Does anything in London appear more incongruous than St Giles’ Cripplegate, an oasis in the brutalist desert of the Barbican?
The name derives from the parish of Cripplegate Without, it being outside the ancient wall of London, specifically at Cripplegate, one of the seven gates of the City, torn down with the rest and sold for £91 in the 1760s.
After WW2, the building rose again from the rubble of one of the worst-blitzed areas of the capital. There was hardly a brick standing on another once the Luftwaffe had done its work on the district. And yet, though horrendously damaged and burned, the crenellated medieval shell and tower of St Giles’ somehow survived. Not only that, it had escaped the Great Fire also, although it did get badly singed on several other occasions. The church we see today is the post-Blitz restoration largely based on the 1545 plan which survived after just such a fire. This makes it one of London’s oldest standing churches, as A.N.Wilson pointed out with not a little hyperbole, admittedly: “the last imaginable little memorial of that vanished city that Shakespeare knew.” (See here for other examples).
Having seen this venerable church from a distance many times, I finally got to make my long overdue first proper visit last week. It did not disappoint. As medieval parish churches go, St Giles’ is very light inside, fortunate indeed given the grim, grey weather of the Summer of 2013. Statues, busts and memorials are plentiful, not surprising given the associations with many household names from history: John Foxe, the martyrs chap, buried; Launcelot Andrewes, editor of the Authorised Version, rector; Oliver Cromwell, married; John Milton, buried; Rick Wakeman, recorded (see below).
Milton is definitely the honoured son, though, judging by the sheer weight of Miltoniana around the place, including a full-size statue.
Other noteworthy things which chimed with me were portrait busts endowed by a hero of this blog, John Passmore Edwards: Bunyan, Cromwell, Defoe and Milton*. A stained glass window dedicated to Elizabethan actor/impressario Edward Alleyn who was a benefactor of the church and a reminder that the early theatre was banned from the City, hence St Giles’ without Cripplegate. And as a fan of Yes and Rick Wakeman from my early teens, the church organ thing. Most unusually, St Giles’ has three of them.
As a bonus, someone was practising the organ the whole time I was there. This happens rather often when you wander off the street into one of our great historic churches. So another is added to my collection. It’s wonderful, do go.
* Passmore Edwards was once approached by the people of Chiswick to finance a portrait bust of local hero William Hogarth for the new town hall. He declined.
YouTube: Rick Wakeman talks about his St Giles experience.
YouTube: Rick Wakeman’s Jane Seymour, featuring the St Giles Cripplegate organ.
St Giles’ without Cripplegate on Wikipedia
St Giles’ without Cripplegate web site.