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St Magnus the Martyr
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The church stands on the south side of one of the City's busiest roads, a dual carriageway, and in the shadow of Adelaide House, a huge office block of 1921-4. Originally, however, it had a most prominent site, for it stood at the north end of Old London Bridge and appears in numerous Georgian paintings of the river. After the houses and shops had been removed from the bridge in 1760, and the northern approach had been widened, the footway on the downstream side actually went under the church's tower. It is difficult to imagine today that the pavement under the tower was part of such an important route. As L. P. Hartley said, the past is another country. The church existed in William the Conqueror's time in the 11th century and so its patron could not have been the St Magnus who was the Earl of Orkney, for he was not martyred until 1116. Today, the earl is taken to be the patron, as his statue of 1925 in the south aisle by Martin Travers testifies.

St Magnus the Martyr

The 56-metre steeple of St Magnus the Martyr rises above the surrounding office blocks.

Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt the body of the present church in 1671-6 after the Great Fire, and added the steeple in 1703-6. The church was originally of nine bays, of which the central one on the north side survives unaltered with its pedimented doorway, a porthole window and swag decoration. The other windows were once arched, but they were replaced by portholes in 1782. The original west bay, which flanked the tower, was removed in 1762 to allow the footway of the widened bridge to pass under the tower. The visitor who enters by the west door today can see a group of parish boundary marks fixed to the tower. Many such marks still survive in the City. They are chiefly Victorian and indicate parish boundaries from a time when they had a civil as well as an ecclesiastical function.

St Magnus the Martyr

The reredos of the Lady chapel, made out of a doorcase by Martin Travers, is seen here from the sanctuary, with a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham on the right.

The steeple rises to 56 metres (185 feet) and is based on that of the church of St Charles Borromee in Antwerp, built by Francis Aiguillon in 1614-24. A short spire sits on a lead dome that in turn surmounts an octagonal lantern. A large clock projecting from the west side was given by Sir Charles Duncombe in 1700. It must have been one of the most familiar clocks in London before 1831, but now it is hidden away behind Adelaide House.

St Magnus the Martyr

The west gallery houses a notable organ of 1712 (the first to have a swell-box) by Abraham Jordan and his son of the same name.

Entering through a vestibule under the west gallery, the visitor sees an aisled, tunnel-vaulted interior formed by tall Ionic columns with gilded capitals. These are the features that T. S. Eliot famously mentioned in The Waste Land. The plan seems longitudinal, but originally there was a wide gap between the columns in line with the north door; in 1924 an additional pair of columns filled that gap and ended the semblance of a crossing. The focus of the interior is the sumptuous reredos, which is double the normal size. The lower part is of Wren's time and the upper part was added in 1924-5 by Martin Travers in a Wren style. The whole is surmounted, unusually, by a rood, which would have offended Protestant susceptibilities in the 17th century but which was a normal badge of the Anglo-Catholic movement of the 1920s, to which St Magnus's was recruited by H. J. Fynes-Clinton (Rector, 1922-59). This is the world of the Anglo-Catholic congresses about which Sir John Betjeman wrote, and which has contributed much to the atmosphere of this church. Fynes-Clinton refounded the Fraternity of Our Lady de Salve Regina, which had existed in the Middle Ages.

St Magnus the Martyr

The high altar and reredos make a fine ensemble, consisting of 17th-century work from Wren's time and additions in the same style by Martin Travers in the 1920s.

Altars are placed diagonally across the south¬east and north-east corners, and each has a reredos made from a door-case of Wren's time. The altar to the north serves the Lady chapel; a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham is placed nearby. The pulpit is a fine 17th-century example, with an ornate tester and a notably slender stem. The seating is darkly stained, which accords well with the rest of the furnishings, but it does not consist of box-pews, except for two that have been preserved at the west end. The west gallery houses an organ by Abraham Jordan and his son of the same name, 1712, which was the first to have a swell-box. Charles Duncombe was its donor. Of the seven circular north windows, six contain post-war heraldic glass by Alfred L. Wilkinson; the seventh is 17th-century and came from Plumbers' Hall. The full-length south windows contain glass by Lawrence Lee, including one of St Magnus. At the west end there is a magnificent model of Old London Bridge by David T. Aggett.

South of the high altar there is a tablet to Miles Coverdale, Rector in the 16th century, who translated the Bible into English. Henry Yevele (died 1400), the architect of the naves of Westminster Abbey (see page 52) and Canterbury Cathedral, was buried in the previous church. He was a member of the original Fraternity of Our Lady de Salve Regina.

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