St Giles in the Fields: Wikis


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St. Giles in the Fields
Photo of St. Giles in the Fields
Photo of St. Giles in the Fields

Country United Kingdom
Denomination Anglican

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 is a church in the London Borough of Camden, in the West End. It is close to the Centre Point office tower and the Tottenham Court Road tube station. The church is part of the Diocese of London within the Church of England. Several buildings have stood on the site; the present structure (in the Palladian style) was built in 1734.




Medieval church

The first recorded church on this site was a chapel attached to a monastery and leper hospital founded by Queen Matilda, wife of Henry I, in 1101[1][2]. At that time, it stood well outside the boundaries of the city of London, though on the main road to Tyburn and Oxford. This chapel probably came to function as the church of the small village that grew up to provide services to the hospital.

The hospital was supported by the Crown and administered by the City for its first two hundred years; in fact, it was named a royal free chapel. Beginning in 1299, on the order of Edward I, it was administered by the Order of Saint Lazarus (in full, the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus), one of the chivalric orders to survive the era of the Crusades.[2] The fourteenth century was a turbulent one for the hospital, with frequent accusations from the City authorities that the members of the Order of Saint Lazarus, known as Lazar brothers, put the affairs of the monastery ahead of caring for the lepers.[2] During the fourteenth century, the king, on several occasions, interfered by appointing a new head of the hospital.[2]

In 1391, Richard II sold the hospital, chapel, and lands to the Cistercian abbey of St. Mary de Graces, just by the Tower of London. This was an action opposed by both the Lazars, who, true to their origins as a military order, used force to express their displeasure with Richard II, and by the authorities of the City of London, who withheld rent money in protest.[2] The property at the time included 8 acres (32,000 m2) of farmland; a survey-enumerated eight horses, twelve oxen, two cows, 156 pigs, sixty geese, and 186 domestic fowl.[2]. The grant was revoked in 1402 and the property returned to the Lazars[2] Lepers were cared-for at this location until the mid sixteenth century, when the disease abated, and the monastery, instead, began to care for indigents.[2]

During the reign of Henry V, in 1414, the village was the headquarters of Sir John Oldcastle's abortive Lollard rebellion and the site of Oldcastle's execution in 1417.

The monastery was dissolved in 1539[2] during the reign of Henry VIII, with the lands (excluding the church) eventually being granted to Lord Lisle in 1548.[2] However, the chapel survived as a local parish church. The first Rector of St Giles was appointed in 1547, and the phrase, 'in the fields', was added to the church's name.[1] An illustration from this time shows the church with a round tower and dome.[1]. A spire replaced this structure in 1617.[1]

17th century church

The early church fell into disrepair and a Gothic brick structure was built between 1623 and 1630, mostly paid for by Alice Dudley, wife of Robert Dudley[1]. The new building was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London[1]. An illuminated manuscript listing the subscribers to the rebuilding, is still kept in the church[1].

Hogarth's Noon from Four Times of the Day, showing the church in the background[3]

The first victims of the 1665 Great Plague were buried in St. Giles's churchyard and by the end of the plague year there were 3,216 listed plague deaths in this church's parish, which had fewer than 2,000 households.

Other notable burials of the period 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[1]:

Present church

Looking down the aisle, inside the church

The high number of plague victims buried in the church and its yard were the probable cause of the damp problem evident by 1711[1]. The parishioners petitioned the Church Commissioners for a grant to rebuild. Initially refused because it was not a new foundation, they were eventually allocated £8,000 and a new church was built in 1730-34, designed by the architect Henry Flitcroft in the Palladian style (the first English church in that style)[1]. The 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[1].

As London grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, so did the parish's population, to 30,000 by 1831[1]. The parish included within its boundaries two neighbourhoods notorious for poverty and squalour: the Rookery between the church and Great Russell Street, and Seven Dials[1]. These neighbourhoods became a centre for prostitution and crime and the name St Giles became likewise associated with the underworld. 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 their grave yard, so during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many were buried in the cemeteries surrounding St Pancras.

