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Millions of television viewers have been given a first hand account of the devastating night that saw St Bride's Church - sometimes known by journalists as the 'cathedral of Fleet Street' - burnt to the ground by wartime bombs in just a few minutes.
The account was movingly and vividly described by John Colley, a member of the Guild of St Bride since 1979, who was just 16, and (in his own words) 'a would-be journalist at the time.' Standing comfortably in front of the church's familiar pews on the north side of the nave, John told his interviewer Maxwell Hutchinson in the BBC programme Songs of Praise Wren City Churches, which the corporation beams around the world, that Fleet Street quickly became an absolute shambles. He saw clouds of sparks cascading up to the sky. It was December 29, 1940, But despite the tragedy of seeing the church demolished, John recalled that there was later to be a good side to the event, because when the church was being rebuilt, excavations revealed 1,000 years of history on the site, and Wren's was the seventh church to be built.
Questioned by his interviewer, John admitted that he loved St Bride's and it was part of his life. The church, he said, remained 'an anchor' for journalists everywhere.
John Colley, at 81, remains the only surviving member of St Bride's to witness the church being burnt down. He was a much-respected Fleet Street journalist of the proverbial old school and my path crossed his several times when, as a newspaper editor, I frequently visited our London office, just a few doors away from where John worked as group news editor for United Newspapers. He was formerly with the Yorkshire Evening Post.
John successfully recovered from major heart surgery last year and remains a loyal and regular part of the group of guildsmen of this great church of St Bride.