London – St Giles, Cripplegate

Wednesday 15 September 2021 and my first trip to London for far too long. I took the train to St Pancras and then went a couple of stops along the Circle to Barbican. I had an explore, and found that St Giles was open. It is on the south side of the Barbican and I last visited when Hannah had a RSCM course. It was lovely to find the church open, and empty. Their website is https://www.stgilesnewsite.co.uk/. A.N. Wilson commented “The Barbican is now an immense plate-glass fantasy, enormous gleaming towers soaring upward to the sky. But, doggedly, in the middle of it all, St Giles Cripplegate, bombed and repaired, stands as the last imaginable little memory there of that vanished City which Shakespeare knew.”

It is a beautifully light church when you enter it. The original church was probably a wattle and daub structure, the first stone church was founded in 1091 by Alphune, Bishop of London, and the present church was built in 1394. There was a major fire in 1545, though the Great Fire didn’t touch the church. It was badly bombed in WW2, then rebuilt by Godfrey Allen, using the restoration plans of 1545, which they found at Lambeth Palace.

There are lots of famous people linked with the church, so let’s start with the Alleyn Window on the north side. Edward Alleyn was the proprietor of the Rose Theatre and Fortune Theatre and the founder of Dulwich College. As the guidebook says “he was the proprietor of several profitable playhouses, bear-pits and brothels”. The window is by John Lawson of the firm of Goddard and Gibbs.

The east window was designed by Geralds Smith and made by the Nicholson Studios in 1960. Many of the figures in the widow are connected with the history of the church – St Bartholomew in the bottom right hand corner, St Alphege, the Archbishop of Canterbury beaten to death with the jawbone of an ox, is next to St George who “has no direct connection with the parish.” You can work the rest out!

I rather like the screen in front of the window, though I can find nothing which tells me who it is by. Sedilia and piscina of the medieval church.

Worth looking west. My photo of the organ was dreadful – which is sad as the musical tradition of the church is very important. One day, when I retire, I will come and enjoy wonderful church music. Mayoral crests (I assume). The C18 font came from St Luke’s church, Old Street.

There are many fascinating people connected with this church. John Milton was buried in 1674 in front of the altar, he lies next to his father. The 1793 bust on the south wall was made for the church and paid for by Samuel Whitbread, of the famous brewery family.

John Speed (1552-1629) was a historian and a map-maker during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I and lived in what is now known as Milton Street. He and his wife were buried in the church. They had 18 children – makes you wonder how he had time to make maps.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) is reputed to have been born in Fore Street, but there is no record of his baptism here. His death is recorded – as “Mr Dubow, Cripplegate”.

Sir Martin Frobisher (1539-1594) lived in what is now known as Beech Street. He was en explorer of the Northwest passage to the Spice Islands, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He was also a captain against the Spanish Armada, was wounded in a naval engagement against the Spanish, and died in Plymouth. His heart and entrails are buried in St Andrew’s church in Plymouth, the rest of his body came back here.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was married in the church in 1620, aged 21, to Elizabeth Bouchier, the daughter of a Cripplegate merchant.

I know nothing about Thomas Stagg, and he isn’t mentioned in the guidebook, but his memorial made me think.

I enjoyed this church – and they let me use their loo. For this relief, much thanks.

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