History of St Bride's: The Great Fire to 1944

Pages 33-38

Survey of London Monograph 15, St Bride's Church, Fleet Street. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1944.

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Paul Boston, who saw his church burn in the Great Fire of London, lived only long enough to see the plans for the new building approved and the beginning of the walls on their foundations. He made his will in November 1671 (proved in December) (fn. 1) and directed his burial next his mother in St Giles-in-the-Fields. He left £50 'to the newly erected church of St Bride, being vicar of the said church' to buy a silver-gilt chalice, paten and cover, beside bequests to the poor of the parish. He was the son of John Boston, priest, of Southwark, and was educated at Christchurch, Oxford, and Clare Hall, Cambridge. He had been reader at St Giles-in-the-Fields and held the vicarage of Thannington, Kent, at the same time as that of St Bride.

His successor, George Stradling, was instituted 23 April 1672 and resigned early in 1674. He was the son of Sir John Stradling, Bt, of St Donat's Castle, Glamorgan. He was at Jesus College, Oxford, and was elected Fellow of All Souls College in 1642. He became Chaplain to Gilbert Sheldon, Bishop of London, and held the rectory of Fulham and Hanwell, the vicarages of Cliffe and Hoo and Sutton-at-Hone, in Kent, and canonries of St Paul's and Westminster. He was made Dean of Chichester the year before he came to St Bride's and died in 1681, when he was buried in Westminster Abbey. (fn. 2)

On 10 January 1674 Henry Dove was instituted vicar and remained here until his death 21 years later. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was successively Chaplain to Charles II, James II and William and Mary. He was an able preacher and Evelyn records hearing him twice. Several of his sermons were published and he officiated, as already related, at the opening of the new Church of St Bride. In 1678 he buried his first wife, Thomasine, aged 23, in the Church where he erected a tablet to her memory (see Memorials, p. 72). In 1680 he married Rebecca Holworthy of St Margaret's, Westminster, who was the same age as his first wife when she died. He was himself buried within the chancel of the Church after his death on 11 March 1695. (fn. 3)

It was during Dr Dove's incumbency that the Society of St Cecilia commenced its annual service at St Bride's. An unusually large choir was assembled for these occasions. Included in the choral service was an anthem with orchestral accompaniment, and there was usually a sermon dealing with Cathedral music. After the service the members walked to Stationers' Hall on Ludgate Hill, where an ode was sung, followed by a banquet. Dryden made the St Cecilia festival of 1697 memorable by writing for it his famous ode 'Alexander's Feast', which forty years later was given a musical setting by Handel.

Another annual event which had a much earlier origin was the Spital sermon, which was given at Easter at St Bride's from 1686 to 1798. The first mention of the sermon occurs in 1415 when the Mayor, Thomas Fauconer, invited Richard Alkrynton (fn. 1a), a Canon of Chichester, to deliver it. At that time it was preached from a pulpit in the Churchyard of St Mary Spital, where to-day is Spital Square. The custom was observed continuously until the Commonwealth when it lapsed, but it was revived at the Restoration, and the Easter sermon was given in different Churches until it became settled for a century or more at St Bride's. The Lord Mayor came in full panoply, with sword and mace borne before him and his chaplain attending. The sword-rest at the Church was in use on these occasions. Both the Spital sermon and St Cecilia's Day Service drew large congregations, and Ned Ward in his Dancing School (1700) writes of a room being 'crammed as full of company as St Bride's Church upon the singing of a Spittle psalm at Easter or an anthem on Cecilia's day'.

Dr Dove's successor, Peter Birch, D. D., was a man of contentious disposition. Educated as a Presbyterian he went to study at Oxford and later at Cambridge. He then returned to Oxford, and declaring his conformity with the established Church he was received at Christchurch by Dr Fell. After filling certain posts at Oxford he became Chaplain to the House of Commons and a Prebendary of Westminster (1689). His sermons to the Commons occasioned protest and he became involved in a law-suit with Dr William Wake, who was presented by the Queen to the living of St James's, West minster, which the Bishop of London had conferred on Dr Birch. He lost his case and was then presented to St Bride's by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster (19 March 1695). He was thrice married, first to a daughter of Edmund Wallis, the poet, second to the widow of Francis Millington, with a fortune of £20,000, and third to Sibyl, daughter of Humphrey Wyrley. He died on 2 July 1710 and was buried in the south transept of Westminster Abbey. (fn. 4)

Michael Evans, the successor of Birch, was son of Maurice Evans of Westminster and was educated at Christchurch, Oxford. He held a prebendal stall in Westminster and was subdean in 1702. He was instituted to St Bride's on 9 September 1710, and remained vicar until his death in 1732. He was buried in the south aisle of Westminster Abbey. His estate, according to The Gentleman's Magazine, was worth £40,000.

