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 Lawrence Jewry                                          
          to be redeemed from fire by fire                                    
         
If a Martian came down to the City and was shown around the churches of the Square Mile, there is no doubt that he would think St Lawrence Jewry quite the most important. This wouldn't be just because of its perfect setting facing down Gresham Street across the square from the Guildhall, although of course that would contribute. And it certainly isn't the biggest of the City churches. But you step into an interior which is without parallel in the City for dark-wooded, serious-windowed gravitas. There is a palpable sense of patronage, of the power of conservative institutions transformed and transmuted into brass and banners, into solemn words and ethereal music. This is a place where the Church of England knows its friends, draws a line, and stands firm.

And yet, it is all an illusion, for on the night of 29th December 1940 St Lawrence was comletely gutted by German incendiaries and high explosive bombs. Nothing survived except for the lower part of the tower and walls. It was, in its way, the perfect firestorm. It was a Sunday evening. The churches had been locked after the services that morning in direct contravention of the request of the City authorities for buildings to be left accessible to firefighters. Because it was Christmas week there were hardly any firewatchers on duty in the area north of Cheapside. There was a strong wind blowing, to fan the flames. And as the fires joined together covering an area of almost fifty acres, the rising heat began to draw in air from below the flames from all sides. The air drawn into the furnace was running at more than fifty miles an hour, and the result was the largest bomb site in the whole of the British Isles - although nothing to compare with anything in almost any large German city, of course.

The medieval church had been gutted in the Great Fire, and the rebuilding was one of the most expensive of all the Wren churches. As Simon Bradley points out, St Lawrence was unusual in that its walls were exposed on all sides, it wasn't jammed in among other buildings, and so attention had to be paid to the exterior. The facing in Portland stone added to its grandeur.

The architect chosen for the post-war rebuilding was Cecil Brown, with a brief to provide a church fitting for pomp and circumstance, for ceremony and seriousness. St Lawrence therefore has none of the light-wooded Festival of Britain jollity you find at Lawrence King's St Mary le Bow, or the quiet candle-lit introspection of Dykes Bowers' St Vedast. This is church as theatre. Instead of the uplifting thrill of the John Hayward and Brian Thomas glass at St Mary le Bow and St Vedast, here Christopher Webb contributed a scheme which Simon Bradley rightly describes as unobtrusive. But it all works. There is a great harmony, and a sense of a church much greater than its individual parts.

Have I made this church sound unwelcoming? It isn't. Almost every time I've been here I've found stewards inside, and they are always pleased to see visitors. And, of course, they have a lot to be pleased about.

Simon Knott, December 2015


location: Gresham Street 2/035
status: City Corporation church
access: open Monday to Friday, services on Sunday

St Lawrence Jewry St Lawrence Jewry St Lawrence Jewry St Lawrence Jewry St Lawrence Jewry St James Garlickhythe St Lawrence Jewry St Lawrence Jewry St Lawrence Jewry St Catherine by Christopher Webb Risen Christ by Christopher Webb crucified St Lawrence Jewry angel in the blitz William Grocyn Risen Christ by Christopher Webb Crucifixion St George St Lawrence by Christopher Webb St Catherine rebuilding the church St Michael St Paul and they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places South Africa, India, Pakistan, Ceylon the reconsecration of this church St Michael rose, thistle, leek, shamrock The United Wards Club of the City of London St Lawrence Jewry William Grocyn Grinling Gibbons St Lawrence Christopher Wren St Lawrence Jewry far away you were St Mary Magdalene St Paul St Thomas More St Lawrence Jewry St Lawrence Jewry St Lawrence Jewry St Catherine

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