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 Swithin London Stone                                          
          St Swithun                                    
         
A number of City churches destroyed in the German bombing of 1940-41 were never rebuilt. St Swithin was one of them, and along with St Mildred Bread Street was a sad and serious loss. The church was prominently placed, standing end on into Cannon Street opposite the station and almost backing onto St Stephen Walbrook, with St Swithin's Lane running to the east of it, connecting Cannon Street to King William Street. St Swithin, or St Swithun as it is sometimes recorded, was best known for having the London Stone behind a grill at its southern end. The stone was a Roman milestone, or King Lud's marker for the centre of the City, or a pagan altar - amongst other ideas, depending on who you believed. What is certain is that it became a physical symbol of the City, and the rebel Jack Cade struck it with his sword in 1450 as an act of proclaiming himself as master of London. In the 17th Century it seems to have had some connection with the dispensing of justice - poor quality goods, for example, were ordered to be broken up on the London Stone.

The 15th Century church was destroyed in the Great Fire. Wayland Young says that Wren used stone from the old church for the new one, and describes Wren's church as a most subtle and beautiful building. It was more or less a cube, with the tower at one corner. But from the top of the cube rose an octagonal dome, and from the top of the tower a tall octagonal spire. The tower, which was 150 feet tall, was at the north-western corner with the burial ground beyond it, raised above street level. The church was famous for its huge pulpit, which went in the substantial restoration of 1869, which included the setting of Venetian-style tracery into Wren's windows - the architect, Woodthorpe, seems to have been copying what George Gilbert Scott did more successfully at St Michael Cornhill ten years earlier.

On Sunday 29th December 1940, the church was locked up after the morning service. That evening, waves of German planes crossed the City laying a carpet of incendiaries and high explosives. There was a strong wind, which fanned the flames, and many of the firewatchers who customarily took up duty on the City buildings were away for the Christmas holidays. The Corporation had requested that buildings be left unlocked to aid fire-fighters, but in general this did not happen. In any case, all efforts were put into saving St Paul's Cathedral, and the thirty-five acre firestorm between Cannon Street and Old Street was more or less left to burn itself out. Eighteen City churches were lost that night, and a thousand people killed.

When the Blitz was over, the tower still stood without its spire, the church still stood without its roof. The site was overgrown with rose bay willow-herb while the authorities decided if St Swithin would be one of the City churches to be rebuilt. In the end it wasn't, and the remains were bulldozed in 1962.

St Swithin's Lane survives, and the burial ground survives too, though you'll have to find it. Go up Salters Hall Court, which ran to the west of the church, and it opens out into a raised garden beneath the vast glass and steel Walbrook Building. This was the burial ground. The original entrance gates are still in situ. The garden itself is modern in style, with beds of slate around the trees and a concrete pathway. It is home to the curious 2001 memorial to the Welsh nationalist heroine Catrin Owain Glyndwr, who was executed in the Tower of London in 1413 and buried here. The memorial, by Nic Stradlyn-John and Richard Renshaw, looks like something between a flame and a penguin. Beyond, Mr Nathaniel Thornton, formerly of Lisbon and late of Bruxelles, merchant, buried here in 1839, sleeps on under his headstone.

Simon Knott, December 2015


location: Salters Hall Court, Cannon Street EC4 4/060
status: churchyard only
access: gated, open during daylight hours

St Swithin London Stone St Swithin London Stone St Swithin London Stone St Swithin London Stone St Swithun St Swithun St Swithun St Swithun formerly of Lisbon and late of Bruxelles, merchant

 

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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