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 Sepulchre without Newgate                                          
          Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross with St Paul's Cathedral behind                                    
         
Also St Sepulchre Holborn, also St Sepulchre Old Bailey - these were the bells of Old Bailey that asked when can you pay me? - this is one of the biggest churches in the City. No other City church has so much the air of the most important church in a smaller, provincial town - and probably as so often in the City, an East Anglian town, as the south porch with its fan vaulting suggests, we could be in Saxmundham, or Swaffham, or Coggleshall, or March. But on stepping inside there is the reminder that this church has virtually no resident parishioners, for instead of the highly polished, flower-bedecked small town civic pride we'd find in Saxmundham, or Swaffham, or Coggleshall, or March, here is a great dusty space full of disconnected once-proud details, like a rich aunt who has gone awry. And yet it is an entirely loveable church for all that, and many people's City favourite, not least because the Gothic exterior contains an entirely Wrenish interior - or, at least, the spirit of Wren without the letter, shoehorned into a medieval space. This is a rich aunt who at first sight has stopped taking care of herself, but the person she has become is admirable for her eccentricity and intelligence. There's nothing quite like it, and it makes you smile.

How did this happen? Well, the medieval church, which had been rebuilt on a grand scale in the 15th Century, was largely destroyed in the Great Fire, but the reconstruction was something of a mish-mash, with Wren falling out with the vestry. There was a revamp in the late 18th Century when they tried to get rid of the bits that still made it look medieval, and then a big one in the 1870s to make it more medieval than it had ever been, which is pretty much how you see it today. The interior you step into is largely 19th Century, but full of colour and interest. This is one of those churches where there is always something around the next corner. The range of 20th Century glass is one of the most comprehensive in the City, and the best of it is in the north aisle, the musicians' chapel, by Brian Thomas. Other glass is by Francis Skeat, AK Nicholson and GER Smith (a memorial window to AK Nicholson, including an image of him in his workshop).

The organ is fabulous. Sir Henry Wood, who invented the Proms, was the organist here, and is remembered in the musician's chapel in post-war glass along with the likes of George Frederich Handel, William Byrd, John Ireland and Dame Nellie Melba. There is a memorial to Captain John Smith, remembered as the governor of Virginia, but more familiar to us in our Disneyfied times as the lover of Pocahontas. He's buried here. Wayland Young mentions the tradition that the bells of St Sepulchre not only tolled the curfew each night, but also tolled as condemned men passed from the Newgate prison to the scaffold at Tyburn. A church full of stories then, a bit mad, all a bit disconnected, a must-see.


Simon Knott, December 2015


location: Holborn Viaduct EC1A 2DQ - 1/058
status: working guild church
access: open Monday to Friday 10am - 2pm
website

St Sepulchre St Sepulchre Hanover royal arms St Sepulchre three merchant adventurers AK Wilkinson memorial window by G E R Smith Risen Christ Royal Fusiliers memorial window (Francis Skeat) Risen Christ (Francis Skeat) put on the whole armour of God (Francis Skeat) Royal Fusiliers memorial chapel Captain John Smith chancel Crucified coffin plate Sidney Herberte-Basing musicians memorial chapel Walter Carroll memorial window Sir Henry Wood Dame Nellie Melba memorial window by Brian Thomas St Cecilia Henry Wood memorial window: St Cecilia looking east destroyed by enemy action Godspeed 40 tons Susan Constant 20 tons Discovery 20 tons Sir Samuel Saltonstall Joan of Arc Resurrection angel destroyed by enemy action John at the foot of the cross St Wilfrid Desdemona Mimi John Ireland memorial window by Brian Thomas St Wilfrid John Ireland 1879 - 1962 St Cecilia at this man's hand a million hearers caught an echo of the music He conducted the Promenade Concerts from 1895 to 1944 Henry Wood was baptised in this church A - men, A - men, A - - - - - - - men, A - - - men, A - men Henry Wood memorial window: angels at the foot of the cross St Bernard and some of his followers Annunciation for safekeeping corio et arte AK Wilkinson and assistants monks make a stained glass window St George St Paul Christ in Majesty St Sepulchre's church 1950 Henry Wood memorial window detail: St Cecilia Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross with St Paul's Cathedral behind Joan of Arc crucified Henry Wood memorial window: an angel for St Cecilia Henry Wood memorial window detail: Purcell Henry Wood memorial window detail: Bach angel playing a harp John Ireland D.Mus Durham to Melba Blessed Virgin singing put on the full armour of God Tower of London 1685

 

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          home   index   map   latest   e-mail   about this site   resources   small print   simonknott.co.uk   norfolkchurches.co.uk   suffolkchurches.co.uk
     
An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile
                               
        An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile