Wednesday, 3 August 2016

City Churches

While I dozed on the high speed express hindered by nothing more than signal problems, people throwing themselves in front of trains and lack of drivers/guards my mind considered St Michael, Cornhill.  This is because many moons ago I came across the excellent Great War Memorial found at the door.  

And what a door!  
St Michael stands on what was in Roman London the Basilica, the centre of Roman administration.  The name Cornhill comes from the hill itself, difficult to see in today's world, and the Corn Market that stood here in the distant past.  A church stood on this spot long before William the Conqueror arrived which was unfortunate as that Great Fire, so often mentioned, came along and burnt it to the ground in 1666 leaving only the Tower standing.  Christopher Wren is said to have rebuilt the church but this is disputed, and he had dozens of others on the go so maybe his men did the work, who knows.  The work on the tower ('in the Gothick manner') was also said to be Wrens but this was completed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. 

Again it's a case of looking upwards as I suppose the worshiper was meant to do but it does harm the neck muscles after a while.   All London churches have connections to the various guilds, this one was connected to the 'Drapers' and in Victorian times they were forced to spend money on the building or hand it over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.  There is no surprise that they chose the building and instructed Sir Gilbert Scott, indicating how much they had, to improve the church.  His work saw the improved door facing Cornhill with carving from John Birnie Philip above the entrance showing St Michael disputing with satan.  

The Lord himself is seen just above the door ratheroffering a sign of peace we cannot know he ever offered, but it makes sculptors happy.  As you may expect the door was firmly shut to passersby and while the church boasts that it opens on Sunday, one of the few that do, and appears to open during the week while I stand outside the door remains firmly shut.

Nothing for it but to admire the war memorial once again.  This statue can be found elsewhere, I have seen photographs occasionally of such Roman soldiers on guard at memorials, yet it speaks of the vast money available after the war from parishioners and the Drapers to commemorate their dead and that reveals something of the effect the war had on the people contributing.  That war affects us to this day!

"The names were recorded on this site of 2130 men who from 
 offices in the parishes of this united Benefice volunteered to serve 
their country in the Navy and Army.  Of these it is known that at 
least 170 gave their lives for the freedom of the world." 

The church was not damaged during the Blitz and while marks on the walls indicate possible war damage, often found on London buildings, this Masons Mark stands out on this stone.  I wonder what date this comes from, the time after the Great Fire most likely but possibly one of the renovation periods perhaps.  The narrow passage to the right of the entrance where this can be seen is one of many found in the City, maybe one day I will go back and photograph these.  

This, as you may guess, is St Mary Woolnoth, another that closed its doors to me.  This baroque looking building was erected in 1727 by Nicholas Hawksmoor, he has been busy aint he?  This was not the first church structure here as Roman and pagan finds show this spot had a religious use in times past.  The Norman's as you know built in stone within ten years of arrival to cow the natives and remind them who was the power in the land.  Until then the Saxons would have created a wooden church as that was the readily available building material and stone was expensive.  The 'Woolnoth' in the name may be a reminder of a Norman gent living here in the 12th century who was probably the local Lord of the manor.  
Between 1897 and 1900 the Underground reached this area and 'bank' station was built part of which included escalators reaching under the church.  Public disquiet stopped the railway company's planned demolition of the church and steel pillars were inserted to keep the building safe.  
However during an air raid at 8pm on the 11th of January 1941 a bomb managed to break through into the booking hall not far beneath the roadway.  Further the explosion made its way down the escalators onto the platform killing and wounding many.   Figures vary but some claim 51 died while total casualties (dead, wounded and missing) were 111.  Others claim 111 were the dead, I go with 51 as most fail to understand the word casualties.  This information was I understand withheld at the time and released only after the end of the war.

Among those connected with the church in times past were William Wilberforce who spent a great many years fighting against the slave trade worshiped here and John Newton a man who once ran a slave ship but accepting Jesus as Lord gave evidence against the trade, evidence that led finally to Britain opposing it stoutly.  Newton became incumbent here between 1780 until 1807 the year of his death.  His previous Parish had been at Olney and while preparing for the Wednesday night meetings he would often attempt to find a new song.  One night he produced 'Amazing Grace' a song that has summed him up perfectly and become a favourite worldwide.  The music as we know it was added much later by one William Walker long after Newtons death. 

