It was upon a long walk after work on Friday night not only did I stumble upon Smithfield market 5 minutes down the road but also a beautiful set of ruins that had been converted into gardens. That discovery is the inspiration for this blog post as it required some research and extra reading.
There has been Christian place of worship on the sight of Christ Church Greyfriars in new street opposite St Paul’s since 1200s.
It got the name Greyfriars from the colour of the habit worn by the Franciscan monks that lived in the monastery.
At the beginning of the 14th century a new church was built to be able to house more monks and it was consecrated in 1326. This build was paid for by the King’s wife and queen consort to Edward I, Marguerite of France. The medieval buildings dimension have measured as 300 feet in length by 89 feet in withe and is thought to be the second largest church in 14th century London.
In 1429 Dick Wittington, the lord mayor of London founded the building of a library for the monastery and its monks.
The monastery remained and thrived on the site until 1538 when it was dissolved under the orders of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII in the English Reformation. 8 years later the church to the city corporation of London to be used a parish church but no longer a monastic house.
Those monks under 24 were given freedom; ordained monks were sent to parishes to work as priests while older monks were supposed to be pensioned off.
The priory buildings were later used as Christ hospital school and was founded by Edward VI.
Disaster strikes again in 1666. Along with St Pauls and 50 other churches Christ Church grey friars was destroyed in the great fire of London. For a building to have come out reasonably unscathed from the dissolution, its heart breaking to think of it burning down 130 odd years later.
New life was breathed on the site when restoration architect Sir Christopher Wren was assigned to rebuild this site.
The congregation were able to raise £1000 to start the work to rebuild the church, £1,000 not being a small sum in the 17th century. Many of the gothic foundations were reused to save both time and money. The church was smaller and the western part of the site that was not utilized would be come the church and grave yard.
In 1704 a steeple was added to the tower costing £1963 8shillings and 3 pence. 56 years later a vestry was added to the site as well.
The church attracted some big names to play music there and they include Felix Mendelsosohnin 1837 and Samuel Wesley.
So far we have seen our church survive many of the biggest events in early modern history. But Christ Church Greyfriars was about to suffer its saddest fate yet in the first part of the 20th century.
Having escaped the Great War and the thirties depression, it would be the blitz bombing of the second world war that would ultimately be the nemesis for Christ church Greyfriars Newgate. The fateful night was 29th December 1940. The roof was hit by a fire bomb and destroyed the nave of the church. Miraculously the steeple remained standing but was taken down in the 60ks and then rebuild to make it safe. In 1949 it was decided by the Anglican church not to rebuild the destroyed church. Finally in the late 80s the old nave of the church was turned in to the stunning memorial garden we see today.
The 21st century saw the ruin get a new neighbour from the multinational American company Merrill Lynch. They have their HQ on what was the western end of the site and the former church yard. They also helped finance major renovation and archaeological investigation of the site.
It is worth noting that Christ Church Greyfriars is the final resting place of some amazing characters of our history including:
Isabella of France (Queen of England), Marguerite of France (queen of England), Joan of the Tower (Queen of Scotland), Isabella de Coucy (Princess), Thomas Mallory (author), Richard Baxter (theologian), Elizabeth Barton (the mad maid of Kent), Venetia Stanley (socialite and beauty)
So the next time your in the area around and near St Pauls and you seek refuge from the hustle and bustle of busy London life, I recommend the quiet Greyfriars gardens with the tranquillity that only a ruin and its history can bring.