The City of London Churches: A Pictorial Rediscovery, by Derek Kendall, The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. Trafalgar Square: North Pomfret, Vermont 05053.
If you enjoyed our feature on ‘Christopher Wren’s London’ (December/January 1998/1999, page 50), The City of London Churches: A Pictorial Rediscovery by Derek Kendall will make the perfect follow-up. This adeptly introduced, superbly illustrated book on the churches of the old City of London’s Square Mile fits honourably into a tradition of restoration and preservation few cities can claim.
Central London is a kaleidoscopic zone that broadly divides into the West End, comprising theatres, shops, restaurants, and entertainments; the City (or Square Mile) made up of businesses, law courts, and ancient buildings; and Westminster, consisting of government offices and many famous landmarks. The Square Mile is a synonym for the City of London, the oldest part of the greater metropolitan area.
Nowhere is Britain’s enthusiasm for preservation more apparent than within the Square Mile. Its religious heritage dates back to early Christian times. St. Paul’s Cathedral–which is not included here partly because photographing it adequately would have required a book in itself–traces its foundation to AD 604, and has been rebuilt several times since then.
While London’s most famous cathedral does not appear in Kendall’s work, he does capture the City’s parish churches in more than 2,000 photos, which have been edited and laid out in 46 chapters introduced by The Rt. Hon. Lord Faringdon, chairman of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, and the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, the 132nd Bishop of London. Peter Guillery wrote the text.
From the gorgeous Grinling Gibbons limewood cherub font cover of 1682 in All Hallows Barking by the Tower to the gateway view of he front of St. Bartholomew the Great, many poetic interiors and exteriors invite the reader into these eloquent pages. The pre-War splendour of ‘The Journalists Church’, St. Bride Fleet Street, which was gutted by air raids in the 1940s is a reminder of the destruction of many of London’s churches throughout the ages, in the Great Fire of 1666 and in the Blitz. In contrast, the stained glass likeness of that great British architect Sir Christopher Wren in St. Lawrence Jewry (located in a part of the City occupied by Jews until their expulsion from England in 1290) calls to mind the man who rebuilt many of London’s churches following the 1666 disaster. Other highlights include the muscular Baroque north elevation of St. Mary Woolnoth, the American oak woodwork in the Jewish Welsh Church, and the only Catholic church seen here–St. Etheldreda Ely Place, where crocketed gables reveal May Blakeman’s painted statues between the windows. When one adds the tempered beauty of the Nonconformist Temple Church and the finely lit rhapsodies of the Dutch Austin Friars, one understands why London’s Square Mile is the most prolifically endowed area in Christendom outside Rome.
The Great Fire destroyed or badly damaged 87 of the City’s 108 churches. The Victorian period took its own toll. A number of churches were demolished and many restorations were badly executed. By the onset of the Second World War, things were changing for the better, but air raids soon devastated London again. Famously, St. Paul’s survived, but 21 of the remaining 47 Anglican parish churches were reduced to ruins. The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England has done millions of worshippers a service, by sponsoring Mr. Kendall’s work–a worthy tribute to a nation’s Christian heritage.
David J. Marcou