Though not the first, nor even the second, seat of the Church of England (those honours go to Canterbury and York respectively), London still possesses some of the most incredible churches in the world.
It’d have even more had the Great Fire of 1666 not burnt roughly a hundred to a cinder. Here, trying to ignore St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, we look at the smaller spires – those beautiful churches in London that have an influence that belies their size.
Temple Church, Temple
Among the oldest churches in London, Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar, an order of crusaders founded in the early 12th century to protect pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem. Serving as a HQ from the order’s early days, the Round Church was modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and contains the effigies of some of medieval England’s most important men. Try to spot William Marshall – one of England’s greatest warriors – among them if you can.
St Luke’s, Chelsea
Built to cater to a burgeoning population in 1824, St Luke’s is one of the earliest Gothic Revival churches in London. It’s also, with a nave that measures 60ft high, one of the tallest in the city, too. Resembling King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, in many ways, its holy walls have probably seen as many famous faces as its elder counterpart. From Charles Dickens to Charles Kingsley (who wrote The Water Babies), the memorials (which include several of the Cadogan family) show that the church still preaches to the great and good today.
St George’s, Bloomsbury
Erected to ensure the Church of England could compete with non-conformist chapels springing up, St George’s has had a colourful history. Designed by one of Britain’s greatest classical architects, Nicholas Hawksmoor, the church has at various times starred in Hogarth’s Gin Lane sketch; hosted the memorial service for the suffragette, Emily Davison (who threw herself in front of the king’s horse); and acted as the University of London’s official church.
All Hallows by the Tower
Though bombed in WWII, All Hallows by the Tower remains a gorgeous Grade I listed church. The oldest in the City, having been founded by the Abbey of Barking in AD 675, it was from this church that Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire spread in 1666. His name might headline any other church’s history, yet All Hallows has an incredible roll-call, from the scholarly Lancelot Andrewes to the nasty “Hanging Judge” Jeffries, from William Penn (the founder of Pennsylvania) to John Quincy Adams (married there), who later became the sixth President of the United States.
St Dunstan-in-the West, Fleet Street
Named after one of early England’s foremost saints, St Dunstan narrowly escaped the Great Fire of London when the Dean of Westminster roused 40 scholars from their sleep and had them extinguish its flames. Rebuilt in 1831 after years of wear and tear, the church is most famous nowadays for its clock, which dates to 1671. Featuring two giants who strike the hours, while turning their heads, it’s only trumped by two statues in the courtyard. One is Lud, the mythical king of Britain, and the other is Elizabeth I – the only statue known to have been carved of her during her lifetime.
If you like the sound of London’s ecclesiastical beauty and would like to see more of the city, why not book a place on our London in One Day trip?