Fleet Street, London, EC4. St. Bride's Church in London is the eighth church built on this location since the 6th century. The wedding cake
spire rises 226 feet above the city. The Crypt Museum provides a capsule history of London and displays remnan „
Have you ever wondered how the tiered wedding cake came about? Look no further than the distinctive spire of St Brides just off Fleet Street. An 18th century baker William rich used the three tired spire as inspiration in a range of wedding cakes and it has became the standard ever since. However there is so much more to this delightful little church which I often visit to get away from it all.
Saint Bride's has a long and interesting history. Named after Saint Bridget, a 5th century Irish saint who turned well water into beer (a nice party trick me thinks and always a welcome guest) there has been at least been seven church buildings on the site since Saxon times. Being on Fleet Street it is known as the Journalist's church and it is associated with a number of literary figures such as Boswell, Dryden, Lovelace, the diarist Evelyn and good old Samuel Pepys who was christened in old Saint Brides. Saint Brides is a survivor. The present church dates from the 1670s and is one of 24 renaming Wren churches built after the Great Fire of London. Unfortunately Saint Brides was damaged considerably by incendiary bombs in the second world war leaving just a wall and the steeple in tact. Luckily it was sympathetically restored by Godfrey Allen after the Second World Wart back o its former glory.
Its pretty easy to find Saint Brides. Just look for the wonderful steeple which at 225 feet is one of the highest of Wren's amazing churches. It is located on the eastern end of Fleet Street near where it joins with Ludgate Hill. Its easy to get to a number of buses including the 15, 11, 25 and 4 run past it. Blackfriars is the nearest tube station (Circe and District) but it is currently closed for renovations. Saint Paul's on the Central Line is only a ten minute walk a the most.
Go down a little alley leading off Fleet Street an you enter the churchyard. Its a nice grassy are with benches, which would be ideal for a quiet lunch away form the office and the hustle and bustle of London. The outer church building looks quite plain but most of Wren's churches were but inside it is rather beautiful. I love the large arched clear glass windows typical of a Wren church along with the oval windows streaming in light. The dark woodwork contrasts with the plain white walls nicely. Look up at the beautiful barrel vaulted ceiling with the gilded decoration. I like the font with its ornate cover. Unfortunately there are not that many memorials to look at compared to some of the other churches. The main body of the church has an air of peace and tranquility and is a great place to sit and think and reflect. It is a world away from the noise of Saint Paul's just five minutes don the road which often just does not feel like a church.
What makes Saint Brides special is the little museum in the crypt. Descending the stairs there are maps, drawings and photographs of Saint Brides and the surrounding area through the centuries. To your left on entering the crypt is a faded brown regency dress. This is Elizabeth Rich's wedding dress. Unfortunately the label about it is quite old, faded and difficult to read. From there om you can trace the development of the church through the ages due to various building debris, gravestones, and other archaeological remains including an old coffin. There's a lovely little chapel in the crypt which is used daily for services and the Sunday School (I'd be frightened as a child to have my Sunday school lessons in a crypt) . In the main body of the crypt there are interpretation boards showing the extent of the church through the ages and telling its story combined with the history of printing due to its proximity to Fleet Street. Its an interesting little exhibition and a good way to while away 20 minutes or so.
Saint Brides is still very much a working church with communion serves every lunchtime and two services on a Sunday plus various musical events.
All the staff I have came across hen visitation Saint Brides have been very helpful and welcoming.
The church is open seven days a week and t is free to enter but I would recommend you leave a pound or so donation so that Saint Brides can remain open for visitors and worshipers alike.
