Saturday, 2 August 2014

St Paul, Covent Garden

St Paul appears to be usually open but was closed for a month while they ran a kids club production of Alice in Wonderland so I failed to see inside, although I suspect that it is very austere and dour (which a glance through Flickr proves wrong as shown by Rex Harris and others).

The exterior is hard to judge without perambulation but the east end is neoclassical and should be rather grand, if plain, but for the fact that it now plays host to the Covent Garden mummers which somewhat detracts its impact.

Supposedly designed by Inigo Jones in 1633 it was burnt out in 1795 and was effectively rebuilt by Thomas Hardwick (who had restored it in 1789); so I suppose it's therefore a C17th core but a C18th build. Apparently it has a Grinling Gibbons pulpit which would have been interesting to see.


St Paul, Covent Garden (3)

The Earl of Bedford himself noted in his commonplace book: “London the Ring Couengarden the iewell of that ring.” He was clearly proud of his estate, but for all that, he looked carefully at the money he was laying out on the new investment. He was responsible for the church and for perhaps three of the houses on the eastern side, as examples to those who wished to take up building leases. When it came to the church, he sent for Inigo Jones and

told him he wanted a chapel for the parishioners of Covent Garden, but added he would not go to any considerable expense; “In short”, said he, “I would not have it much better than a barn.” “Well! then,” said Jones, “You shall have the handsomest barn in England.”

This story has often been told but it bears repeating for St Paul’s, Covent Garden, does indeed resemble a barn, being very plain, with great over-hanging eaves and a portico before the eastern front, which faced the Piazza, with heavy fluted columns and uncompromisingly plain Tuscan capitals. Inside, the church was equally unadorned, which would have agreed with the earl’s severe religious tenets, but Inigo Jones made one miscalculation. If the entrance portico were to face the Piazza, then it would be necessary to place the altar at the west end. Such a deviation was impermissible; the altar was installed in the accustomed position, the congregation entered by the west door, through the churchyard, and the portico stood in front of a blind wall. It was under this portico that Shaw placed Eliza Doolittle in the first act of Pygmalion. St Paul’s, the first Anglican church to be built in London since Tudor times, cost £4,886. 5s. 8d.

St Martin in the fields

An almost perfect early C18th building - all box pews, galleries and neoclassical design - what's not to love? The surviving monuments from the earlier church, and later, are relocated to the crypt alongside a gallery and cafe. If you could just relocate the tourists St Martin would be my ideal urban church.

St Martin in the Fields (1)

Mark Chapman In the beginning (1)

Looking east

St Martin’s stands on the north-east comer of the square, traffic swirling past its steps along St Martin’s Place and Duncan Street. There has been a church here since the 12th century when it very truly stood “in the fields”. It is said that the parish was enlarged by Henry VIII’s orders so that funerals might not pass through his palace of Whitehall on their way to burial at St Margaret’s, Westminster, and a new church was built in 1544. By the 18th century, a new structure was needed again and this was built by James Gibbs in 1722-6. He gave it a magnificent temple front with six huge Corinthian columns set on steps; above them is a pediment and from behind that soars the noble spire. The church itself, of Portland stone, is rectangular with galleries. The walls are panelled with unusual box pews and the roof is a tunnel vault. The original organ was given by George I as a compensation for his inability to perform his duties as churchwarden; it is now at St Mary’s, Wootton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, and a new larger instrument has been installed. There is a pretty oval font of 1689, and a hexagonal pulpit with thin twisted balusters. This pulpit was originally a three-decker one, for parson, clerk and reader, and as such it can be seen in Hogarth’s print of the Industrious Apprentice at Church. Charles II was christened. and Nell Gwynn was buried here. St Martin is the patron saint of beggars, of the destitute and of drunkards, so that the noble work of helping the unfortunate, to which the clergy of this church have dedicated themselves, is particularly apt. It was a churchwarden of St Martin’s who tried to help Francis Thompson and it was surely of this church that the poet thought when he wrote of “Jacob’s ladder/ Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross”. The Reverend Dick Sheppard, who served at the Front in the First World War, returned to St Martin’s determined to create a place where all who were in need could come and find the same unquestioning help and comradeship that he had known in the trenches. He had a vision - “I saw a great church standing in the greatest square in the greatest city in the world” - and he made the crypt of St Martin’s into a club to which all might come and find welcome. His ideals and work have been carried on by those who have followed him.

St Margaret, Westminster

The youngest had a hot date with one of his godmothers to see War Horse so I had a couple of hours to fill in London and, unusually, did some research. I already knew I wanted to visit St Martin in the Fields [qv] but baulked at Westminster Abbey's ludicrous £18 entry fee and ban on photography - if I visited with all my children it would cost me £83 just to gain entry. Fuck that...£18 when I can't take photos; what exactly are the poor saps who visit paying for*?

So I researched St Margaret instead and found that photography was allowed and decided here was an opportunity that shouldn't be missed, only to find that photography is banned for these reasons (taken straight from the Abbey website but applies to St Margaret as well):
  • It can disturb other visitors’ experience of the Abbey
  • Flash photography is bad for conservation
  • It holds up the movement of visitors when there are lots of people in the Abbey
  • We have to be careful about and protect what the image of the Abbey is used for - with digital photography and photoshop it is easy for someone to use the image in a way that we aren't happy with or to advertise or promote something
  • We can't be sure what is for personal use and what is for professional
This is blatantly bullshit or else Ely, Peterborough, Salisbury, Bury St Edmund, Canterbury, St Albans and Chelmsford would follow the same policy - which they don't.

On the other hand if I could have recorded the interior I probably wouldn't have had time to do it properly since the interior is stuffed with monuments and good windows. So I had quick recce and headed off to St Martin.

