Skip to content

The City Churches of Old London

May 7, 2013
by the gentle author

St. Michael, Cornhill, 1912

It was these murky glass slides of City churches (and a few nearby), taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society a century ago and held in the collection at the Bishopsgate Institute, that inspired me to go out and take my own pictures of these same buildings last winter. Yet revisiting the old photographs, after I have taken my own, makes me acutely aware of how the cityscape around these curious architectural masterpieces has changed.

As shabby old residents that have survived from another age, the churches speak eloquently of an earlier world when the City of London was densely populated and dozens of places of worship were required to serve all the tiny parishes crowded up beside each other. Yet in spite of the encroachment of towers around them, these intricately wrought structures stubbornly hold their own against newcomers today.

In the process of getting to know them, I acquired a literary companion – John Betjeman, who knew these churches as well as anyone and was refreshingly candid in his opinions. While grieving the loss of seven Wren designs to the German bombers in World War II, he managed to find a silver lining.“They did us a favour in blowing out much bad Victorian glass,” he declared with unapologetic prejudice.

Yet I could not but concur with his estimation of the contemporary significance of these churches when he wrote – “As the impersonal slabs of cellular offices rise higher into the sky, so do the churches which remain in the City of London today become more valuable to us. They maintain a human scale…” And that was in 1965, before most of the financial towers were built.

St Mary le Bow, Cheapside, 1910

St Augustine, Watling St, 1921 – now part of St Paul’s School

St Andrew Undershaft, St Mary Axe, c. 1910

St Mary Abchurch, c. 1910

St Margaret Patterns, Eastcheap, 1920

St Mary Woolnoth, Lombard St & Bank Tube station, c. 1920

St Stephen Walbrook, 1917

St Clement Danes, c. 1910

St Alban, Wood St, c. 1875 – only the tower remains

St Clement Danes, c. 1900

St Margaret, Lothbury, 1908

St George the Martyr, Borough, 1910

St. Katherine Coleman, Magpie Alley, c. 1910 – demolished in 1926

St. Magnus the Martyr, c. 1910

St Magnus the Martyr & the Monument from the Thames, c. 1920

St Dunstan in the East, 1910

St Dunstan in the East,  1910

St Dunstan in the West, Fleet St, c. 1910

St. Michael Paternoster Royal, 1922

St. Michael Paternoster Royal, 1922

St. Michael Paternoster Royal, 1922

St Bride, Fleet St, 1922

St Dunstan in the East, 1911

St Mary Le Strand

Images copyright © Bishopsgate Institute

You may also like to take a look at my pictures of

and these other glass slides of Old London

The Nights of Old London

The Ghosts of Old London

The Dogs of Old London

The Signs of Old London

The Markets of Old London

The Pubs of Old London

The Doors of Old London

The Staircases of Old London

The High Days & Holidays of Old London

The Dinners of Old London

The Shops of Old London

The Streets of Old London

The Fogs & Smogs of Old London

The Chambers of Old London

The Tombs of Old London

The Bridges of Old London

The Forgotten Corners of Old London

The Thames of Old London

The Statues & Effigies of Old London

10 Responses leave one →
  1. CornishCockney permalink
    May 7, 2013

    So many, like St Brides, and the Monument, you can now only see when you’re right there upon them!
    While I like the skyscrapers and how they are defining our citys landscape, I do love seeing the old views with church spires rising above the city.

  2. Peter Holford permalink
    May 7, 2013

    Great photos as ever. These are now seeming closer to how I remember London as a child than the present landscape – perhaps I’m getting older!

  3. Gary permalink
    May 7, 2013

    Seeing the horse dung on the streets in some of those slides reminds me of my childhood.
    It was not an unpleasent smell, pleasently earthy.
    Many were the times when I was despatched out with a bucket and shovel to get to it before any other child. Only organic home grown food in those days.

  4. Mick permalink
    May 7, 2013

    All done properly with an architectural camera with lens movements….not an uncorrected vertical in sight!

  5. May 9, 2013

    My great-great grandparents had several children baptised at St Clement Danes. Lovely to see these old views.

  6. Cherub permalink
    May 9, 2013

    Wren did such beautiful churches, I loved them when I worked in London. On my recent visit they made my heart feel glad. I hadn’t been to London for 9 years and was more impressed by these old churches than the new futuristic landmarks!

  7. Paul Seed permalink
    May 26, 2013

    How the world changes. When the origianl churches were built they were seen as massive structures, towering over the one- and two-story houses of (what we now call) mediaeval London. Even when the city and the churches were rebuilt after the Great Fire, they would have been the dominant structures in their little areas. Now they “maintain a human scale…” against the glass towers of the modern city.

  8. Mike Charlton permalink
    January 30, 2015

    London, city of spires. Which came first, St Bride’s spire or the now-traditional layered wedding cake? My money’s on the spire. Whenever I used to get to a higher point around London, my eye was always drawn to the spires of the churches, in amongst the modern glass, metal and concrete buildings. There’s something more organic about them, compared to the twentieth and twenty-first century architecture.

  9. Jim Short permalink
    August 13, 2016

    My wife and I were regular attendees at St Alfege Church in Greenwich while living there from Australia in the late 1990s. It is a Hawksmoor church, built in the early decades of the 1700s. It has wonderful character and a feeling of spirituality. As well, the site has a history going back a millenium, to when Alfege, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered there by the Saxons in 1012.

  10. keith kelly permalink
    May 5, 2018

    I wonder what the “France Surprise” was that the newsboy was selling at the bottom.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS