St Stephen Walbrook

Last updated

St Stephen Walbrook
St Stephen Walbrook from NNE (cropped).jpg
St Stephen Walbrook
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Heritage designationGrade I listed building
Architect(s) Sir Christopher Wren
Style Baroque
Diocese London

St Stephen Walbrook is a church in the City of London, part of the Church of England's Diocese of London. The present domed building was erected to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren following the destruction of its medieval predecessor in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is located in Walbrook, next to the Mansion House, and near to Bank and Monument Underground stations.


Early history

The original church of St Stephen stood on the west side of the street today known as Walbrook and on the east bank of the Walbrook, [1] once an important fresh water stream for the Romans running south-westerly across the City of London from the City Wall near Moorfields to the Thames. The original church is thought to have been built directly over the remains of a Roman Mithraic Temple following a common Christian practice of hallowing former heathen sites of worship. [2]

The church was moved to its present higher site on the other side of Walbrook Street, still on the east side of the River Walbrook [3] (later diverted and concealed in a brick culvert running under Walbrook Street and Dowgate Hill on a straightened route to the Thames), [4] in the 15th century. In 1429 Robert Chichele, acting as executor of the will of the former Lord Mayor, William Standon, had bought a piece of land close to the Stocks Market (on the site of the later Mansion House) and presented it to the parish. [3] Several foundation stones were laid at a ceremony on 11 May 1429, [5] and the church was consecrated ten years later, on 30 April 1439. [6] At 125 feet (38 m) long and 67 feet (20 m) wide, it was considerably larger than the present building. [7]

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. [3] It contained a memorial to the composer John Dunstaple. The wording of the epitaph had been recorded in the early 17th century, and was reinstated in the church in 1904, some 450 years after his death.[ citation needed ] The nearby church of St Benet Sherehog, also destroyed in the Great Fire, was not rebuilt; instead its parish was united with that of St Stephen. [3]

Wren's church

The interior of St Stephen Walbrook in the early 19th century. St StephenWalbrook.jpg
The interior of St Stephen Walbrook in the early 19th century.
View showing the coffered dome and its supporting arches St Stephen Walbrook dome and windows.jpg
View showing the coffered dome and its supporting arches

The present building was constructed between 1672 and 1679 [8] to a design by Sir Christopher Wren, at a cost of £7,692. [7] The mason was Thomas Strong brother of Edward Strong the Elder and the spire is by Edward Strong the Younger. [9] It is rectangular in plan, [10] with a dome and an attached north west tower. Entry to the church is up a flight of sixteen steps, enclosed in a porch attached to the west front. [3] Wren also designed a porch for the north side of the church. This was never built, but there once was a north door, which was bricked up in 1685, as it let in the offensive smells from the slaughterhouses in the neighbouring Stocks Market. [11] The walls, tower, [12] and internal columns [3] are made of stone, but the dome is of timber [12] and plaster with an external covering of copper [13]

The 63 feet (19 m) high dome is based on Wren's original design for St Paul's, and is centred over a square of twelve columns [14] of the Corinthian order. [3] The circular base of the dome is not carried, in the conventional way, by pendentives formed above the arches of the square, but on a circle formed by eight arches that spring from eight of the twelve columns, cutting across each corner in the manner of the Byzantine squinch. [14] This all contributes to create what many consider to be one of Wren's finest church interiors. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner lists it as one of the ten most important buildings in England.

The contemporary carved furnishings of the church, including the altarpiece and Royal Arms, the pulpit and font cover, are attributed to the carpenters Thomas Creecher and Stephen Colledge, and the carvers William Newman and Jonathan Maine. [15]

In 1760 a new organ was provided by George England.

In 1776 the central window in the east wall was bricked up to allow for the installation of Devout Men Taking Away the Body of St Stephen, a painting by Benjamin West, which the rector, Thomas Wilson, had commissioned for the church. [16] [17] The next year Wilson set up in the church a statue of Catharine Macaulay, (then still alive) whose political ideas he admired. It was removed after protests. [18] The east window was unblocked, and the picture moved to the north wall, during extensive restorations in 1850. [19]

Recent history

The present arrangement of the interior with the altar by Henry Moore. St Stephen Walbrook Church Interior 2, London, UK - Diliff.jpg
The present arrangement of the interior with the altar by Henry Moore.

The church suffered slight damage from bombing during the London Blitz of 1941 and was later restored. In 1954, the united parishes of St Mary Bothaw and St Swithin London Stone (merged in 1670) were themselves united with the parish of St Stephen.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. [13]

In 1953 the Samaritans charity was founded by the rector of St Stephen's, Dr Chad Varah. The first Samaritans branch (known as Central London Branch) operated from a crypt beneath the church before moving to Marshall Street in Soho. In tribute to this, a telephone is preserved in a glass box in the church. The Samaritans began with this telephone, and today the voluntary organisation staffs a 24-hour telephone hot-line for people in emotional need.

In 1987, as part of a major programme of repairs and reordering, [17] a massive white polished stone altar commissioned from the sculptor Henry Moore by churchwarden Peter Palumbo was installed in the centre of the church. [20] Its unusual positioning required the authorisation of a rare judgement of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved. [21] In 1993 a circle of brightly coloured kneelers designed by Patrick Heron was added around the altar. [22]

Benjamin West's Devout men taking away the body of St Stephen, previously hung on the north interior wall, was put into storage following the reordering. This decision was controversial, as the initial removal of the painting was illegal. [23] In 2013 the church was given permission to sell the painting to a foundation, despite opposition from the London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and by the Church of England's Church Buildings Council. [23] Prior to the painting's export, a temporary export bar was placed on it to give it a last chance to stay in the UK. [24] The foundation has since loaned it to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which has undertaken restoration work on the painting. [17] [25]

On 14 July 1994, the church was the venue for the wedding of Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones to Daniel Chatto. [26]

At the time of his retirement in 2003, at the age of 92, Dr Chad Varah was the oldest serving incumbent in the Church of England. [27]



The nearest London Underground station is Bank.