I' would recommend popping into Saint Brides if you have visited Saint Paul's cathedral and want to see one of Wren's other masterpieces or if you have half an hour spare and just happen to be wandering down Fleet street. Combine it with a pint in ye Old Cheshire cheese further down the road. You will not regret visiting this little slice of ecclesiastical history
Located just off Fleet Street in the City of London, St. Bride's Church has been a site of Christian worship for over 1,500 years, and was named after St. Bridget of Kildare. It has one of the most distinctive spires among British churches, with a series of tiered layers, which was the inspiration for the first tiered wedding cake, constructed by an enterprising Fleet Street baker over three hundred years ago. HISTORY In the Blitz, during the Second World War, a bomb blast levelled much of the site of St. Bride's Church, and for seventeen years, the church remained a shell. However, during this seventeen year period, extensive excavation work was carried out by a team of archaeologists from University College London, led by Professor W. F. Grimes, which revealed a great deal about the history of the site. Back in the second century AD, the Romans dug a ditch soon after reaching Londinium, and a section of Roman pavement was found on the site. The first religious building on the site, however, was a sixth century Saxon church. Since then, the church has been rebuilt no less than eight times on the site, the most recent being a post-war reconstruction of Sir Christopher Wren's 1675 design, which was commissioned following the Great Fire of London in 1666. The original 1675 steeple, and the minstrel's gallery beneath it, were fortunate enough to have survived the Second World War, however. The church even predates the connection between Fleet Street and the print trade. In 1476 William Caxton set up the first movable-type printing press in the world in Westminster Abbey. In the 16th century, his assistant Wynkyn de Worde brought it to St. Bride's Church. His first customers were primarily clergymen, but soon playwrights and pamphleteers came to see de Worde, and it wasn't long before other printers were setting up premises in the area. Great writers soon flocked to the area, and in 1702, London's
first newspaper, the Daily Courant, was published "next door to the King's Arms Tavern" on Fleet Street. Until the mid-Twentieth century, 250 years later, Fleet Street was the home to offices and presses for all the major newspapers. However, although the 1980s saw the decampment of most newspapers to Docklands, most still have links to Fleet Street, which is still the site of the Royal Courts of Justice, and St. Bride's Church. THE CHURCH Given how close the church is to Fleet Street, it is surprising how quiet and serene the church is inside. The nave of the church is very bright, and surprisingly well lit, and the choir stalls on either side of the nave bear plaques showing dedications to major figures in the newspaper and printing industry. Beside the church's small font used to stand a bust dedicated to the memory of Virginia Dare, the first child born to European immigrants on American soil, whose parents were married in St. Bride's Church. Unfortunately, in a recent raid on the church, the bust was stolen, and has not yet been recovered. To the east end of the church behind the altar is a mammoth altar screen, dedicated to the memory of the Pilgrim Fathers. One of the leaders of the Mayflower expedition, Edward Winslow, served as an apprentice in Fleet Street, and his parents were married in St. Bride's, so it is likely that he would have known the church well. Behind the altar screen is an enormous, and impressive trompe l'oeil, which was designed to disguise the flat wall behind it, and make it appear concave, and thereby make the church itself appear bigger. Certainly, this is one of the most impressive features of St. Bride's Church, and one of the main reasons I wanted to visit it. The crypt of the church is open whenever the rest of the church is, and consists of a small museum of the church's history, surrounded by exposed walls of the various incarnations o
f the church from the Saxon sixth century one, through to the 17th century Wren design. To the east end of the crypt, there is a small chapel, behind which the Roman pavement which was constructed on the site of the church can be clearly seen. The chapel also contains a book of remembrance for the newspapermen killed in action, or while reporting, from warzones. The museum itself is quite small, but boasts an interesting collection of artifacts from the history of the church, including blocks of carved masonry from earlier structures of the church. There is also a lockable iron coffin on display, which was designed to frustrate would-be body snatchers in the Eighteenth century. There is a visitors' book in the crypt of St. Bride's Church, which reveals that on a typical day no more than five or six tourists visit the church. This is a great shame, as it has one of the most interesting histories of London's churches. Samuel Pepys, one of the world's most famous diarists was baptised here. The steeple was the tallest that Christopher Wren ever built, and became the subject of much amusing bickering between Benjamin Franklin and King George III, when it was struck by lightning in 1764. Franklin recommended the installation of a pointed lightning rod on the spire, while King George wanted a rounded end on the rod – leading political commentators to refer to "good, blunt, honest King George" and "those sharp-witted colonists". In 1210, King John held his parliament on the site of St. Bride's Church, and in 1205, the Curia Regis (King's Court), the supreme judicial body of England met on the site. CONCLUSIONS St. Bride's Church tells an impressive story of the history of the City of London, and specifically of the newspaper trade within it. Admission to the church is free, although I'm sure a donation wouldn't go amiss! Visiting the church won't take more than about 30 m
inutes, and the church's location about ten minutes from St Paul's Cathedral to the east, and less than that from Somerset House and the Royal Courts of Justice to the west, ensures that it's not far off the tourist-beaten track. St. Bride's is a normal working church, and as such is open every day of the week, when there isn't a service on. St. Bride's, somewhat predictably, given its name and appearance, is in great demand for weddings, and the rector of the church, Canon John Oates, officiates over a wedding every week! The nearest Underground station is Blackfriars. Exiting that station onto New Bridge Street, head north (away from the river) until you reach Fleet Street at Ludgate Circus. Turn left there, and St. Bride's Church is set a little way back from the road, on the left hand side, opposite the former Express headquarters.