An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile                                
        An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile

                                 
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St Botolph Aldersgate

   
          sanctuary

                                 
         
The eastern half of the City had four churches dedicated to St Botolph, each at one of the City gates, a reminder that St Botolph is traditionally the patron Saint of travellers and wayfarers. Three of the churches survive, and this is one of them.

St Botolph without Aldersgate sits on the corner of Aldersgate Street and Little Britain, across the road from the Museum of London, with Postman's Park wrapped around the other two sides of it. The medieval church was undamaged by the Great Fire, but when Aldersgate Street was widened in the late 18th Century the church was knocked down and rebuilt by Nathaniel Wright. The new church is modest, but in a good way, an introspective moment before the modernist noise of Lond
on Wall and the Barbican kick in.

For many years this church was hardly ever open. It is home to a particularly evangelical congregation, and the church's only services, the so-called Aldersgate Talks on Tuesday lunchtimes, are focused on the exegesis of Bible passages for the benefit of those who like that kind of thing best. I was quite excited to find the church open on a Saturday morning a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, there was a meeting on inside - lots of very earnest looking men in black suits who glared at me when I poked my head around the door. They didn't look very welcoming, so I fled.

However, all that has changed. St Botolph now partly serves as the visitor centre for Christian Heritage London, who have put up a sequence of display boards which detail a fairly fundamentalist protestant history of Christianity from the First Century (which was very good, apparently) to the Twentieth Century (which was very bad). So for the modest sum of one pound you may enter the church and read them. The exhibition is open every day except Tuesday and Sunday.

And the church? Well, after all that fuss about getting in I must admit that I was a little disappointed, I'm afraid. The ceiling is gorgeous, great sugary fondants of plaster swelling and dripping in geometric patterns. And the east end is lovely, the apse beautifully decorated, although of course the altar has been removed and the space turned into a meeting area. It was rebuilt further west in 1829 to facilitate more road-widening, but appears to have retained Wright's design, albeit updated later by the Victorians. Otherwise it appears an almost entirely 18th Century interior.

However, successive generations have not served it well. The 19th Century glass in the north windows by Ward & Hughes is not good, its preachy gallery style quite out of harmony with the decoration, and the post-war Farrar Bell scenes of events in evangelical history on the south side are pedestrian at best. The glass up in the clerestories looks better, though perhaps only because it is further away. And the modern congregation has gutted the furnishings, replacing them with modern chairs that are turned away from the east towards a side wall in the protestant manner. Perhaps the best thing of all is the sequence of good, interesting memorials which date back over four hundred years, although you may need to discreetly move some of the display boards to get to them.
                         

Simon Knott, December 2015


location: Aldersgate Street EC1A 4EU - 2/015
status: parish church
access: open daily except Tuesday and Sunday

St Botolph without Aldersgate St Botolph Aldersgate looking south looking west as flowers fade when they fresh bee three skulls for John Coston fondant icing ceiling crucified a staunch supporter of total abstinence ceiling and apse One of His Majesty's Commissioners for Spanish Affairs John Wesley preaching in Bunhill Fields by M Farrar Bell, 1958 Bishop of London gives refuge to Princess Anne by M Farrar Bell, 1955 William I confers patronage of St Botolph's church by M Farrar Bell, 1955 praises on tombs are trifles, vainly spent Mary Magdalene meets Christ in the Garden, by Ward & Hughes font Christ walking on the water by Ward & Hughes south arcade and gallery John Coston, 1614 Christ in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus by Ward & Hughes St Botolph without Aldersgate St Botolph without Aldersgate St Botolph without Aldersgate St Botolph without Aldersgate St Botolph without Aldersgate

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An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile
                               
        An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile