Friday, 18 February 2011

City of London

St Mary Woolnoth and St Stephen Walbrook

With a few minutes to spare before a site meeting I managed to visit not one but two 4* churches (as rated by Simon Jenkins) in the City of London. The five minutes I managed in each church was an insult to these two wonderful buildings and really just wetted the appetite for a longer return visit. The photos I took in no way reflect the wonder of the interior of either church.

To put the churches in context - three quarters of the City was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666 : St Mary Woolnoth was badly damaged and St Stephen Walbrook was one of many churches to be burnt to the ground.

After the fire, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was entrusted with the building of fifty or so new churches and most famously St. Paul's Cathedral. As St Stephen Walbrook was Wren's own parish church (he lived at No. 15 Walbrook) it was almost certain to be special.

St Mary Woolnoth

It is believed that the name "Woolnoth" refers to a benefactor, possibly one Wulnoth de Walebrok who is known to have lived in the area earlier in the 12th century. Its full (and unusual) dedication is to St. Mary Woolnoth of the Nativity.

After the Fire the church was initially repaired by Sir Christopher Wren however the patched-up structure proved unsafe, and had to be demolished in 1711. The church was rebuilt by the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches, financed by the coal tax of 1711. The new church was built between 1716 and 1727, commissioned from Nicholas Hawksmoor. The façade is in English Baroque style and is dominated by two flat-topped turrets supported by Corinthian columns.

Despite the relatively small size of St.Mary Woolnoth, once inside there is a feeling of spaciousness. Hawkesmoor constructed a square within a square, characterized by twelve Corinthian columns with a clerestory containing four large semicircular windows above.

The pulpit and the reredos behind the altar are the work of Gabriel Appleby.

St Stephen Walbrook

The church is hidden behind the Mansion House and not immediatly obvious. I approached it from Cannon Stree, walking up Walbrook. the first thing I saw was two painters hard at work above the Dome.

The first stones of the new Church were laid on 17th December 1672 and the building finished in 1680. Because the building was not islanded as it is now, the exterior is roughly finished: 'Never was so rich a jewel in so poor a setting, so sweet a kernel in so rough a husk', wrote Bumpus. (Thomas Francis Bumpus was an author of many works on churches and cathedrals during the early twentieth century.)

The cross-in-square plan has a central dome, creating a feeling of space in a relatively cramped site. It is difficult to see the church in its entirety from outside, but a model inside the church helps.

The great arched east window almost fills the chancel wall and in front is a 17th century reredos by Thomas Creecher and William Newman.

Wren's pulpit with its canopy and Henry Moore's massive white polished stone altar, commissioned by Lord Palumbo and installed in 1987. This was commissioned by churchwarden, Lord Palumbo, and stands unusually in the centre of the church, as allowed by a rare judgment of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved.

The dome, a forerunner of the dome of St Paul's, has ornate plasterwork supported by eight Corinthian columns and arches. The image is spoit by the green net (something to do with the external painting I assume).

Sir Christopher Wren's ornate font.

The London Stone
As it was so close to where I was going I also photographed the London Stone - something that is easily walked past if you don't know about it.

The stone is said to be the place from which the Romans measured all distances in Britannia. It is now set within a stone surround and iron grille on Cannon Street, The stone and box, with iron grille, were designated a Grade II* listed structure on 5 June 1972. For more see

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Walton on the Hill, Surrey

St. Peter the Apostle

Before coming into the church, you pass under the lych gate. There are three words in gold are etched on the "cross beam". They are Mors, Janua, Vitae (Latin for Death, Gateway and Life). "Lych" is old English for corpse and traditionally is where a coffin was briefly rested before being carried into church.

There has been a church on this site for over 700 years. The present Church is a result of major rebuilding in 1820. The Gothic style flint tower was rebuilt to it’s present form in 1895.

Note the 'dormer windows in the roof of the chancel - there are also dormer windows in the nave roof - not a feature I have seen in a church before.

On the south wall of the Chancel are three sedilias (seats carved into the wall) and a piscina (washbasin).

