City Church Monuments

Monuments and Sculpture in City of London Churches - Bob Speel's website

This page gives an introduction to City of London churches, and, lower down, links to pages on each of the two dozen or so churches whose monuments are considered in detail on this website.

The City of London - the Square Mile - contains many hundreds of interesting monuments spread over around 50 churches, and around half of them are described on this website, with lots of pictures of individual monuments, descriptions of their points of interest, and where I know it, information on the sculptors who carved them. The City of London churches are rather different in their monuments from those in other parts of England. The range is perhaps less: the Great Fire of 1666 means that there are very few of the older monuments in the City, and many of the largest sculptural pieces from later times were put up in Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, not covered here, but on the other hand there was always huge wealth in the City, so even the smallest church there may have beautifully sculpted and richly ornamented monuments to discover. Here is the list of links to the individual churches, and at the end of this page is some more background information about the churches themselves and the monuments within them.

More information about the City Churches and their monuments:

The City Churches, most of which are accessible, range in age from bits of Norman and medieval through to the many surviving Wren churches, a further wave in the 18th century, some Victorian changes though no new churches in the City itself by that time, and then modern rebuilds and replacements particularly after the devastation wrought in the area by the Second World War.

There were an astonishingly large number of churches within the Square Mile in medieval times, over a hundred, some new, some on the sites of previous churches, and in some cases they are known to be on the sites of temples from pre-Christian times.

Very little survives in City Churches from Norman times – aside from Westminster Abbey, the most important surviving church from then is St Bartholomew the Great, a remnant of a much larger Augustinian Priory church that is still of considerable size. Then we have early Gothic, still 12th Century, both in St Barts and in the Temple Church off Fleet Street. Much of the greater medieval work was swept away first in the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the late 1530s, when although some priory churches became parish churches, many were lost. Then the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed most of the churches in its path: the most important survivals from medieval times being St Helen Bishopsgate, St Olave Hart Street, and in part, All Hallows Barking (which also retains a bit of Saxon walling), and from the 16th Century, St Giles Cripplegate, St Andrew Undershaft, and the tower of St Katherine Cree. We also have the ruins of Elsynge Spital (used for St Alphage London Wall).

Then after the Fire, we have Christopher Wren's rebuilding of 50 churches. In some cases he started from scratch, though typically bound by the small and sometimes oddly shaped boundaries of the medieval churches, and in some cases incorporating the foundations and maintain the shape, or even use the odd wall which had survived the Fire. Examples with considerable medieval structure include St Michael Cornhill and St Sepulchre Holborn, and the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments tell us that some of Wren’s towers are actually new facings on medieval structures underneath. We also have a couple of pre-Fire churches that were not rebuilt, but little churchyards retained, including those of St Gabriel Fenchurch Street and St Olave Silver Street. The 18th Century saw the building Hawksmoor’s St Mary Woolnoth, and then rebuilds of the three surviving churches dedicated to St Botolph, in Bishopsgate, Aldgate and Aldersgate. George Dance the Younger has two later 18th Century City churches, being All Hallows London Wall, and then little St Bartholomew the Less. In the 19th Century, there were a few changes, and the single surviving new City Church of St Dunstan in the West. Victorian times were grim for the Wren churches, as congregations were decimated as the City became overwhelmingly a place to work rather than live, and escalating land prices and a change in law allowing the Church of England to pull down churches it declared redundant, and hive off the land for development. 20 churches were lost in this way, by Pevsner’s count. And then in the 20th Century came the terrible bombing of World War II, There are also a few lesser remains: the towers of St Mary Somerset and All Hallows Staining survived from 19th Century demolitions, and ruins of Christ Church Newgate Street and St Dunstan in the East after WWII bombing, along with just the towers of St Augustine and St Alban, and foundations of St Mary Aldermanbury, after the remaining walls of the church itself were transported and rebuilt in the US. Some of the surviving churches though were gutted, and although carefully restored, in the main, their monuments, the interest of this website, were lost.

In all of this history, we can note that different parts of churches fared differently. A tower might not last as long as the nave and body of a church, collapsing after some hundreds of years and need replacing. Conversely, in a fire, even the Great Fire, towers might survive, and perhaps outer walls, when all else in the interior was lost. Lower walls and porches stood a better chance than upper walls and roofs, and crypts could survive when everything above ground was levelled. And as noted above, even in the Second World War bombing, some towers survived and were preserved when the rest of the church disappeared.

And our sculptured monuments? Many, many were lost in the Fire, as we know from John Stow (or Stowe), the great historian, who recorded large numbers of church memorials in his Survey of London published in 1598 and in enlarged form in 1603. We can still see his own Elizabethan monument in St Andrew's Undershaft.

But some few survived, and were taken from old churches being demolished to be put in Wren's or later replacements. Similarly, many 17th and 18th Century memorials have lasted better than the original fabric of the buildings, and even bombings spared some tablets and other monuments.

The monuments in the City Churches are different in kind from those we typically see elsewhere in the British Isles. Though disasters befall many places, the Great Fire and the carpet bombing of World War II have no parallel in many parts of the country. So with exceptions, we will not find in the City Churches the unbroken line of monuments from Norman through Medieval, Renaissance through to Victorian times that we may find in many of the great provincial Cathedrals and some of the nobler parish churches. Nor, in their confined spaces - as nearly all the City Churches are small, sometimes very small - will we generally find the largest and most complex 18th and 19th Century monuments with full size figure groups - for those, in London, would generally be in Westminster Abbey and St Paul s Cathedral (not covered on these pages), and the Guildhall. Again, in this way the City Churches differ from what we may see elsewhere in England. On the other hand, the City did have an unparalleled concentration of the great and the worthy, and there are many costly and beautiful smaller monuments, such as we would be unlikely to find in churches of equivalent size elsewhere. Styles, like the churches themselves, are mixed, with mostly Classical for the 17th and 18th century, yielding to Gothic in the 19th Century, recalling the much earlier Tudor and medieval work, such as remains. It should also be noted that some of the largest cities - Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool for example - were really rather small before 19th Century industrialisation, so that the many 17th Century or even 18th Century churches and monuments of London have little parallel in those places, where there may be just a few parish churches swallowed up in a sea of Victorian edifices. An introduction to smaller church monuments is on this page.

Church furnishings - wooden things like carved pulpits, altar pieces, organ cases and pews, metalwork such as sword rests, brasses, candelabra and chandeliers, are not the subject of these pages, but we may note that much survives from the time of Wren, in particular delicately carved wooden furnishings generally attributed with varying degrees of optimism to Grinling Gibbons. Such, along with fonts, are noted only in passing on this website.

There is notice of the architecture, but superficially, and from secondary sources, and I would emphasise my knowledge is based on casual interest rather than any pretence at understanding, and likewise the history is sketchy and relies on popular books rather than anything academic. I have not generally commented on sources for this website, as the sculptural sources are numerous, and really rather a lot is my own observation. But it may be helpful here to note that for the history and architecture of London churches, I have relied on Stow at the very end of the 17th Century, and the expansion and update by Strype in 1720, the excellent volumes by Godwin and the various popular magazines from the earlier part of the 19th Century, the main art and architecture periodicals from the late 19th century, and works of compilation such as the excellent Old and New London volumes, which borrow freely from earlier sources in text and pictures. The engravings are from the 19th Century sources, and the modern photographs are generally my own except where indicated.

Christopher Wren and the City Churches // Some other London Churches and their monuments // London sculpture // Sculptors

Introduction to church monuments // Churchyard and cemetery monuments