St Giles was also 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 pub, the Angel, before they went to be hanged, a custom that had started in the early 15th century[1][2]. The dissolute nature of the area is described in Charles Dickens' Sketches by Boz.

The architects Sir Arthur Blomfield and William Butterfield made some alterations in 1875 and 1896[1]. St Giles escaped severe bombing in the Second World War, losing only most of the Victorian glass[1]. The church underwent a major restoration in 1952–53, described by journalist and poet John Betjeman as "one of the most successful post-war church restorations" (Spectator 9 Mar. 1956)[1]. The parish today sits in the middle of a commercial district, and the resident population is about 4,600[1].

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 24 October 1951.[8]

Items of interest

The West side of the interior, showing the organ.


The first seventeenth-century organ was destroyed during the English Civil War. George Dallam built a replacement in 1678; the instrument 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.

The final rebuilding, still recycling the original pipes, was done in 1856 by the London organ builders Gray & Davison, then at the height of their fame. The mechanical key and stop actions were replaced with an electro-pneumatic action in 1960, and the organ was extensively restored in 2006 by WIlliam Drake.


St Giles is known as 'The Poets' Church'. Poet John Milton's daughter Mary was baptised in the Gothic brick building in 1647 and the Poetry Society holds its annual general meeting in the vestry house. Two memorials inside the church commemorate George Chapman, the translator of Homer (buried outside) and politician and poet Andrew Marvell.

Other famous people with memorials in St Giles include:

Recent memorials commemorate:

  • Cecilius Calvert, the first Proprietor of the Maryland colony in 1633 (some of the colonists were from St Giles' parish). His memorial was unveiled on 10 May 1996 by the Governor of Maryland, Parris N. Glendening. Calvert's son and daughters-in-law are buried at St Giles.[1]
  • William Balmain, one of the founders of New South Wales and Principal Surgeon of the Colony. His memorial on the north-west wall was put up by the Balmain Society of Sydney in 1996.[1]


The wooden pulpit on the north side of the church is from the nearby (now no longer a church) West Street Chapel and is the same pulpit from which Methodist founders John and Charles Wesley preached between 1741 and 1793[1].

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[1].

Two thrones sit in the church; one is the mayoral chair of the Borough of Holborn[1] (St Giles was the municipal church of this borough until the 1960s) and the other is carved with the Italian words 'Che sara, sara' (whatever shall be, shall be).

Parish activities

The church is one of the churches within Central London to use the Book of Common Prayer and King James Bible for all main services.

St Giles has a number of groups within the church, including a theatre club and professional choir. There is a voluntary choir, open to all, which sings regularly on Sunday Evenings and has up to 24 members. The choir was started in 2005 by the current Director of Music, Mr Jonathan Bunney. The voluntary choir has sung at Guildford Cathedral and further cathedral visits are planned for the future.

St Giles holds a number of secular concerts and events, including graduation ceremonies (organisations include the College of Law); classical music concerts and demonstrations of the newly restored organ.

The Church is currently in the process of employing an Associate Rector and hopes that this process will have been completed by the end of the first quarter 2010.

Current church wardens are Mrs Jillian Hutchings and Mr Thomas Hardin.

Many local businesses contribute towards the work of the church. Other community groups use the facilities, including various self-help groups such as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.

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 Antony Wilson 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


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w St Giles in the Fields: History
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k British History Online 'Religious Houses: Hospitals', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1: Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, The Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes to 1870, Private Education from Sixteenth Century (1969), pp. 204-212. URL: Date accessed: 03 January 2008.
  3. ^ Victoria and Albert Museum (some sources claim the church shown in the background was in Greek Street)
  4. ^ Saints O'the Day, June 20
  5. ^ Saints O'the Day, July 14
  6. ^ Saints O'the Day, January 24
  7. ^ Saints O'the Day, May 9
  8. ^ Images of England — details from listed building database (477939) accessed 22 January 2009

External links


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