After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Christopher Wren was instructed to design and rebuild 51 churches in the city. He was later knighted and would become the architect who, more than any other, left his mark on the city in a way that has survived more than three centuries.
Wren’s most celebrated work of course is St Paul’s Cathedral, but even within a half mile of this world famous building you can discover many of Wren’s masterpieces. You won’t find 51 churches anymore, as some were demolished when the population of the city declined in the 19th century, while many were damaged or destroyed during the Blitz.
The church of St Stephen Walbrook claims to be ‘the most perfectly proportioned interior in the world’ and it’s easy to see why. It’s hard not to be impressed and feel a sense of peace as soon as you step into St Stephen’s.
The crypt of the church was also home to the first branch of the Samaritans, and a picture of the organisation’s founder Chad Varah can be seen next to the telephone on which he took those early calls.
St Lawrence Jewry is so named as it originally stood on the eastern side of the city, which was home to the Jewish community in medieval London.
The church was badly damaged on the night of 29th December 1940, when the Germans attempted to create a firestorm in the city. It has been restored to faithfully match the original Wren design.
A church has stood on the site of St Martin within Ludgate since 1174, although it has been rebuilt several times. Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, the church was rebuilt in the early 18th century and thankfully received very little damage in the Blitz.
Now remarkably accessible, we were free to wander around and climb the stairs to the organ loft. There were even instructions left out to potential organists, although I’m sure it’s not intended for strangers to come in and play.
St Bride’s Church is perhaps the oldest church in London, with links back to the 7th century. A walk through the crypt reveals the old Saxon walls. This crypt was in fact only revealed after the church took a direct hit on that fateful night of 29th December 1940 and was severely damaged.
It has long had a link with the journalists of Fleet Street, and is indeed often referred to as the Journalists’ Church. So much so that the repair and restoration after the Blitz was paid for by the neighbouring newspaper proprietors. Now you’ll even find the editor’s designated seats in the choir stalls: seeing these seats filled would be a most unlikely sight!
All the above churches are free to enter and open during weekdays. with varied opening times at weekends. All rely on donations, so please do drop a pound or two into the box on your way out. St Brides also offers a guided tour once a day.