See also


  1. White 1900, p.285
  2. "Early History of St Stephen Walbrook". St Stephen Walbrook. Archived from the original on 12 November 2007. Retrieved 10 April 2009.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Godwin, George; John Britton (1839). "St Stephen's, Walbrook". The Churches of London: A History and Description of the Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Metropolis. London: C. Tilt. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  4. White 1900, p.63
  5. "The City of London Churches: monuments of another age" Quantrill, E; Quantrill, M p90: London; Quartet; 1975
  6. White 1900, p.288
  7. 1 2 White 1900, p.296
  8. "The City Churches" Tabor, M. p102:London; The Swarthmore Press Ltd; 1917
  9. Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660–1859 by Rupert Gunnis
  10. Britton and Pugin 1825, p34
  11. Perks, Sydney (1922). The History of the Mansion House. Cambridge University Press. p.  119.
  12. 1 2 Britton and Pugin 1825, p37
  13. 1 2 Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1285320)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 23 January 2009.
  14. 1 2 Betjeman, John (1967). The City of London Churches. Andover: Pitkin. ISBN   0-85372-112-2.
  15. S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, London: The City Churches (The Buildings of England), (Yale University Press, London and New Haven 2002), pp. 129–30.
  16. White 1900, p.386
  17. 1 2 3 "Anglican court says Benjamin West altarpiece can go to Boston". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  18. White 1900, p.387
  19. White 1900, p.299
  20. Tucker, T. (2006). The Visitors Guide to the City of London Churches. London: Friends of the City Churches. ISBN   0-9553945-0-3.
  21. Re St Stephen Walbrook [1987] 2 All ER 578
  22. "Patrick Heron – St Stephen Walbrook".
  23. 1 2 Grosvenor, Bendor. "Church of England to sell important Benjamin West?". Art history news. Retrieved 6 November 2015.
  24. "Taking the body of St Stephen overseas". GOV.UK.
  25. "Conservation in Action: Benjamin West". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Retrieved 1 January 2015.
  26. "Looking back at the nuptials of Princess Margaret's daughter, Lady Sarah Chatto, on her wedding anniversary". Tatler . London. Retrieved 17 June 2022.
  27. "Obituaries – The Reverend Prebendary Chad Varah". The Telegraph. 9 November 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  28. Rectors to 1904 from White, J. G. (1904). History of the Ward of Walbrook in the City of London. London: Privately printed. p. 338.; others as indicated
  29. "Mr. De Courcy Laffan". The Times (London, England). 18 January 1927. p. 16.
  30. "Ecclesiastical News". The Times (London, England). 9 November 1927. p. 17.
  31. "Church Times: "Clerical Obituary", 26 January 1940, p 67" . Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  32. "Church Times: "Clerical Obituary", 10 April 1953, p 280" . Retrieved 4 October 2021.
  33. "Obituary" . The Independent. 10 November 2007. Archived from the original on 24 May 2022. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
  34. "The Venerable Peter Delaney MBE;". Trust for London. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 9 July 2012.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">St Mary-le-Bow</span> Church in London, England

St Mary-le-Bow is a church of Saxon origins, with a Norman crypt, that was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 by Sir Christopher Wren in the City of London on the main east–west thoroughfare, Cheapside. It was badly bombed from enemy aircraft during the Blitz in 1941, and restored between 1956-1964.

Chad Varah Social activist

Edward Chad Varah was a British Anglican priest and social activist from England. In 1953, he founded the Samaritans, the world's first crisis hotline, to provide telephone support to those contemplating suicide.

Peter Palumbo, Baron Palumbo British politician, art collector, property developer and nobleman

Peter Garth Palumbo, Baron Palumbo is a property developer and art collector. Palumbo was the last chairperson of the Arts Council of Great Britain and a life peer. He sat as a Conservative in the House of Lords from 1991 to 2019.

St Chads Cathedral, Birmingham Church in West Midlands, England

The Metropolitan Cathedral Church and Basilica of Saint Chad is a Catholic cathedral in Birmingham, England. It is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Birmingham and is dedicated to Saint Chad of Mercia.

Matthew Wren English clergyman, bishop and scholar

Matthew Wren was an influential English clergyman, bishop and scholar.

Hardman & Co.

Hardman & Co., otherwise John Hardman Trading Co., Ltd., founded 1838, began manufacturing stained glass in 1844 and became one of the world's leading manufacturers of stained glass and ecclesiastical fittings. The business closed in 2008.

St Lawrence Jewry Church in London, England

St Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall is a Church of England guild church in the City of London on Gresham Street, next to Guildhall. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. It is the official church of the Lord Mayor of London.

St Michael Paternoster Royal Church in London, England

St Michael Paternoster Royal is a church in the City of London. The original building, which was first recorded in the 13th century, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The church was rebuilt under the aegis of Sir Christopher Wren. However St Michael's was severely damaged during the London Blitz in the Second World War. It was restored between 1966 and 1968.

St Mary-at-Hill Church in London

St Mary-at-Hill is an Anglican parish church in the Ward of Billingsgate, City of London. It is situated on Lovat Lane, a cobbled street off Eastcheap.

St Michael, Cornhill Church in London, England

St Michael, