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Gallery: Churches of Central London
by Peter Kessler, 6 December 2009
City of London Part 7: Churches of Moorgate &
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.
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 built 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 Grade I listed.
St Mary Moorfields is a Catholic church at
4-5 Eldon Street, on the north 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.
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 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.
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
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.
In 1604 William Bedwell, rector of St
Ethelburga's, 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 it serves
as a reconciliation and peace centre.
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.
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
Ten photos on this page by P L Kessler, and one
from the Joan Renton Postcard Collection.