Christ Church Greyfriars - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

Christ Church Greyfriars

• Christ Church Greyfriars, also known as Christ Church Newgate Street had its origins as a church of a Franciscan monastery, the name ‘Greyfriars’ being a reference to the grey habits worn by Franciscan monks. The first church on the site was built in the thirteenth century, but this was soon replaced by a bigger building, begun in 1306 and consecrated in 1326 This new church was the second largest in medieval London, measuring 300 feet long and 89 feet wide, with at least eleven altars. It was built partly at the expense of Maguerite of France, second wife of Edward 1. She was buried at the church, as was Isabella, widow of Edward II. The heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, was also interred there.

• Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London founded a library in connection with the church in 1429.

• The monastery was dissolved in 1538, the building and fittings suffered heavy damage in this period. Tombs disappeared, sold for their marble and other valuable materials and monuments were defaced. In 1546 Henry VIII gave the priory and its church to the City Corporation. A new parish of Christ Church was created, incorporating those of St Nicholas and St Ewin, and part of that of St Sepulchre. The priory buildings later housed Christ’s Hospital school, founded by Edward VI and the church became the pupils main place of worship.

• The medieval church was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666. Reconstruction was assigned to Wren although there appears to have been some debate about the form the new Christ Church should take, a surviving unused design shows a structure considerably larger than what was eventually built. Parishioners raised £1,000 to begin work on the design that in the end was selected. Unique among the Wren churches, the east and west walls had buttresses.

• Galleries stood over the north and south aisles, built at special request of the officers of Christ's Hospital as seating for the school's students. Pews were said to have been made from the timbers of a wrecked Spanish galleon. The organ, on the west wall over the main nave door, was built by Renatus Harris in 1690, according to a pre-war guide to the church.

• The steeple, standing about 160 feet tall, was finished in 1704 it has three diminishing storeys, square in plan, the middle one with a freestanding Ionic colonnade. Over the course of the church’s existence, significant modifications were made.

• In 1760, a vestry house was built against the facade’s south side and part of the church's south wall. The church functioned as an important centre of City society and music. The Lord Mayor attended an annual service to hear the Ancient Spital Sermon on the second Wednesday after Easter, placing his ceremonial sword in a special holder. Mendelssohn played the organ in and Wesley also preached there.

• Around the turn of the 20th century, Christ's Hospital moved out of the City ending the Sunday influx of its schoolboys. The church was severely damaged in the Blitz on 29 December 1940, the only fitting known to have been saved was the cover of the font, recovered by an unknown postman who ran inside as the flames raged. The wooden font cover, topped by a carved angel, can today be seen in the porch of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

• In 1954, the Christ Church parish was merged with that parish. • The steeple, still standing after the wartime damage, was disassembled in 1960 and put back together using modern construction methods. In 1981, neo-Georgian brick offices were constructed against the southwest corner of the ruins, in imitation of the 1760 vestry house that had stood there. In 1989, the former nave area became a public garden and memorial. The tower functioned as commercial space, although it has now been converted into a private residence. The remains of the church were designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.


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