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Gallery: Churches of Central London
by Peter Kessler, 3 January 2010
City of London Part 19: Churches of Newgate &
St Etheldreda Ely, the ancient town
chapel of the bishops of Ely from about 1250 to 1570, is on the
western side of Ely Place, off Charterhouse Street immediately
east of the junction with High Holborn. Built between 1250-1290
by John De Kirkeby, bishop of Ely and treasurer of England, it is
reputedly the oldest Catholic church in England and one of only
two remaining buildings in London from the reign of Edward I.
Etheldreda was the daughter of King Anna of the East Angles.
Etheldreda, born in AD 630, became a nun and
founded what became Ely Cathedral. The church became Protestant at
the time of the English Reformation, despite a brief reversal under
Mary Tudor. During the late 1500s part of the undercroft (the crypt)
was used as a tavern, but the church was finally restored to the 'old
faith', Catholicism, in 1874. Sunday masses are sung in Latin, while
the church is in the care of the Rosminian Fathers (Institute of
St Bride's Fleet Street is on the southern
side of the street, opposite the Shoe Lane entrance which leads north
to St Etheldreda. Sometime in the sixth century the first known stone
church was built on the site, dedicated to St Bridgit or St Bride of
Kildare (born AD 453). The later eleventh century church was replaced
by another in the fifteenth, and this was destroyed by the Great Fire.
Wren rebuilt it in 1671-1675. The tower was not completed until
further work began in 1701.
Wren's steeple was his highest, and was reputedly
the inspiration for the first tiered wedding cake after it was
completed in 1703. A lightening strike removed the topmost 2.4
metres (eight feet) of the steeple in 1764. As a result of being
struck by firebombs on 29 December 1940, the crypts were discovered,
as well as remains of Roman pavements, made in AD 180. A burnt-out
shell was all that remained on the site until the eighth church,
the current one, was later built.
Holy Trinity Gough Square is reached via
narrow passages such as Bolt Court, St Dunstan's Court, and Johnsons
Court, all of which join to the northern side of Fleet Street, just
a few metres west of St Bride's. The church was built as a sister to
St Bride's in about 1629 on a square that may have been named
after Nicholas Goff or Gough, the printer, who resided there. The
decline of the City's population in the nineteenth century saw the
church closed down in about 1875.
The Guild Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West
is on the northern side of Fleet Street, the most westerly of the
traditional City parish churches. St Dunstan was one of the foremost
Anglo-Saxon saints, born in AD 909 and educated by Irish monks at
Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset. The original church stood on the same
site, but extended further into what then was a much narrower Fleet
Street. It was built between 988 and 1070, perhaps even on St
The church narrowly escaped the Great Fire
when the dean of Westminster roused scholars from Westminster
School in the middle of the night to extinguish the flames with
buckets of water. Wear and tear took its toll, and the church was
rebuilt in 1831. Unusually, it looks traditionally neo-Gothic on
the outside, yet is octagonal inside. The tower was badly damaged
in 1944, and was rebuilt in 1950. The church also serves as the
Romanian Orthodox Church in London.
The Temple Church lies virtually opposite
St Dunstan in a complex of buildings. It was built by the Knights
Templar, the order of crusading monks founded to protect pilgrims
on their way to and from the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem in the
twelfth century. The earliest part, the Round Church, was
consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem, designed to
recall the holiest place in the Crusaders' world: the circular
Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The adjoining rectangular chancel was built to
replace the original choir. It was consecrated on Ascension Day in
1240 and comprises a central aisle and two side aisles of identical
width. After the destruction and abolition of the Knights Templar in
1307, Edward II took control of the church as a Crown possession. It
was later given to the Knights Hospitaller, who rented it to lawyers.
Back in post-Reformation Crown hands, the church was undamaged by the
Even so, it was refurbished by Wren, and an
organ was introduced for the first time. In 1841 the church was
again restored, the walls and ceiling being decorated in the high
Victorian Gothic style. The object was to bring the church back to
its original brightly decorated appearance. Nothing of the work
remains, however. The organ and decoration were destroyed in the
fire raid that gutted the building on 10 May 1941. Restoration was
only completed in November 1958.