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Churches of the British Isles

Gallery: Churches of Central London

by Peter Kessler, 8 November 2009

City of London Part 4: Churches of Aldersgate & Cripplegate

St Martin's Le Grand French Protestant Church, Central London

St Martin's Le Grand French Protestant Church used to lay next to St Botolph-without-Aldersgate (visible in the background). The French Protestant Church of London was founded in 1550 by a Royal Charter of Edward VI, granting the freedom of worship to Protestant Walloon and French religious refugees. Twenty-three French churches were in existence in 1700, but this one was demolished in 1888 and a new French Protestant church was opened in Soho Square in 1893.

St Vedast-alias-Foster, Central London

St Vedast-alias-Foster faces out onto Cheapside, diagonally opposite to St Paul's in the south-west. Founded in the twelfth century, Vedast (or Foster in English) was a French saint whose cult came to England though contacts with Augustinian monks. The original church was partially destroyed by the Great Fire, and required a great deal of restoration between 1670-1673 by Wren, so that only small parts of the original church survive. The bell tower was added in 1697.

St Vedast-alias-Foster, Central London

In 1703 the Baroque spire was added to the top of the bell tower, while in 1731 the organ was built by Renatus Harris. The church was again severely damaged, this time by firebombs during the Blitz in 1940, so more restoration work was needed within the surviving walls. The church was united in 1956 with the parishes of thirteen other local churches, all of which had been demolished or lost, and the restoration work was finally concluded in 1962.

St Leonard Foster Lane, Central London

St Leonard Foster Lane was located approximately at this side junction on Foster Lane, further down the street from St Vedast. A church existed here from at least the thirteenth century, serving the residents of St Martin's Le Grand, but the Great Fire destroyed it in 1666. It was not one of those selected for rebuilding. Instead its parish was united with that of Christchurch Greyfriars, but its ruins were left in place and not cleared until the early nineteenth century.

St Leonard Foster Lane, Central London

St John Zachary (which means St John [the Baptist], the son of Zachary) was located on Gresham Street, in between Noble Street and Staining Lane, and very close to St Anne & St Agnes. It was first mentioned in 1181. As with a large number of churches in this immediate area of the City, it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and was not rebuilt. The garden which now covers its site was first built by firewatchers during the Second World War.

St Mary Staining, Central London

St Mary Staining was on Oat Lane, at the outside corner with Staining Lane. The first reference to a church on this site is to the 'Ecclesia de Staningehage' in 1189, and the name Staining probably derives from a family living in Staines which held land in this area. The church was destroyed by the Great Fire and was not rebuilt. A few gravestones were found nearby in the 1990s and the site is now a City of London Corporation garden which contains a historic tree.

St Olave Silver Street, Central London

St Olave Silver Street is on the corner of Noble Street and London Wall. Just a pathway separated the church from the Roman wall. The first reference to a church here is to 'St Olave de Mukewellestrate' in the twelfth century, while the dedication of the church was to King Olaf II (1016-1028), the first Christian king of Norway, who fought alongside Ethelred II against the Danes in England in 1013. The church was destroyed by the Great Fire and not rebuilt.

St Giles Cripplegate, Central London

St Giles Cripplegate is on Fore Street and Wood Street - both now partially submerged within the Barbican complex. The first church here was Saxon, probably wattle and daub, but in 1090 a Norman church was built. At some point after that it was dedicated to St Giles, patron saint of cripples and beggars. 'Cripplegate' is from Anglo-Saxon 'cruplegate', a covered way or tunnel which ran from the city gate to the Barbican, a fortified watchtower on the Roman wall.

St Giles Cripplegate, Central London

The church was enlarged and rebuilt in the perpendicular style in 1394. A fire occurred in 1545, and the church was restored. It escaped the Great Fire but was badly damaged in the Cripplegate Fire of 1897. Further damage followed during the Blitz when it suffered a direct hit on the north door in 1940. The following December it was showered with so many incendiaries that even the cement caught alight. All that remained was the shell and tower, all since rebuilt.

St Alphege London Wall, Central London

St Alphege London Wall is close to the former Cripplegate and right up against the wall. Thought to have been established before 1068, it was first mentioned in 1108 and was named for Archbishop Alphege, killed by Vikings in 1013. It was closed and demolished at the end of the fifteenth century, and the former priory church of St Mary's nunnery (founded before 1000) replaced it. The dilapidated church had to be rebuilt from scratch in 1747, and was demolished in 1923.

Eight photos on this page by P L Kessler, and one each kindly contributed by Stuart Smith and Anne & David via the 'History Files: Churches of the British Isles' Flickr group. Sound file from 'Bells on Sunday' on BBC Radio 4, 2009.



Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original feature for the History Files.