Dr Richard Bundy, who was instituted in 1732, was a native of Devizes, Wiltshire, and educated at Christchurch Oxford. 'An assiduous attendance at Court led to his appointment as chaplain in ordinary and in 1732 he was selected to accompany the King on his visit to Hanover.' The same year he was granted his doctorate of divinity by the Archbishop of Canterbury, made a Prebendary of Westminster and vicar of St Bride's. The year after, he received in addition the rectory of East Barnet. He published various translations and (posthumously) some volumes of sermons. He died 27 January 1739 and was buried at Devizes. (fn. 5)

Dr William Barnard, who followed Dr Bundy, was son of John Barnard of the Middle Temple and was born at Clapham, Surrey. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he became a Fellow. His presentation to the rectory of Esher, Surrey, brought him in touch with the Duke of Newcastle whose chaplain he became, and later he was appointed chaplain to the King (1728). He also received a chaplaincy at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and was presented to the vicarage of St Bride's in January 1729. A prebendal stall at Westminster (1732) and the deanery of Rochester (1743) led to the bishopric of Raphoe (1744) and finally that of Derry (1747). He resigned St Bride's in 1744. (fn. 6)

In the same year Dr Richard Bullock was instituted. Born at Faulkbourne, Essex, he was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge. He was rector of Streatham, Surrey (1725), and became Prebendary of Westminster (1741). He left St Bride's to become vicar of Christ Church, Newgate, in 1748, and was chaplain to George II. He died in 1754.

Dr John Wills had a longer tenure of office, from 1748 to his death in 1765. He was son of John Wills of Ilsley, Berks, and was a bible clerk at All Souls College, Oxford. He was also vicar of Thorpe, Surrey, Prebendary of Nertherby in Salisbury diocese, and chaplain to the Bishop of Peterborough.

Dr John Thomas was vicar for only three years from January 1766 to December 1768, when he became Dean of Westminster and afterwards Bishop of Rochester. He was born at Carlisle, and his father was the Rev. John Thomas of Brampton, Cumberland. He held the rectory of Bletchingly, Surrey, from 1738 to 1774, and was chaplain to both George II and George III. His portrait as Dean of the Order of the Bath was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and is at Queen's College, Oxford, where he matriculated, and at which he founded two scholarships. (fn. 7) His successor, Dr Reeve Ballard, who was educated at Christchurch, Oxford, had been rector of Stoke Dabernon, Surrey, and was a prebendary of Westminster. He died in 1770, two years after becoming vicar.

Dr John Blair, who was instituted on Dr Ballard's death, had made his name as a chronologist. Born and educated in Edinburgh he came to London, and, while a schoolmaster, published The Chronology and History of the World . . . in fifty-six tables. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1757 was appointed chaplain to the Princess-Dowager of Wales and mathematical tutor to the Duke of York. In 1761 he was given a prebendal stall at Westminster and the vicarage of Hinckley, which he exchanged in 1771 for St Bride's. He stayed here until 1776, when he went to St John the Evangelist, Westminster. On his death in 1782 he was buried in Westminster Abbey. (fn. 8)

Dr William Bell, who came after Blair, was vicar for five years and was also a mathematician. He was at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and was the Eighth Wrangler of his year. At the age of 25 he published a work on the relation between population and trade. He became domestic chaplain to Princess Amelia, daughter of George III, and she obtained for him a prebendal stall at Westminster, followed in 1776 by his presentation to the vicarage of St Bride's. He resigned in 1780 and went to Christchurch, Newgate Street. He also became treasurer of St Paul's Cathedral. He was the author of several theological works and was a considerable benefactor to the University of Cambridge. (fn. 9)

Edward Cranmer, instituted 27 March 1781, was vicar for 21 years. He was son of James Cranmer of Mitcham and was educated at Queen's College, Oxford. He died in 1802 and was followed by Thomas Clare whose term was even longer—27 years. He was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, and married the widow of the headmaster of Merchant Taylors' School, Samuel Bishop, whose poems he edited. He also published a volume of sermons. In 1824, on 14 November, occurred a serious fire in Fleet Street among buildings immediately north of the Church. Some eight houses were involved and their destruction immediately suggested the possibility of opening a view of the Church from Fleet Street. A public meeting was held at which the Lord Mayor presided and in the result £10,000 were subscribed, the chief supporter being Mr John Blades, whose memorial still survives in the Church tower. J. R. Papworth prepared a delightful design for the new St Bride's Avenue, and the houses and shops which he planned on each side made a perfect setting for the tower and steeple. This architectural lay-out was unfortunately not allowed to remain when the premises were rebuilt later but it was recorded more than once and deserves remembrance. See Plates 13 and 14. The scheme was intended as a tribute to the Church and to Wren, its architect, and it was certainly an architectural contribution worthy of both.