St Margaret (2)

To the south-west of the square, on the very lawns of Westminster Abbey sits, composed, demure and quietly self-confident, St Margaret’s church. Though claims have been made for its being an 11th-century foundation, its consecration most probably dates from the early 12th century. The present building was begun at the very end of the 15th century, to plans by Robert Stowell, master mason of the Abbey. The south aisle - the oldest part - was paid for by Dame Mary Billing, the widow of a Chief Justice; she died in 1499. The chancel was built in the early 16th century by John Islip, the last great Abbot of Westminster; his architects were Thomas and Henry Redman. They also built the tower, though the upper parts were rebuilt between 1735 and 1737 by John James. A porch was added by J. Loughborough Pearson in the late 19th century.

The church is chiefly famous for three things - for its association with the House of Commons, for its 16th-century east window, and for the number and variety of its monuments. It was first used by the House of Commons when a service of Holy Communion was held there on Palm Sunday, April 17, 1614. It had been planned to hold it in the Abbey but the more Puritanical Members of Parliament had a “feare of copes and wafer-cakes, and other such important reasons” and so it was held in St Margaret’s instead, and the association has continued ever since. The east window was made to celebrate the marriage of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s elder brother, with Katharine of Aragon, but this splendid example of Flemish glass arrived in England after the bridegroom’s death. It was sent to Waltham Abbey, and after that house was dissolved the window passed into private hands and was at last bought for St Margaret’s in 1758 by the House of Commons for 400 guineas. The three central lights show the Crucifixion with the two Thieves on either side of Christ, and in the upper halves of the two outer lights are St George and St Katharine. Beneath the saints kneel the young bride and bridegroom, whose marriage lasted barely five months. Beneath the window is the altar with a reredos which is a relief copy of Titian’s painting of Christ’s appearance at Emmaus; it was made by Siffrin Alken about 1757.

The chancel and nave have no structural division and are of nine bays. Around the walls are scores of small, intimate memorials. Chaucer, who was a parishioner, has no memorial here - he lies in the Abbey - but Caxton was buried here and has a tablet raised by later admirers. His shop was at the sign of the Red Pale and stood within the Abbey Almonry itself. Several of Elizabeth I’s most faithful servants lie here, chief among them perhaps being Blanche Parry, Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels, who died in February 1589 (i.e. 1590) aged 82, having looked after the queen since her birth. Lady Dorothy Stafford, who had served the queen for 40 years, died in 1605, and she is shown kneeling with three sons and three daughters beneath her, whilst Lady Mary Dudley, sister to Lord Howard of Effingham who commanded the English fleet against the Armada, has a fine full-length effigy. A bust in a roundel shows us Cornelius Van Dun, a Dutchman who served Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I as a Yeoman of the Guard and, dying in 1577 at the age of 94, did buyld for poor widowes 2 houses at his own cost. Among all these who had loved the queen is one great man, Sir Walter Raleigh. He fell out of favour with her successor, James I, and after a long imprisonment, was in 1618 executed in Old Palace Yard, in order to please the King of Spain. Raleigh’s courage on the night before his death was remarkable. During the dark hours, he wrote a poem:

Even such is time which takes in trust
Our yowth, our Ioyes and all we have,
And pays us butt with age and dust:
Who in the darke and silent grave
What we have wandered all our wayes
Shutts up the storye of our dayes.
And from which earth and grave and dust
The Lord shall raise me up I trust.


His headless body was buried under the High Altar at St Margaret’s, but his widow kept his head and it is not known whether it was ever re-united with his trunk. The west window in the church, made in the 19th century, has portraits of Raleigh and his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, as well as Elizabeth I and Henry, Prince of Wales, James I’s eldest son, who admired Sir Walter and wanted to see him freed from prison. Had the prince lived, Raleigh’s fate might have been different.

Those who commanded during the Commonwealth lie here. After their bodies were exhumed with contumely from Westminster Abbey, Admiral Robert Blake, John Pym, Cromwell’s mother and daughter, and 19 others were buried in St Margaret’s churchyard. A later generation has raised a wall-plaque to Blake’s memory. It was in this church that the blind poet, John Milton, was married for the second time. His first marriage had been bitterly miserable but with Katherine Woodcock he was happy for a brief fifteen months. She died in childbed and their baby daughter only survived for six weeks; mother and child were buried together in the churchyard here. They had lived in a “pretty garden-house” in Petty France; Milton lived on alone and wrote:

Methought I saw my late espouséd saint
Come vested all in white, pure as her mind.
Her face was veiled, yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shined
So clear as in no face with more delight.
But O as to embrace me she inclined
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.


A window in Milton’s memory was installed during the last century; it shows the blind poet dictating. Another poet, Alexander Pope, wrote an epitaph for another parishioner, Elizabeth Corbett; it reads:

Here was a Woman good without pretence
Blest with plain Reason and with sober Sense;
No conquests she, but o’er her Selfe, desired;
No Arts essayed; but not to be admired;
Passion & Pride were to her Soul unknown;
Convinced that Virtue only is our own.
So unaffected, so composed a Mind,
So firm, yet soft; so strong, yet so refined,
Heaven as its purest Gold, by Tortures try’d;
The Saint sustained it, but the Woman dy’d.


A more recent memorial, written by Gladstone, is to Charles Frederick Cavendish, who was murdered in Phoenix Park in Dublin May 6, 1882, the very day of his arrival there. In addition to all that we have mentioned, the visitor to the church should notice the modern stained glass, which is designed by John Piper, who created the wonderful windows for Coventry Cathedral. The glass here is softer, less vibrant, chiefly in shades of grey and green and very beautiful; it was installed in 1967.

* For the record I am quite happy to pay an entry fee and for a photography permit - what I'm not happy about is the extortionate entry fee coupled with the no photography policy.

Flickr.