St Stephen's Walbrook, and its sculptural interest

The City Church of St Stephen Walbrook, just a couple of minutes walk from both Bank and Cannon Street tube stations, is considered one of Christopher Wren’s masterpieces. It sustained some but not irrecoverable war damage and was restored, and many of the monuments and furnishings survived.

St Stephen Walbrook, from Queen Victoria Street.

Wren’s building replaced a 15th Century edifice destroyed in the Great Fire, and was put up between 1672-79. The steeple dates from 1713. Currently a good view, above, can be obtained of the exterior from Queen Victoria Street, due to a building site. The exterior has tall, flat walls, small rectangular, and Roman-style windows, and round upper windows. The two features are the steeple and the dome, but it is inside that the architecture comes into its own.

The church floor is at some height above the ground outside, hence we must climb up some steps to enter. The interior is rectangular, with four lines of Corinthian pillars topped by round arches which support the dome in a complex and elegant geometric pattern. Pairs of columns are absent from the centremost lines, to make a central space and give almost a Greek cross shape, rather Byzantine in effect. Apparently this method of supporting a dome was Wren's prototype for his St Paul’s Cathedral design. The dome is decorated with compartments filled with repeating flowers and fronds, and small supports to the main struts have carved winged cherub heads and shells etc. The interior, seen in our picture above, is in white and pale colours with gilding, and the windows seem larger and more numerous than from the outside, making the interior bright and spacious. This contrasts with the dark wooden panelling forming a band around the interior up to door height, and the equally dark altar, of greater height, has cherubic and fructifying carving and paintings of Moses and Aaron, as once sported by many Wren churches. The carved stone font, with drapery and cherubs’ heads around the rim, has a very ornate wooden cover with twisted columns, between which are little oval panels with cherubs, and above, free standing female figures surround a central ogee dome bearing a crown. From the time of Wren, but charmingly medieval in spirit. The pulpit, of some size, with a top heavy looking cover above supported on a single pillar, bears half a dozen small carved cherubs holding garlands of flowers between them. Approaching this, we can look back towards where we came in, to see the vast organ, forming a composite with the heavy dark entrance, with pillars and garlands, coat of arms and cherubic heads, going up to the top of the highest arch where a pair of trumpeting angels sit. Again, all from the time of Wren - see pictures at the top of this page, and as usual, click to enlarge.

View of interior showing side of Robert Marriott memorial on the pillar, and the organ.

And now to the monuments, the primary concern of these pages. John Stow, visiting the pre-Fire Church, wrote that 'There bee monumentes in thechurch of Thomas Southwell first Parson of this new church, who lyeth in the QUier, John Dustable [see 20th Century memorials below]...Sir Richard Lee Mayor, ... Rowland Hill Mayor, 1549, Sir Thomas Pope first Treasurer of the augmentations, with his wife Dame Margaret, Sir John Cootes Mayor, 1542. Sir John Yorke Knight, Marchaunt Taylor, 1549. Edward Jackman Shiriffe, 1564, Richarde Achley, Grocer, Doctor Owyn, Phisition [physician] to king Henrie the Eight, John Kirkbie Grocer, 1578, and others.' Alas, all of these perished. However, in the Wren Church we do have a good crop of monuments of sculptural interest, including a couple of busts and several plaques of elaborate form, and two 17th Century pillar cartouches. As usual, we consider these in more or less date order:

17th Century Monuments:

18th Century Monuments:

18th Century obelisk monuments: Deschamps family, and George Street.

19th Century Monuments:

20th Century Monuments:

Alas, we have no monument to Sir John Vanbrugh, the famous architect buried in the church.

Mosaic panel of St Stephen.

Before concluding, we should note the large panel mosaic to St Stephen hanging next to the stair in the entrance vestibule. It shows a geometrical design in black, beige, grey-blue and two terra cottas on a white ground, with a central roundel showing the saint, with halo and simple drapes. It is hard to know what to make of this – the laying of the background mosaics is in traditional Roman style, while the face is anything but, and the background within the roundel is laid in Victorian fashion. I can only guess this is a very modern work done by several workers or a heavily restored piece from earlier.

With thanks to the Church authorities for permission to use pictures from inside the Church; their website is at http://ststephenwalbrook.net/history_early.htm.

St Stephen's Walbrook in about 1840.

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Just East to St Mary Woolnoth // North West along Poultry to St Mary le Bow // North and East along Cornhill

City Churches // Christopher Wren // London sculpture // Sculptors // Introduction to church monuments

Angel statues // Cherub sculpture

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