Another graduate (and Fellow) of Trinity College succeeded Thomas Clare in 1829—Dr Joseph Allen, son of William Allen of Manchester. He had been vicar of Battersea and a prebendary of Worcester. He left St Bride's on his translation to the See of Bristol in 1834, after which he became Bishop of Ely and died in 1845.

The next vicar was Dr Thomas Dale, a man of note, who became Dean of Rochester. He had first come to St Bride's in 1826 as assistant preacher and was instituted to the vicarage in 1835, aided by the support of Sir Robert Peel. His portrait, by John Lewis, used to hang in the vestry room, and an aquatint engraving of it exists. He was a most attractive preacher, his eloquence and learning filled the Church. Mrs Carr, a resident in the Parish for twenty-five years, in turn scholar, teacher and superintendent of the parish school, in writing her recollections of this period, tells how on Sundays it was often impossible to secure a seat in the Church. She recounts the imposing spectacle of Dr Dale's entry and passage up the centre aisle, followed by his wife and twelve children, whilst immediately behind him came the wealthiest parishioner, a glass merchant, also followed by twelve children of his own.

This was the peak period, while the parish was still residential, and so great was the demand on the Church that an additional building was erected— Holy Trinity, Gough Square, on a site given by the Goldsmiths' Company. The foundation stone was laid on 3 October 1837, but the new Church did not last 100 years. The coming ebb of population from the city had not been foreseen, but when it started it was continuous and Holy Trinity Church was pulled down in 1913.

Dr Dale was born at Pentonville and was educated at Christ's Hospital and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He published a volume of poems when he was 20, and during his life wrote some seventy works. But his chief reputation was won as a lecturer and preacher, and he was professor of English language and literature at University College, Gower Street, from 1828 to 1830. He resigned from St Bride's in 1846 and accepted the vicarage of St Pancras which he held until 1861. He then found some rest in the rectory of Therfield, Herts, and in 1870, the year of his death, was appointed Dean of Rochester. (fn. 10)

The period covered by the next three vicars, close upon three-quarters of a century, witnessed those rapid changes that left the City Churches with a mere fraction of their resident parishioners. The census tells its own story. In 1851, five years after Charles Marshall was instituted (9 October 1846), the City's population was 127,819. Two years before his death in 1883 it had fallen to 50,652. His successor, Edward Comerford Hawkins, father of Anthony Hope (Hawkins) the novelist, was vicar for 23 years, and during this time the number of the City's residents was again halved, the process continuing even more rapidly under his successor. In Mr Hawkins's time the vestry room of the Church ceased to be the administrative headquarters of the secular life of the parish. Beadle, constable and the other parish officers were superseded and the Charity Commissioners took over the charities; the Churchwardens alone remained with Church affairs as their only business.

William Cartledge Heaton became vicar in 1906 after his losing fight to maintain the new Church of Holy Trinity, Gough Square. He had formerly served St Clement Danes and St Lawrence Jewry. He died in 1917. A new era dawned in 1918 when the present vicar, Prebendary Arthur Taylor, was instituted. The War had still some months to run, and the exhaustion of the great national struggle might easily have extinguished the vitality that depopulation had already drained. But there was still a remnant, some thousand souls, who resided in the parish. More important still, its bounds enclosed the central offices of the newspaper press. The parish also possessed a close association with Christian Missions, since the Headquarters of the Church Missionary Society and the London City Mission were close by. As one of the secretaries of the Bible Society, which sends the printed gospel over the globe in every language, Prebendary Taylor had a technician's knowledge of printing and publishing, and his wide travel for the Society had fitted him for dealing with business men and women. In the result Fleet Street possessed a parson whose ministrations it could appreciate and St Bride's has become the Journalists' Church. In 1940, when the Institute of Journalists celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, it came to St Bride's for its thanksgiving and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Cosmo Lang) preached from its pulpit and Mr J. A. Spender read the lessons. That same year, on the night of Sunday, 29 December, Wren's Church was burnt, in one of the intensive air attacks on London, and only the steeple and the blackened walls remain. For a second time a vicar of St Bride's has had to mourn the destruction of his Church, but to-day there is hope that it may live again and keep the inspired form given to it by its architect who made the later renaissance in England so notable a period in the art of the world.

At the time of writing, the Church is but a shell, but Prebendary Taylor has repaired and refitted the adjoining buildings to tide over these days of war. The eighteenth-century vestry has been furnished as a temporary church and an altar has been placed in the Tower. In both cases the simple and dignified architectural setting impresses the visitor by its contrast with the ruin of the City, and emphasizes the continuity which no catastrophe can break. This affectionate salvage from the past is an omen of hope for the future, and work of such piety will assuredly have its reward.


  • 1a. Richard Alkrynton (whose name is variously spelt) held the Prebend of Wittering from 1396 to his death in 1418. (Communicated by Mr W. D. Peckham.)
  • 1. P. C. C. Duke, 14a.
  • 2. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Ibid.