St Bride's: History

Chapter I: Intro

Stepping into 2,000 years of history. The story of St Bride's is woven into the fabric of the City of London.
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Chapter II: AD43 - 1000

The dawn of our history: a Roman house near Lud Gate. Brigid: saintly teenager & default bishop
Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley
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Chapter III: 1000 - 1500

An accident of medieval geography brings importance
Photo Credit: Paul Freeman
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Chapter IV: 1500 - 1665

Wynkyn de Worde came to St Bride's and it was time to start the presses
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Chapter V: 1665 - 1666

Plague pits, nosegays, brokers of the dead & a torrent of flame.
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Chapter VI: 1666 - 1730

'Will you rebuild our church, Mr Wren?'
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Chapter VII: 1730 - 1940

The rise and rise of the Fourth Estate
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Chapter VIII: 1940 - 1957

The night St Bride's luck ran out
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Chapter IX: 1957 - 1989

Wynkyn de Worde's revolution ends in tears
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Chapter X: 1989 - 2017

St Bride's: a church for the 21st century
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Chapter VI: 1666 - 1730

Sir Christopher Wren

Sir Christopher Wren
1632 - 1723

In 1671 the churchwardens of St Bride's took Mr Christopher Wren (Surveyor General and Principal Architect for rebuilding the City) to dinner at the Globe Tavern. It would take another year before they could convince him of their cause, but their persistence meant that St Bride's was one of the first post-fire churches to be opened.

The blaze had destroyed 87 City churches. Despite Wren's belief that only 39 were necessary in such a small area, St Bride's was among the 51 to be rebuilt. The £500 required as a deposit by Guildhall to get things under way was raised in a month - a remarkable effort, given that most of the parishioners had lost homes and businesses in the disaster. Nor was this the end to the financial demands, as money remained tight. But a combination of Coal Dues, donations and loans eventually met the building's cost of £11,430 5s. 11d.

North side of St Bride's engraved by W.H. Toms 1736

North side of St Bride's engraved by W.H. Toms, 1736

Joshua Marshall was the main contractor for the works. A parishioner and master mason to the king, like his father before him, Marshall was a wise choice. He also worked with Wren on Temple Bar and the Monument, while one of his assistants was the young Nicholas Hawksmoor, who was to become a renowned architect himself.

As today, the main material for the church was Portland stone. By September 1672, within a year of starting, the walls had reached the upper part of the cornice. The speed of progress was partly ascribed to the fact that the workmen had a hostel by the church, the Old Bell Tavern, built for them by Wren. By 1674 the main structural work was complete, and a year later the church finally reopened for worship on Sunday 19th December 1675.

Though it was open, it was not completed; most notably, the tower remained unfinished. In 1682 the churchwardens again approached Wren, this time about building the steeple. Work did not begin until 1701, and took two years to complete. At 234ft it was Wren's highest steeple, although after it was damaged by lightning in 1764 it was reduced to 226ft during more rebuilding.

St Bride's steeple

Photo Credit: Paul Freeman

Much has been written about the steeple, the most romantic tale of which is surely that of William Rich, apprenticed to a baker near Ludgate Circus. He fell in love with his master's daughter and, when he set up his own business at the end of his apprenticeship, won her father's approval for her hand in marriage.

Rich wished to create a spectacular cake for the wedding feast, but was unsure how, until one day he looked up at the steeple of the church in which the marriage was to be held, and inspiration hit him: a cake in layers, tiered, and diminishing as it rose. Thus began the tradition of the tiered wedding cake.