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   Chapter 18 No.18

The History of London By Walter Besant Characters: 5944

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Before the Great Fire of London there were 126 churches and parishes in the City. Most of these were destroyed by the Fire, and many were never rebuilt at all. Two or even three and four parishes were united in one church. Of late years there has been a destruction of City churches almost as disastrous as that of the Fire. Those who have learned from this book, and elsewhere, to respect the monuments of the past and to desire their preservation, should do their utmost to prevent the demolition of these churches, in consideration of their history and their association with the past.

Looking at a picture of London after the Fire, you will certainly remark the great number of spires and towers. London, in fact, was then, and much more so before the Fire, a city of churches. Those which are here represented and those which now remain are nearly all the work of Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul's. Many of them are very beautiful internally; many have been decorated and adorned with the most splendid carved woodwork. About many there cling the memories of dead men and great men who worshipped here and made gifts to the church and were buried here.

Let us show, by a few examples, how worthy these City churches are of preservation and respect.

First, many of them stand on the sites of the most ancient churches in the history of London. Those about Thames Street, dedicated to St. Peter, St. Paul (the Cathedral), St. James, probably represent Christian temples of Roman London. The church of St. Martin's, Ludgate Hill, was traditionally built by a British prince: that of St. Peter, Cornhill, by a Roman general. The tradition proves at least the antiquity of the churches. St. Augustine's preserves the memory of the preacher who converted the Saxons. St. Olave's and St. Magnus mark the Danish rule: St. Dunstan's, St. Alphege, St. Ethelburga, St. Swithin, St. Botolph, commemorate Saxon saints. Why, for instance, are there three churches all dedicated to St. Botolph just outside City gates? Because this saint-after whom the Lincolnshire town of Icanhoe changed its name to Botolph's town, now Boston-was considered the special protector of travellers. Then the names of churches still commemorate some fact in history. St. Mary Woolnoth, marks the wool market: St. Osyth's-the name exists in Sise Lane, was changed into St. Bene't Shere Hog-or Skin-the-Pig-because the stream called Walbrook which ran close by was used for the purpose of assisting this operation. St. Austin's was the chapel of Austin Friars Monastery. St. Andrew's Undershaft tells that the City May Pole was hung up along its wall. St. Andrew's-by-the-Wardrobe commemorates the existence of the Palace formerly called the King's Wardrobe. In St. Michael's Bassishaw survives the name of an old City family-the Basings. In St. Martin Orgar's-now destroyed-we have another old City name-Orgar.

Or, again, there are the people who are buried or were baptised in

these churches.

In All Hallows, Bread Street, now pulled down, was baptised the greatest poet of our country, John Milton. For this cause alone the church should never have been suffered to fall into decay. It was wickedly and wantonly destroyed for the sake of the money its site would fetch in the year 1877. When you visit Bow Church, Cheapside, look for the tablet to the memory of Milton, now fixed in that church. It belonged to All Hallows, Bread Street.

Three poets in three distant ages born,

Greece, Italy, and England did adorn:

The first in loftiness of thought surpassed,

The next in majesty-in both the last.

The force of Nature could no further go;

To make a third she joined the other two.

Christ Church, Newgate, stands on part of the site once occupied by the splendid church of the Grey Friars. Four Queens lie buried here, and an immense number of princes and great soldiers and nobles.

Very few people, of the thousands who daily walk up and down Fleet Street, know anything about the statue in the wall of St. Dunstan's Church. This is the statue of Queen Elizabeth which formerly stood on the west side of Lud Gate. This gate was taken down in the year 1760, and some time after the statue was placed here. One of the sights of London before the old church was pulled down was a clock with the figure of a savage on each side who struck the hours and the quarters on a bell with clubs. London has seldom been without some such show. As long ago as the fifteenth century there was a clock with figures in Fleet Street. Tyndal the Reformer, and Baxter the famous Nonconformist were preachers in this church.

St. Mary le Bow, was so called because it was the first church in the City built on arches-bows-of stone. The church is most intimately connected with the life and history of the City. Bow Bell rang for the closing of the shops. If the ringer was late the prentice boys reminded him pretty plainly.

'Clarke of the Bow Bell with thy yellow lockes:

In thy late ringing, thy head shall have knockes.'

To which the clerk replied:

'Children of Chepe, hold you all stille:

For you shall have Bow Bell ring at your will.'

St. Mary's Woolnoth was for many years the church of the Rev. John Newton, once the poet Cowper's friend. He began his life in the merchant service and was for many years engaged in the slave trade.

For these reasons-their antiquity, their history, their associations-the destruction of the City churches ought to be resisted with the utmost determination. You who read this page may very possibly become parishioners of such a church. Learn that, without the consent of the parishioners, no church can be destroyed. A meeting of parishioners must be called: they must vote and decide. Do not forget this privilege. The time may come when your vote and your's alone, may retain for your posterity a church rich in history and venerable with the traditions of the past.

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