The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

Open location in Google Maps: 51.515151, -0.128386


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 20 January 2022 at 6:02AM.

St Giles-in-the-Fields
St Giles in the Fields January 2012.jpg
Church of St Giles-in-the-Fields, London
LocationSt Giles High Street, London, WC2H 8LG
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
ChurchmanshipTraditional Anglican
Book of Common Prayer
Heritage designationGrade I
Architect(s)Henry Flitcroft
Years built1731-33
DeaneryWestminster (St Margaret)
DioceseDiocese of London
RectorReverend Thomas Sander[1]

Coordinates: 51°30′55.12″N 00°07′43.08″W / 51.5153111°N 0.1286333°W / 51.5153111; -0.1286333 St Giles-in-the-Fields, sometimes known as the Poets' Church, is in the West End of London, close to St Giles Circus (which is named for the Church) and Tottenham Court Road tube station. St Giles-in-the-Fields is part of the Church of England Diocese of London. The present church is the third on the site since the parish was founded in 1101. It was built in 1731–1733 in Palladian style to designs by the architect Henry Flitcroft.


Medieval church

The first recorded church on the site was a chapel of the Parish of Holborn attached to a monastery and leper hospital founded by Matilda of Scotland, consort of Henry I, in 1101.[2][3] At the time it stood well outside the City of London and distant from the Royal Palace at Westminster, on the main road to Tyburn and Oxford. The chapel probably began to function as the church of a hamlet that grew up round the hospital.

The hospital was supported by the Crown and administered by the city for its first 200 years, being known as a Royal Peculiar. In 1299, Edward I assigned it to the Order of Saint Lazarus, one of the chivalric orders that survived from the era of the Crusades.[3] The 14th century was turbulent for the hospital, with frequent accusations from the City authorities that members of the Order of Saint Lazarus, known as Lazar brothers, put the affairs of the monastery ahead of caring for the lepers.[3] The king intervened on several occasions and appointed a new head of the hospital.[3]

In 1391, Richard II sold the hospital, chapel and lands to the Cistercian abbey of St Mary de Graces, by the Tower of London. This was opposed by the Lazars, who used force to express their displeasure to Richard, and by the City of London, which withheld rent money in protest.[3] The property at the time included 8 acres (32,000 m2) of farmland and a survey-enumerated eight horses, twelve oxen, two cows, 156 pigs, 60 geese and 186 domestic fowl.[3] The grant was revoked in 1402 and the property returned to the Lazars.[3] Lepers were cared for there until the mid-16th century, when the disease abated and the monastery took to caring for indigents instead.[3]

In the reign of Henry V, the village served as the centre of Sir John Oldcastle's abortive Lollard rebellion in 1414 and as the site of Oldcastle's execution in 1417.

The monastery was dissolved in 1539[3] in the reign of Henry VIII, its lands, excluding the church, being granted to Lord Lisle in 1548.[3] However, the chapel survived as a local parish church, the first Rector of St Giles being appointed in 1547. The phrase "in the fields" was added to the church name.[2] An illustration from the time shows it with a round tower and dome,[2] which were replaced by a spire in 1617.[2] John Bromley was curate in the early reign of James II.[4]

17th-century church

The early church fell into disrepair and was replaced by a Gothic brick building in 1623–1630, mostly paid for by the Duchess of Dudley, wife of Sir Robert Dudley.[2] The new building was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London.[2] An illuminated list of subscribers to the rebuilding is still kept in the church.[2]

Hogarth's Noon from Four Times of the Day, a 1738 engraving showing the church in the background[5]

Present church

Looking down the aisle, inside the church

The high number of plague victims buried in and around the church were the probable cause of a damp problem evident by 1711.[2] The parishioners petitioned the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches for a grant to rebuild. Initially refused as it was not a new foundation and the Act was intended for new parishes in under-churched areas, the parish was eventually allocated £8,000 and a new church was built in 1730–1734, designed by architect Henry Flitcroft in the Palladian style (the first English church in that style).[2] The wooden model he made so that parishioners could see what they were commissioning, can still be seen in the church's north transept. The Vestry House was built at the same time.[2]

As London grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, so did the parish's population, eventually reaching 30,000 by 1831 which suggests a high density.[2] It included two neighbourhoods noted for poverty and squalor: the Rookery between the church and Great Russell Street, and Seven Dials.[2] These became a centre for prostitution and crime and the name St Giles associated with the underworld, gambling houses and the consumption of gin. St Giles's Roundhouse was a jail and St Giles' Greek a thieves' cant. As the population grew, so did their dead, and eventually there was no room in the graveyard: many burials in the 18th and 19th centuries occurred in cemeteries outside the parish St Pancras.

