allowed in. Ropemakers Alley contained one, opened in 1736.

St Mary Moorfields

In 1780 the Gordon Rioters attacked the chapel in Ropemakers Alley, ripping out its altar, but following the Catholic Relief Act of 1791, Catholics were permitted to worship in public. A chapel opened in White Street, and in 1820 the first church of St Mary Moorfields opened in Finsbury Circus, which became Cardinal Wiseman's pro-cathedral from 1850 to 1869. The church was pulled down in 1899 and replaced by the present building, which opened on 25 March 1903.

St Botolph without Bishopsgate

St Botolph without Bishopsgate is one of the smaller number of churches to have survived in the easternmost districts of the City. Botolph was a seventh century Saxon noble who built a monastery in the kingdom of East Anglia and was later revered as a saint while his relics were carried throughout England, including London, where four City of London churches were named after him. The one at Billingsgate was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, but the rest survive.

St Botolph without Bishopsgate

Although Christians have probably worshipped here since the Roman period, the earliest remains of a church date to Saxon times. Its first mention is in 1212, when it was located just outside the city gate, the Bishop's Gate, or Bishopsgate. In the late sixteenth century it was repaired by the lord mayor of London and survived the Great Fire, only to fall into disuse. It was demolished in 1725 and the present building erected in its place. The church is still in use today.

St Ethelburga the Virgin within Bishopsgate

St Ethelburga the Virgin within Bishopsgate lies less than a hundred metres to the south of St Botolph's. Halfway between them was the ancient Roman city wall, which placed St Ethelburga within the Bishop's Gate. The first church on the site was built in around 1180, but the present construction dates to around 1400, when it was the biggest building in Bishopsgate, making it one of the oldest medieval buildings in the City, and its short spire survives fully intact.

St Ethelburga the Virgin within Bishopsgate

In 1604, the rector of St Ethelburga's, William Bedwell, was one of the translators for the King James Authorised Bible. His church survived the Great Fire, but its fortunes faded and by 1900 an opticians shop had been built across its front. The Blitz passed it by, but in 1993 it was devastated by the IRA bomb detonated nearby. The shattered remains were rescued and rebuilt, and its medieval interior was restored. Now the church serves as a centre for reconciliation and peace.

St Helen Bishopsgate

St Helen Bishopsgate lies on Great St Helen's, close to Bishopsgate. In 1210 the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's give permission for a certain William to establish a nunnery in the grounds of the Priory church of St Helen of the Benedictine Order. It was built to the north of the existing church, and a new church built for the nuns immediately alongside the older church. This was four feet wider than the parish church, and longer too, so the parish church was lengthened to match.

St Helen Bishopsgate

In 1480 the four great arches which dominate the building today were erected, along with the current roof. During the Dissolution in 1538, the Crown acquired the nunnery and lands to the north, and it was all sold in 1543 to the Leathersellers' Company. The two churches were joined together as one and William Shakespeare was a parishioner in the 1590s. The church survived the Great Fire and the Blitz, and in 1799 the last convent buildings were demolished.

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