Like many churches in this area the front door is hidden down narrow passages and while a wee bit wider here we find St Stephen Walbrook hiding quietly behind the Mansion House.  The 'Walbrook' is one of London's lost rivers which have long since been 'culvertised,' indeed this one since the 16th century, and even today while the stream still flows it was added to the sewage workings of the 19th century when a massive improvement was undertaken.
The church itself like most others around here goes back into the mists of time.  Burnt down by the Fire Christopher Wren spent almost £8000 rebuilding the place in splendid style including a central dome not unlike the one he placed in St Paul's.  Little damage occurred during the blitz and this was soon repaired.
However the church's fame in recent years comes from one Chad Varah who became rector in 1953 and remained here for fifty years.  Varah's fame spread after he conducted a funeral for a 13 year old suicide who had misunderstood her periods thinking she had a venereal disease.  From this time on he offered an emergency service for desperate folks known to us as the 'Samaritans.'  Here he led volunteers in a full and frank teaching regarding the problems of London life including frank sex talk, which shook some early volunteers, and the great London need of loneliness.  These have not changed much over the period.  
A man of mixed blessings he had a finger in many activities although his theology was a bit skewwiff from what I can make out however his concern for others was great.  By 2004 Varah's connection to the Samaritans ended as he felt it was not the organisation he had created.  Varah and his wife Susan continued their many 'good works' until their deaths, his at the age of 96 in 2007.

One church that was open on Saturday was the tourist attraction that is St Paul's.  I avoided this as I canny stand tourists!

Look!  A church with an open door!  'St Vedas-Alias-Foster' who else?  Somewhat typically this was a church of the Anglo Catholic tradition which being over the road from St Paul's saw the sense in remaining open when tourists flocked to the eating places next door and sought a moment of quiet.

Sadly I thought this somewhat disappointing as this type of collegiate design does not reflect churches as we should know them.  However being badly damaged during the blitz, only a shell remained, the contents were rescued from other blitzed churches which did not recover from the war damage.  Therefore it is a good example of salvage as well as a rebuilt church.  As I said this was open, the only one I found, and it appears to me that if any church in the City of London can get the volunteers to keep it open a small £1 'donation' charge could provide a decent income during the summer at least.  The use of freewill donations may bring cash but not a great deal.  Some of course resent being charged to enter a church but many of these fail to notice the 'donation box' at the back.  
St Vedas as you may know was a leader of the church at Arras in the 6th century and he was the one credited with rebuilding the church after years of Roman and tribal fighting.  The King of the Franks, called 'Clovis' was converted by him it is said.  
This church may have originated with the Flemish weavers who arrived during the 12th and 13th centuries.  Wool was King then and the English with masses of sheep wool to export brought Flemish weavers here to develop the economy.  The Lord Chancellor, and now the 'Speaker' of the House of Lords sits on the 'Woolsack' an idea that may have begun in the 14th century when Edward III caused his Lord Chancellor to sit on this to remind everyone of the importance of wool to the economy.   
Strangely the church was damaged and left a shell by the 1666 fire but was repaired satisfactorily without recourse to Christopher Wren which indicates they probably did not have the money to employ someone of his stature.   

Lovely glass windows with a Victorian appearance possibly because some glass was saved after the blitz and reused in the renovation during the 1950's.  

This somewhat miserable looking tower standing between modern blocks of concrete and glass is one of the most famous churches in the world.  'St Mary'le'Bow' the church where it is said that if you are born within the sound of its bells you are a 'Cockney.'
The church stood here in Saxon times, a wooden structure surrounded by wooden houses all of which suffered great damage from the Tornado that arrived in 1091.  600 homes destroyed, church rafters embedded in the ground, London Bridge demolished and yet only two were killed on that occasion.
Considered to be the second church in importance after the nearby St Paul's and at the risk of repeating myself I have to say the building burnt down during the Great Fire and Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt this one first as it was of such importance.  The 'Bow belles' the word 'Bow' comes from the arches on the old building, the bells recorded in 1926 can still be heard on the BBC occasionally and I think I am right is saying that when 'Big Ben' is out of order for any reason these bells are used by the BBC to tell the time.  Hearing these bells via the BBC when being born does not make you a Cockney!  The Germans attempted to stop the bells by dropping bombs on the church but these were reinstated by 1956 and the church continued as always.  It was of course closed when I passed.

She must have been a strong woman!


carol in cairns said...

This could very well be Part 2 to yesterday's post.

Lee said...

Your post held me captive from beginning to end. A wonderful post, Adullamite...thank you. Well done! :)

the fly in the web said...

Fascinating...Leo has been having great fun trying to get Google Earth's little yellow man to walk along the streets of the City and he has found some of the places he remembers....unfortunately not the alley leading to the Barclays Bank cafeteria where they gave all and sundry - no ID, no tickets - a very good lunch.
Luckily he was not there on the day when the cafeteria management had a purge and threw out half the Stock Exchange boys...

Adullamite said...

Carol, I thought about calling it that...

Lee, Always glad to have you as a captiv....hold on...

Fly, The yellow man does not do what I want either.
Glad it keeps him out your hair!