St Giles was the last church on the route between Newgate Prison and the gallows at Tyburn, and the churchwardens paid for the condemned to have a drink (popularly named St Giles' Bowl) at the next door inn, The Angel, before they were hanged, a custom dating back to the early 15th century.[2][3] The dissolute nature of the area is described in Charles Dickens' Sketches by Boz.

Architects Sir Arthur Blomfield and William Butterfield made minor alterations in 1875 and 1896.[2] St Giles escaped direct bombing hits in the Second World War, though losing most of its Victorian stained glass to bomb blast.[2] The church underwent major restoration in 1952–1953 adhering to Flitcroft's intentions, on which the Georgian Group and Royal Fine Art Commission were consulted[6] and described by the journalist and poet John Betjeman as "one of the most successful post-war church restorations" (Spectator 9 March 1956).[2] The parish today sits in a commercial district with a resident population of about 4,600.[2]

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 24 October 1951.[7]

St Giles Churchyard

The first victims of the 1665 Great Plague were buried in St Giles's Churchyard. By the end of the plague year there were 3,216 listed deaths in a church parish with fewer than 2,000 households.[2]

Other notable burials include twelve Roman Catholic martyrs (killed on the testimony of Titus Oates), who were later beatified and are buried near the church's north wall:[2]

A memorial for the seven Jesuit martyrs was unveiled on 20 January 2019.[12]

Features of interest

The West end of the interior, showing the organ.


The first 17th-century organ was destroyed in the English Civil War. George Dallam built a replacement in 1678, which was rebuilt in 1699 by Christian Smith, a nephew of the great organ builder "Father" Smith. A second rebuilding in the new structure was done in 1734 by Gerard Smith the younger, possibly assisted by Johann Knopple. Much of the pipework from 1678 and 1699 was recycled.

A rebuilding, again recycling much of Dallam's original pipework, was done in 1856 by London organ builders Gray & Davison, then at the height of their fame. In 1960 the mechanical key and stop actions were replaced with an electro-pneumatic action. This was removed when the organ was extensively restored in a historically informed manner by William Drake (organ builder), completing in 2006. Drake put back tracker action and preserved as much old pipework as possible, with new pipework in a 17th-century style.

The 'Poet's Church'

St Giles is sometimes called the "Poets' Church" on account of connections to several poets and dramatists. A memorial in the church commemorates George Chapman (died 1634), the translator of Homer and writer of masques, who is buried outside in the churchyard. His memorial was designed by Inigo Jones, who produced masques to Chapman's texts, and paid for by Jones because Chapman died in dire poverty.

The politician and metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell (died 1678), and Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury (died 1648) (poet and brother of the poet George Herbert), and writer of masques and dramas James Shirley (died 1666) were all buried in the churchyard.

The poet John Milton's daughter Mary was baptised in the Gothic brick building in 1647; whilst the daughter of Lord Byron, Clara and the son William and daughter Clara of the poet Percy Shelley by his marriage to Mary Wollstonecraft were all baptised in the present St Giles church building. The Poetry Society holds its annual general meeting in St Giles Vestry House.

As of 2021 the church began to expand this association, announcing Jay Hulme as their Poet-In-Residence.