The church has a very old (late 12th century) and rare lead font, one of only 29 in the country (according to the church’s website although other sources say there are more) Over the centuries, it has been reduced in size and lacks both lid and hinge.

A view of the south wall with the dormer window in the roof. I took the picture mainly to show the lights and the cross and crossed keys from which they hang.

The stained glass window behind the sanctuary at the eastern end of the church is Victorian glass, showing scenes from the life of Jesus from his nativity to his Ascension.

By contrast there is a contemporary scene in the first window in the north wall (Lady Chapel): the Millennium window shows four scenes of Walton on the Hill.

The church has some interesting features and was worth visiting. It is a nice mix of some new with the old.

There is more about the church at

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Merstham, Surrey

St Katharine's Church

St Katharine's Church is just to the north of Merstham village on gently sloping Downland and adjacent to the present line of the A23 road. It is predominantly thirteenth century and comprises a nave of three bays, chancel, north and south chapels, north and south aisles, choir and clergy vestries, south porch, and west tower.
An original small wooden church is believed to have been completed on the site around 1100, after the first Crusade. The donor of most of the money, no doubt a Crusader himself, seems to have insisted upon its dedication to Saint Katharine of Alexandria (whose feast of title falls on 25th November).

She was the daughter of King Constus of Alexandria and is believed to have been betrothed to a 'lesser' king of Britain. Her mother was secretly a Christian and Katherine was exceptionally well educated in Greek philosophy, medicine, rhetoric and logic. When the Emperor Maxentius offered sacrifice to idols and ordered everyone to do the same, Katharine denounced him. Furious, he sent scholars to argue with her; but she refuted them, remaining stead­fast to her Christian faith. Katharine was imprisoned, tortured and later executed. It is recorded that 51 churches in England were dedicated to the saint, after the crusaders had returned home bringing news of the early saints and martyrs.

This church lasted less than 150 years and by about 1220 was replaced by a new Early English Church. The church, which still stands today is made almost entirely of the greyish-green Merstham stone. Unfortunately the stone is starting to deteriorate, hence the scaffold.

The tower is thirteenth century, the centre arch of the which is rumored to be built from the old London Bridge. The spire, which is octagonal, was added in the 14th century and contains much of the original timberwork. It was completely re-shingled in 1981.

The south porch fourteenth century; in the gable over it is an eighteenth century sundial. Much of the masonry of this door was renewed in 1931, and the sundial entirely refaced.

The Sussex marble font dates from c1150 and is one of the few objects remaining from the original church. It is ornamented on three sides with a rude arcade motif, which suggests that it was originally set against a wall. The four corners of the bowl are ornamented with a trefoil leaf carving representing the Trinity.

On the south side of the altar is a double piscinae set under a shouldered arch with (according to the guidebook) ‘beautiful still leaf carving below the bowls’. Double piscinae were introduced by order of Pope Innocent in the early part of the thirteenth century, and discontinued before the beginning of the fourteenth.

Before the formation of the chantry chapels the walls of the chancel were decorated with an arcade of three bays on either side. These extended the full height and presented a constructional arcade of high pointed early English arches resting on shafts and occupying the whole of the side walls. This is an unusual feature and found only in a few churches in the southeast counties, which gives strong evidence that they are the work of one architect.
The north chantry (the Albury Chapel) and the south chantry (the Alderstead chapel)were originally private chapels intended for the saying of Mass for the repose of the souls of the families who owned them, and were therefore divided from the church by wooden screens. Both are 15th century work. The picture below is taken from the chancel looking into the south chantry. Note the chantry arcades which end with segments of arches. No definite reason for this feature is known, but they were probably built to allow the rood-loft to continue right across the church.

The church was once decorated with mediaeval wall paintings, among them the story of St Katharine’s death by martyrdom. All that remains now is a cross “pateée”, a small consecration cross, on the west column of the north aisle dating from about 1200.

The lychgate on the west of the main road was erected in 1897 and is made from the oak of the old parish windmill, which stood on Rockshaw Road and was pulled down when the Brighton railway line was built.