A GLEEFUL TIME at THE ACTOR'S CHURCH
St. Paul's Church (Covent Garden)
Member Name: lak11
St. Paul's Church (Covent Garden)
Advantages: Interesting, lovely churchyard open to the public, used for plays etc
Disadvantages: No public toilets within the church building
My daughter is studying musical theatre in a London university. When she mentioned that her university's choir was going to be performing at a church in the city of London I was keen to go and listen. I haven't seen much of her performing since she has been at university as mostly the students work hard in the first two years at learning new skills and developing those that they already have, and it isn't really until the third and final year that they really get to perform for the public and showcase what they have learnt.I thought this would be a chance to see something of my daughter. She moved away from home when she began her university course and she now lives in a house with other students. We don't see her that often owing to the commitments of her very busy course so the concert seemed as if it would be an ideal opportunity to be able to see her and also to hear how good the university choir is.
My daughter informed me that she would be singing with the university's Glee Choir at a church in Covent Garden called The Actor's Church. Well, I had never heard of this but was quite intrigued. Naturally I googled it and became very interested. But I didn't really know what to expect until I was actually there on the day.
And so my visit to The Actor's Church took place took place on the bank Holiday weekend, more precisely on the bank holiday Monday at the end of May (still Whitsun week to me!).
The day of the concert was a lovely sunny day which was very fortunate seeing as spring in England this year was rather late and had been somewhat disappointing. It was a lovely day for the concert and to see this church and its grounds.
ABOUT 'THE ACTOR'S CHURCH'
St Paul's Church was built by Inigo Jones and has stood since 1633.
It is owned by the Church of England.
In the year 1631 the 4th Earl of Bedford commissioned Inigo Jones to design a square with a chapel, four streets, and mansions around it. This work was completed in 1633 and the church was consecrated in the year 1638. The 'great east door' on the Piazza was intended as the main door and the church's altar should have been positioned at the west end of the church but apparently this went against Anglican church tradition and so the altar was instead placed in the traditional east end and the 'great east door' is a actually a 'fake' non opening door.
In 1795 a fire destroyed much of the original building and after this restoration took place much in keeping with the original design.
The churches ties with the acting profession began as far back as 1663 having links with the neighbouring Theatre Royal , Drury Lane and later even more so when the Covent Garden Theatre (now The Royal Opera House) was opened.
Well known artist JMW Turner and WS Gilbert (Gilbert and Sullivan) were baptised in this church.
Buried in St Paul's churchyard are Samuel Butler, Ginling Gibbons, Thomas Arne (Rule Britannia) and the first victim of the Great Plague, Margaret Ponteous.
The ashes of Ellen Terry and Dame Edith Evans rest in this church.
George Bernard Shaw's opening scene of Pygmalion was set under the portico of St Paul's.
Samuel Pepys mentions in his diary that the first 'Italian Puppet play' (Punch & Judy) took place under the churches portico.
THE CHURCH TODAY
The church is open to the public between service times as St Paul's holds Sunday and weekday services. As well as its Parish affairs this church can be hired for small theatre events and music concerts. It is a good music venue as the pews provide many seats within, approximately 254 seats in the form of traditional wooden church pews.
Being an old church building, the acoustics are excellent and the church is equipped with dressing rooms and sound and lighting systems.
GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME
The Actors' Church is in the heart of London and can be reached by underground (several stations, as well as Covent Garden are within walking distance) and bus as well as taxi.
I set out with my husband, who drove us to our local underground station which is on the central line. We parked the car and soon were on our tube train heading to Holborn, where we changed to get onto the Piccadilly line and travel the two stops to Covent Garden station. One at the station we met our son and his fiancée who also fancied coming to watch, and we waited together, with many others, for the lift at the station of Covent Garden and ascended inside it until we emerged into the welcome sunshine. The journey for us took just over an hour.
From Covent Garden underground station (Piccadilly Line) The Actors Church is about a five minute walk away. My husband and my son both had different ideas of which direction was the best one to go in to reach the church so I followed my son. Right choice!
As we approached the church gates on the Bedford Street entrance, the church and its grounds did look inviting. The sun was shining and there was a definite feel of spring about.
