St Paul Covent Garden - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Paul Covent Garden

• St Paul's Church is also commonly known as the Actors' Church. As well as being the parish church of Covent Garden, the church gained its nickname by a long association with the theatre community.

• In 1630, the fourth Earl of Bedford was given permission to demolish buildings on an area of land he owned north of the Strand, and redevelop it. The result was the Covent Garden Piazza, the first formal square in London.

• The new buildings were classical in character. At the west end was a church, linked to two identical houses. St Paul's was the first entirely new church to be built in London since the reformation. The design of the church, and the layout of the square, has been attributed to Inigo Jones since the seventeenth century, although firm documentary evidence is lacking. According to an often repeated story, recorded by Horace Walpole, the Earl of Bedford asked Jones to design a simple church "not much better than a barn", to which the architect replied "Then you shall have the handsomest barn in England".

• Work on the church was completed in 1633, but it was not consecrated until 1638 due to a dispute between the earl and the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields. It remained a chapel within the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields until 1645, when Covent Garden was made a separate parish and the church dedicated to St Paul. In 1789 there was a major restoration of the church, under the direction of the architect Thomas Hardwick. Six years later, in September 1795, the church was burnt out by a fire, accidentally started by workmen on the roof. A survey of the damage found that the outer walls were still structurally sound, but that the portico would have to be reconstructed. It is unclear whether this was in fact done. Having been restored once more, again under Hardwick's supervision, the church was re-consecrated, on 1 August 1798. Despite the destruction, the parish records were saved, as was the pulpit the work of Grinling Gibbons.

• The first known victim of the 1665–1666 outbreak of the Plague in England, Margaret Ponteous, was buried in the churchyard on 12 April 1665.

• St Paul's connection with the theatre began as early as 1663 with the establishment of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and was further assured in 1723 with the opening of Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.

• On 9 May 1662, Samuel Pepys noted in his diary the first "Italian puppet play" under the portico - the first recorded performance of "Punch and Judy", a fact commemorated by the annual May Fayre service in May.

• The portico of St Paul's was the setting for the first scene of Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ the play that was later adapted as My Fair Lady.


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