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St. Andrew, Holborn
Photo of current church
Photo of current church

Country England
Denomination Church of England
Architect(s) Sir Christopher Wren
Style Baroque

St Andrew, Holborn, a large parish for the City,[1] is a Church of England church on the northwestern edge of the City of London, on Holborn within the Ward of Farringdon Without.[2]




Roman and medieval

Roman pottery was found on the site during 2001/02 excavations in the Crypt. However, the first written record of the church itself is dated as 951 (DCCCCLI) in a charter of Westminster Abbey, referring to it as the "old wooden church", on top of the hill above the river Fleet. The Charter's authenticity has been called into question because the date is not within the reign of the King Edgar of England who is granting it. It may be that this is simply a scribal error and that the date should be '959' (DCCCCLIX). A 'Master Gladwin', ie a priest, held it after the Norman Conquest and he assigned it to St Paul's Cathedral, but with the proviso that the advowson be granted at 12 pence a year to the Cluniac Order's, St Saviour's foundation of what was to become Bermondsey Abbey. This assignment dates between 1086 and 1089. In about 1200 a deed was witnessed by James, the Parson, Roger, his chaplain, Andrew, the Deacon and also Alexander his clerk. In 1280 one Simon de Gardino bequeathed funds towards the building of a belfry, it is assumed this would be stone and that there were due to be bells to be cast for it.[3]

In the Early Middle Ages the church is referred to as St Andrew Holburnestrate and later simply as St Andrew de Holeburn.[4]

In 1348, John Thavie, a local armourer, “left a considerable Estate towards the support of the fabric forever”, a legacy which survived the English Reformation, was invested carefully through the centuries, and still provides for the church's current upkeep. In the 15th century, the wooden church was replaced by a medieval stone one.[5]

The ancient parish included most of the Holborn area to the west, bordering onto St Giles' in the Fields. As such it included both Lincoln's and Gray's Inns of Court which rented pews in the church. Thavie's original property, which was left for his endowment of the church, Thavies Inn became a lawyers inn and may have been the original home of Lincoln's Inn before it relocated to its present site. Lincoln's sold Thavies Inn for redevelopment in 1785.

16th to 18th century

The medieval St Andrew’s survived the 1666 Great Fire of London, saved by a last minute change in wind direction,[6] but was already in a bad state of repair and so was rebuilt by Christopher Wren anyway.[7] In what is his largest parish church, he rebuilt from the foundations (creating the present crypt) and gave the existing medieval stone tower (the only medieval part to survive) a marble cladding. Its rector from 1713 to 1724 was Henry Sacheverell.

Thomas Coram, founder of the Foundlings’ Hospital (first set up in a house in Hatton Garden) is buried here, his remains were translated from his foundation in the 1960s. The organ casing (an organ played by Handel), the pulpit and the font is also from the Foundlings’ Hospital Chapel's Bloomsbury site.

The church of St George the Martyr Holborn was built between 1703 and 1706, as a chapel of ease for the parish — becoming a parish church in its own right, in 1723.[8]

Notable organists

  • from 1713, Daniel Purcell, younger brother of the composer Henry
  • John Stanley (1712-1786) was Organist at St Andrew's from the age of 14, replaced Handel as a governor of the Foundling Hospital after Handel’s death (thus continuing the tradition of performing the Messiah for the Hospital) and died near the church in Hatton Garden.[9]

19th century

The opening of Holborn Viaduct, 1869

In 1808, writer William Hazlitt married Sarah Stoddart, with Charles Lamb as his best man, and Mary Lamb as a bridesmaid. The twelve-year old Benjamin Disraeli, future Prime Minister was received into the Christian Church, in 1817.

It was on this church's steps in 1827 that William Marsden found a woman dying, inspiring him to set up the Royal Free Hospital in Greville Street for the poor and destitute, which later moved to Gray’s Inn Road and is now in Hampstead.

In the mid 19th Century, the Holborn Valley Improvement Scheme bought up the church's North Churchyard (with many of the bodies re-interred in the Crypt and in the City of London Cemetery in Ilford (the latter also being the destination for the bodies from the crypt when it was cleared in 2002-2003) to make way for the Holborn Viaduct, linking Holborn with Newgate, which was opened by Queen Victoria in 1869.[10]

As part of this improvement scheme the Church received compensation to replace its assets and the Gothic architect Samuel Sanders Teulon was commissioned to built a new Rectory and Court House on the South side of the church - this now operates as the offices for the Foundation, the associated Charities and the Archdeaconry of Hackney, as well as the Rectory and the Conference Rooms. Teulon incorporated into the Court Room, the building's main room, a 17th Century fireplace.[11] This was from the 'Quest Room' for the 'below Bars' part of the parish ie that lying outside the City boundary sited as part of a block of buildings in the middle of the main street. This block was removed as part of the Holborn Viaduct improvements and explains why Holborn is so wide at this point.[12]

In Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist Bill Sykes looks up at this church's tower (an episode referenced by Iris Murdoch in Under the Net, though from where her character stands such a view is almost impossible).

20th century to present

During the London Blitz, on the night of May 7, 1941, the church was bombed and gutted by German bombs, leaving only the exterior walls and tower.[13] However, instead of demolition which sometimes occurred in similar cases, it was decided after a long delay that it would be restored “stone for stone and brick for brick” to Wren's original designs.

The church re-opened in 1961 as a non-parochial Guild Church intended for serving the local working rather than resident community which had declined as had the City's population as a whole.

In January 2005 a new large icon was installed, made for the site by the Monastic Family Fraternity of Jesus in Vallechiara [1]. The church runs a selection of recitals and lectures, as well as our weekly services and evening concerts.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[14]


  1. ^ "The City of London Churches" Betjeman,J Andover, Pikin, 1967 ISBN 0853721122
  2. ^ The Farringdon Wards of the City of London; by Tony Sharp London 2000
  3. ^ The Parish of St Andrew Holborn pp30-31 Caroline Barron, London 1979
  4. ^ The Parish of St Andrew Holborn pp11-12 Caroline Barron, London 1979
  5. ^ "London:the City Churches" Pevsner,N/Bradley,S : New Haven, Yale, 1998 ISBN 0300096550
  6. ^ Samuel Pepys-The Shorter Pepys Latham,R(Ed) p484: Harmondsworth,1985 ISBN 0140094180
  7. ^ "The Old Churches of London" Cobb,G: London, Batsford, 1942
  8. ^ Images of England — details from listed building database (477826) accessed 23 January 2009
  9. ^ “Notes on Old City Churches: their organs, organists and musical associations” Pearce,C.W. London, Winthrop Rogers Ltd 1909
  10. ^ Farringdon Street, Holborn Viaduct and St. Andrew's church, Old and New London: Volume 2 (1878), pp. 496-513. accessed: 08 May 2009
  11. ^ The Mantelpiece in the Courthouse of St Andrew's, Holborn, by Tony Sharp: in 'The Coat of Arms' the quarterly magazine of The Heraldry Society New Series Vol XV Spring 2004 no 205 PP193-203 with detailed photographs.
  12. ^ The Farringdon Wards of the City of London; by Tony Sharp London 2000.
  13. ^ The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches" Tucker,T: London, Friends of the City Churches, 2006 ISBN 0955394503
  14. ^ Images of England — details from listed building database (199521) accessed 23 January 2009

See also

External links

Coordinates: 51°31′2.10″N 0°6′24.14″W / 51.51725°N 0.1067056°W / 51.51725; -0.1067056


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