Survey of London Monograph 15, St Bride's Church, Fleet Street. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1944.
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Fifty years ago, in 1894, C. R. Ashbee called together a small but devoted company of 'lovers and favourers of antiquity' who styled themselves the Committee for the Survey of the Memorials of Greater London. In 1894 the iconoclasts were active. The Committee took upon itself the double task of recording London architecture and defending it from the despoilers. Two early volumes commemorate a victory and a defeat. Trinity Hospital, Mile End Road was saved but the old Palace of Bromley by Bow fell to the housebreakers and only its chief panelled room found refuge in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Looking back over more than forty of these fifty years I am impressed most with the smallness of our band fighting with undiminished courage a continual rear-guard action with the formidable forces of destruction. We measured, drew, photographed and described everything that our limited leisure would permit and we published our volumes, painfully gathering the means in spite of a largely indifferent public. But at each of our monthly meetings, where we gathered for mutual counsel and support the item on the agenda which occupied us most was the list of 'threatened buildings'.
It is strange to think that it needed the more dramatic onslaught of an air-borne enemy to make people conscious of what they were losing. Our priceless heritage of architecture and craftsmanship, the gift of all ages to all succeeding ages, was disregarded until they saw it burned and shattered. Now, at long last, there are signs that we are becoming more sensitive to historic values and that the intelligent conservation of what is both beautiful and serviceable will form part of the plans being prepared for post-war improvement and future development.
The work of the London Survey Committee, during these fifty years, has not been as rapid as we had at first hoped, but many of its records are invaluable since their subjects have perished, notably the Church of All Hallows, Barking, and the Old Church, Chelsea. These and other buildings are not now lost to architectural history and the example set by the Committee has been fruitful of imitation in many other quarters. The story of its labours must be told elsewhere, but here we can recall the chairmanship first of C. R. Ashbee and later of Philip Norman and the secretaryship of Ernest Godman and Percy Lovell, all of whom threw themselves heart and soul into the work. Nor must we omit to mention the London County Council which has collaborated with the Committee and has found the money for the publication of the parish volumes, beside preparing those for which the late Mr Braines and, after him, Miss Darlington have been responsible.
The last volume was issued in 1940 and the London County Council suspended further publication for the period of the war. In the opinion of the Committee, however, it seemed not only appropriate that its jubilee should be marked by a volume, but necessary for the public to be reminded of the importance of these records after a period of such tragic loss. The Pilgrim Trustees were approached and responded with a handsome grant towards the cost, thus enabling the Committee to renew its appeal for the continuance of this important survey, and this by the best argument it could advance, namely by giving an example of what is so urgently needed.
The selection of one of Wren's finest churches, burnt out in the air-raids, as the subject of this volume, will, I think, meet with general approval. The vicar, the Rev. Prebendary Arthur Taylor, and his Church Council have been most helpful, not only in providing material for the volume but in generously contributing to the cost. The church possessed a narrative, prepared by the late Mr Walter Bell, and a considerable store of transcripts of original documents made by the late Mr Harvey Bloom, on which Mr Bell's manuscript is based, and these were placed unreservedly at our disposal. The bulk of the text is based on these sources. It is one of the misfortunes of war-time research that the original documents are inaccessible for purposes of confirmation and correction. I must therefore make it clear that all the documents quoted are from Mr Bloom's transcripts and it has been possible to make corrections only where there was an opportunity of collating the various transcripts themselves. Any statements, uncorroborated by references, have been taken from Mr Bell. The whole story of the church, both in medieval and later times, has been re-cast and an effort has been made to present it as clearly and concisely as possible. Another difficulty lay in the destruction of most of the monuments. Three transcripts of the inscriptions were placed at my disposal, but none of these gives those exact particulars of lettering which we are in the habit of recording in these volumes. The wording is however trustworthy as far as the actual information contained in the inscriptions is concerned. Such stones as survived the fire have been examined except those stored in inaccessible positions.
The survey of the church has been gathered from various sources. Mr Arthur Stratton has kindly lent his elevation of the tower and steeple and this has been supplemented from the measured drawings in Clayton's City Churches. The National Buildings Record has placed its photographs at our disposal, Messrs Humphrey and Vera Joel have allowed the reproduction of internal views taken before the raids and Mr A. F. Kersting (through the British Council) has lent both external and internal views. The London County Council has also lent their post-raid photographs, and the Rev. Prebendary Taylor has provided valuable records of various details.
The Warburg Institute very kindly undertook the photographs of the ground floor of the Tower and the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments has supplied photographs of the Church plate. We are indebted to the Sunday Times for permission to include two drawings by Mr Hanslip Fletcher. Further acknowledgements occur in the List of Illustrations.
This volume is numbered in the series of the Committee's monographs by permission of the London County Council under the terms of our agreement with the Council. It is a limited issue, but it is probable that at a later date a second impression may be included in its proper place among the parish surveys. I should like to record my indebtedness to Miss Marjorie B. Honeybourne and Mr Gerald Cobb who have kindly read the proofs and have made several valuable suggestions. Mr Anthony Wagner, Richmond Herald, has joined our Committee in place of the late Rev. E. E. Dorling and has given valuable assistance with the heraldry. I should also wish to thank Mr W. Lewis, the Printer to Cambridge University, for his help in producing this volume in a difficult period.
WALTER H. GODFREY