St Stephen Walbrook - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St Stephen Walbrook

• St Stephen Walbrook was erected to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren following the destruction of its medieval predecessor in the Great Fire in 1666. It has been described as having the most perfectly formed interior in the world. The design testifies to Wren’s background as a mathematician, with rectangles, squares, circles, semi-circles and triangles creating a wonderful harmony.

• The original church of St Stephen stood on the west side of the Walbrook a stream running southwards across the City of London from the City Wall near Moorfields to the Thames.

• In 1429 Robert Chicheley, twice Lord Mayor of London, bought a piece of land on the east side of the Walbrook, and presented it to the parish. The church was then moved to its present site (the stream was later concealed in a culvert). Several foundation stones were laid at a ceremony on 11 May 1429, and the church was consecrated ten years later, on 30 April 1439. At 125 feet long and, 67 feet wide it was considerably larger than the present building.

• Before the fire the church contained a memorial to the composer John Dunstaple. The wording of the epitaph had been recorded in the early 17th century, and was reinstated in the church in 1904, some 450 years after his death. The present building was constructed in 1672-9 to a design by Wren, at a cost of £7,692. It is rectangular in plan with a dome and an attached North West tower. Entry to the church is up a flight of sixteen steps, enclosed in a porch attached to the west front. The walls, tower, and internal columns are made of stone, but the dome is of timber and plaster with an external covering of copper

• The 63 feet high dome is based on Wren's original design for St Paul’s and is centred over a square of twelve columns of the Corinthian order. The circular base of the dome is not carried, in the conventional way, by pendentives formed above the arches of the square, but on a circle formed by eight arches that spring from eight of the twelve columns, cutting across each corner. This all contributes to create what many consider to be one of Wren's finest church interiors. Sir Nicholas Pevensner lists it as one of the ten most important buildings in England.

• In 1776 the central window in the east wall was bricked up to allow for the installation of a picture by Benjamin West, which the rector, Thomas Wilson, had given to the parish. The east window was unblocked, and the picture moved to the north wall, during extensive restorations in 1850.

• It suffered slight damage from bombing during the Blitz of 1941 and was later restored. Nowadays, the church's features include Henry Moore's controversial massive white polished stone altar, commissioned by churchwarden Lord Palumbo and installed in 1987. Unusually this stands in the centre of the church. A telephone in a glass box is a tribute to the founding of the Samaritans at the church by the rector, Dr Chad Varah, in 1953. This voluntary organisation began with this telephone, and today staffs a 24-hour telephone hot-line for people in emotional need. The first Samaritans branch (known as Central London Branch) operated from a crypt beneath the church before moving to Marshall Street in Soho.

• Sir John Vanbrugh was buried in the church.

• The parishes of St Thomas Apostle, St Swithin London Stone, St Mary Bothaw, St Laruence Pontney, St Benet Sherehog, St Antholin Budge Row and St John the Baptist upon Walbrook are all merged with the parish.

• The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950


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