Distinguished people with memorials in St Giles include:

Other features

The wooden pulpit on the north side of the church was rescued from the nearby West Street Chapel (now in non-religious use). It was the pulpit from which Methodist founders John and Charles Wesley preached 1741–1793.[2]

The two paintings of Moses and Aaron on either side of the altar are by Francisco Vieira the Younger, court painter to the King of Portugal.[2]

The mosaic Time, Death and Judgment by G. F. Watts was formerly in St Jude's Church, Whitechapel. The cartoon for it was by Cecil Schott; it was executed by Salviati.[13]

Parish activities

The church is open daily for quiet prayer and reflection, with morning prayer said daily at 8.15am, and said Holy Communion on Wednesdays at 1 pm. On Sundays, the two services are Sung Eucharist at 11 am and Evensong at 6.30 pm.

Church music is provided by a professional quartet of singers at Sunday morning services. At Evensong it comes from a voluntary choir, founded in 2005, which is open to all and has up to 30 members. The choir has travelled widely to sing at cathedrals, including Norwich, Exeter, St Albans and Guildford.[14]

During the week, various self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meet on church premises to assist those with addictions.

There is regular bell-ringing practice on Tuesday nights. The bells were cast in the 17th and 18th centuries.[15]

Rectors of St Giles

Date Name Other/previous posts
1547 Sir William Rowlandson
1571 Geoffrey Evans
1579 William Steward
1590 Nathaniel Baxter
1591 Thomas Salisbury
1592 Joseph Clerk
1616 Roger Manwayring Chaplain to James I, Dean of Worcester, Bishop of St David's
Undated Gilbert Dillingham
1635 Brian Walton Bishop of Chester
1636 William Heywood Domestic Chaplain to Archbishop Laud, Chaplain to Charles I, Prebendary of St Paul's
English Commonwealth Henry Cornish, Arthur Molyne and Thomas Case were "ministers" respectively of this church
1660 William Heywood Returned on English Restoration
1663 Robert Boreman
1675 John Sharp Archdeacon of Berkshire, Prebendary of Norwich, Chaplain to Charles II, Dean of Canterbury, Archbishop of York
1691 John Scott Canon of Windsor (a royal peculiar)
1695 William Hayley Dean of Chichester, Chaplain to William III
1715 William Baker Bishop of Bangor, Bishop of Norwich
1732 Henry Gally Chaplain to George II
1769 John Smyth Prebendary of Norwich
1788 John Buckner Bishop of Chichester
1824 Christopher Benson Master of the Temple
1826 James Endell Tyler Canon Residentiary of St Paul's
1851 Robert Bickersteth Bishop of Ripon
1857 Anthony Thorold Bishop of Rochester, Bishop of Winchester
1867 John Marjoribanks Nisbet Canon Residentiary of Norwich
1892 Henry William Parry Richards Prebendary of St Paul's
1899 William Covington Prebendary and Canon of St Paul's
1909 Wilfred Harold Davies
1929 Albert Henry Lloyd
1941 Ernest Reginald Moore
1949 Gordon Clifford Taylor
2000 William Mungo Jacob Archdeacon of Charing Cross
2015 Alan Cobban Carr
2021 Thomas William Sander

See also


  1. ^ "New Rector Appointed". Church of St Giles. 4 October 2020. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "History". St Giles-in-the-Fields. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Religious Houses: Hospitals". A History of the County of Middlesex. 1: Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, The Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes to 1870, Private Education from Sixteenth Century. British History Online. 1969. pp. 204–212. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  4. ^ "Bromley, John" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  5. ^ Victoria and Albert Museum (Some sources claim the church shown in the background was in Greek Street.)
  6. ^ St Giles-in-the-Fields Restored, The Times, 14 December 1953.
  7. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1245864)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 22 January 2009.
  8. ^ "".
  9. ^ "".
  10. ^ "".
  11. ^ "".
  12. ^ "Jesuit martyrs at St Giles-in-the-Fields recognised in a memorial". Jesuits in Britain. 21 January 2019.
  13. ^ "t. Jude's Church, Whitechapel". The Salviati Architectural Mosaic Database.
  14. ^ "Church Music". St Giles-in-the-Fields. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  15. ^ "Dove Details". Retrieved 10 December 2018.
  16. ^ "St. Lawrences' Church, Mereworth: Architect's Account". Thomas Ford & Partners. Archived from the original on 31 March 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2011.

Further reading

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.





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