Daffodils and a vanished church : St Mary Aldermanbury

I believe it’s a contractual obligation for any blogger to provide at least one picture of daffodils to record the coming of Spring.  I can’t wait for the dozy articles in my back yard to get their act together, so here is a display of daffs from another Garden Where I Sometimes Eat My Lunch.  This was described by Arthur Mee in the 1937 edition of London : Heart of the Empire and Wonder of the World as “a place which should stir the imagination of every Englishman … the church of St Mary Aldermanbury with its gleaming tower …”.  Except, of course, that it isn’t any more.  It was all but destroyed in the Blitz, though, curiously, what was left was tranported to Missouri and reconstructed there.  You can just about see what’s left of it – the stumps of its pillars – in the photograph.

Daffodils - St Mary Aldermanbury


Before the Great Fire there were 97 parish churches in the City of London.  As  an indication of how tightly-packed they must have been there was another church between the end of St Mary (where the red van is) and the tall white building in the background, and another about 100 yards to the rear of where I was standing.  35 of these were not rebuilt after the Great Fire, and another 11 were not rebuilt after being damaged or destroyed by the Luftwaffe.

What is often forgotten, though, is how many churches were simply demolished between the Fire and the Blitz – 26 of them between 1782 and 1939, 19 of them Wren churches.  With a lack of sentiment we would now find astonishing, the Victorian C of E reasoned that by selling churches in the City, where the residential population was dwindling, they could afford to build new churches in the expanding suburbs.

J. Betjeman (who was a far from uncritical lover of Victoriana) commented –

“The serious medievalism of the mid-Victorians and the craze for surpliced choirs in stalls in the chancel, and for stained glass giving a dim religious light, made a double assault on the City churches from the 1850s onwards.  First Wren’s Classical style was regarded as pagan and this furnished an excuse for destroying so many of his churches.  Clumsy attempt were made to give the rest ‘Christian’ furnishings.”   

No doubt it would have seemed to the Victorian church that there were sound practical arguments for this orgy of demolition, but I must admit that I’m never sure that sound practical arguments are a good enough reason for destroying anything irreplacable.

(I should point out, incidentally, that I risked arrest to bring you this picture, as I was leaning against a police station when I took it.)

2 thoughts on “Daffodils and a vanished church : St Mary Aldermanbury

  1. Wouldn’t you just love to go back in time to pre-Fire London and see it for yourself? We think it’s noisy and smelly now but the noise and indeed noisesomeness of London then, must make the contemporary City seem like Market Harborough. Do you ever read Peter Ackroyd?

  2. Well, yes it would be fascinating, in fact it would be fascinating to go back even pre-war – I was reading the Arthur Mee book the other day about the area where I work and he might have been talking about a completely different place – so few of the places he was describing still exist. I suppose it’s one of the paradoxes of the City that it’s one of the oldest inhabited places in England, but there is so little sense of the past there – it only survives in little pockets, like – I suppose – the garden I was writing about.

    Yes, I have read some of P. Ackroyd’s books- he writes about such interesting subjects – though not actually London : a biography – I must make the time.

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