The churchyard is open to the public and I was surprised at how well used the garden around this city church appeared to be but then I suppose it is does provide a welcome and peaceful retreat for workers and tourists in a busy and overcrowded city. Years ago I was (for a while) a young civil servant and I used to work in an office very near to this church and I now wonder if I had sat in the grounds eating my lunch with my friends. I must have walked past it many times but that was more years ago than I care to mention.
People of all ages and types, it seemed, were to be found either sunning themselves on the grassy areas or sitting eating packed lunches on the benches dotted around. Some were alone others sat in groups talking companionably. Several sat on the steps of the church.
I thought the atmosphere was lovely.
There are in fact five entrances to the church, one is on Bedford Street, as already mentioned, two are on the Piazza of Covent Garden, one on King Street and one is on Henrietta Street.
After looking around the churchyard we found our daughter and some of her friends who were also part of the choir. We spent some time being introduced by my daughter to several of her fellow students that I hadn't met until this day. Soon we left them to prepare and we ascended the steps and entered this grand church.
Phones should be switched off on entering and because of this I didn't take any photos of the interior.
The foyer has leaflets providing information about the church and its services and work and also to be found are leaflets advertising upcoming thespian events in the church.
Leading off from here are private rooms and stairs but unfortunately no public toilets. I understand that there are dressing rooms and a shower room provided for actors and singers.
And then we made our way into the church. At this time there were only a handful of people inside the church and so we could have a good look around in peaceful surroundings. It is a lovely old church building very traditional with the feel of history all around.
The stained glass windows looked especially glorious as the sun's rays shone through them, brightening and depicting their hues.
I could smell the scent of wooden pews and also, I thought, a faint aroma of wax polish; I wasn't aware of the smell of incense which I was pleased about, as I find some churches heavily scented with incense bring on the asthma symptoms in my husband and my daughter.
My husband was particularly interested in the memorial plaques displayed which were dedicated to many well-known names now departed, among them, Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields, Ivor Novello, Vivienne Leigh, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Sir Kenneth More, and (not quite so long ago) Richard Beckinsale.
The church was already set up for the choir with sound systems in place.
We chose our seats. Seats are church pews. Of course, if sitting for any length of time a wooden pew can be hard on one's posterior so I sat upon my cardigan and settled down, fairly comfortable, to wait for the show to begin.
I thought it a lovely idea that a religious building could be used for shows and plays. There are advantages in that acoustics in a church are usually excellent. Also the view of the choir would have been good, I believe, even from the back of the church although, as we arrived early we sat near to the front. We had a good clear view of the students but I would think that the acoustics might be even better if sitting further back.
One disadvantage in my opinion is the lack of public toilets in the church building. Okay they aren't far away but I didn't think this was ideal if needing to use the toilets during a show or if in the company of children.
But it does seem a good arrangement being beneficial both to the church, if some much needed funds can be raised in this way, and for those requiring a decent venue in which to perform.
A point to note, I feel, is that there aren't actually any public toilets in the church although toilets aren't far away. Public toilets are situated in the piazza of Covent Garden.
Wheelchair access can be found on Bedford Street and Henrietta Street.
I noticed that the front entrance to the church has a ramp to the side of the steps.
We all thought that the church was very interesting and we liked the idea of it being an 'Actor's Church.'
We also appreciated St Paul's grounds and I expect we aren't alone in this. I understand and can well believe that the churchyard is popular for many people every day, especially during hot and dusty days spent in the bustling city of London.
But our main purpose in visiting was to see and hear the London College of Music's choir serenading us so sweetly with songs from the musicals. They sounded even better than I had expected. The sound of the young people singing, accompanying music and the wonderful conducting from their choirmaster, Ian McMillan, provided a superb early evening of entertainment and in such a wonderful setting.
St Paul's Church is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area but better still why not visit when a service is taking place, or a carol service if visiting close to Christmas, or a play is being shown.
It's also a pleasant and very useful spot to stop for a while if you're sightseeing in dry weather and wish to rest weary limbs, and perhaps eat a snack at the same time, in the pleasant churchyard.
The Actor's Church
St. Paul's Church
Mon-Fri: 8.30a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
Saturday: Opening times according to events
Sunday: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Summary: A pleasant church and churchyard in a busy city