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London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part two)
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London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part two)

Why did mediaeval London have so many churches? The question may be asked of most old English cities - Norwich, York, Winchester - and the answer is the same in all cases, namely, that churches were founded by laypeople to serve their own small districts, and not by bishops, who would have imposed a pattern of far fewer but possibly grander churches. Salisbury is an exceptional 'bishop's city' in that sense, but most English cities in the Middle Ages had a patchwork of often tiny parishes. By the end of the 12th century their boundaries were established, and after that time there were few alterations until the 16th-century Reformation.

London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part two)

Gallery at St Martin-in-the-Fields; a normal feature of a Georgian church.

The earliest churches in London were probably founded in the early 7th century. St Paul's Cathedral was certainly founded in 604. The earliest surviving fabric in a London church is at All Hallows by the Tower, where an arch could be part of a church associated with St Erkenwald, Bishop of London, in the late 7th century. Otherwise, it is the Norman age, in the 11th and 12th centuries, that offers the earliest churches. St John's Chapel in the Tower of London, which is so often overlooked as it is not a parish church, is a complete church of the late 11th century - a rarity anywhere - and an original part of William the Conqueror's Tower. Another non-parochial building, the Temple Church, is a 12th-century Norman round church, the only one in London and one of only four left in England, which had the honour of consecration by the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185. Its later aisled chancel is a foremost example of 13th-century Early English work. The final Norman church is St. Bartholomew the Great at Smithfield: although it is much restored, it nevertheless affords a good instance of the ponderous grandeur of 12th-century design. The average mediaeval church was enlarged and remodelled on many occasions: a new chapel would be added, new parapets, a further stage on top of the tower. In England generally, the 15th and early 16th centuries were notable for such enlargements and for many spectacular new churches. Central London's examples are St Giles's at Cripplegate (now the Barbican's parish church), St Andrew Undershaft, St Olave's in Hart Street and St Margaret's at Westminster. They have all faced much restoration but their late mediaeval architecture still stands out. After their construction, the Reformation occurred and very little church-building took place between the mid-16th century and the Great Fire. The churches that were built in that period are nevertheless very interesting. St Katharine Cree in the City (built 1628-31) is a curious hybrid of Gothic and Classical styles, and had a connection with William Laud when he was the Bishop of London. At almost the same time, however, the first wholehearted English Classicist, Inigo Jones, was building St Paul's at Covent Garden (1631-3) for the Earl of Bedford's 'piazza', and he had already completed the Queen’s Chapel at St James's Palace (1623-7): the latter deserves notice as the first wholly Classical church in London. It must have seemed as extraordinary at the time as Jones's Banqueting House in Whitehall. The contemporary chapel of Lincoln's Inn, on the other hand, was still wholly Gothic.

London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part two)

The pulpit stairs of St George the Martyr, Southwark. A high Georgian pulpit allowed the preacher to address those in the galleries.

Following the Great Fire, Rebuilding Acts in 1667 and 1670 determined work on the City churches for almost half a century. Sir Christopher Wren was appointed to head a commission, whose task was to rebuild 51 of the 86 burnt City churches (in addition to rebuilding St Paul's Cathedral). Wren himself was the architect of such prominent parish churches as St Stephen's, Walbrook, and St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside, but it has been argued that Wren's fellow-surveyors, Robert Hooke and Nicholas Hawksmoor, also had major parts in the overall scheme. It has also become more apparent in recent years that mediaeval fabric was retained in a number of churches after the Great Fire. The churches kept their old sites but they were rebuilt to all manner of ground-plans. In contrast to their mediaeval predecessors, many of them were given centralizing plans, that is, with an emphasis on the crossing, generally by the arrangement of columns and sometimes by adding a dome. But in all Wren's churches, the altar was kept at the east end and its reredos or screen of honour was the greatest furnishing. The dark-stained woodwork of a Wren church, consisting of pews, pulpit and tester, door cases, wainscot, galleries and reredos, is one of the glories of the City. The church of St Magnus the Martyr in Lower Thames Street provides a good example; the domed St Mary Abchurch is another.

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