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Modern Britain

Gallery: Churches of Central London

by Peter Kessler, 3 January 2010

City of London Part 19: Churches of Newgate & Temple

Church of St Etheldreda Ely, City of London

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.

Church of St Etheldreda Ely, City of London

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 Charity).

Church of St Bride's Fleet Street, City of London

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.

Church of St Bride's Fleet Street, City of London

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.

Church of Holy Trinity Gough Square, City of London

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.

Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West, City of London

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 Dunstan's orders.

Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West, City of London

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, City of 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 Temple Church, City of London

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 Great Fire.

The Temple Church, City of London

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.

Eight photos on this page by P L Kessler, and two copyright © John Salmon, and reused under a cc licence. The tour now progresses into the City of Westminster.



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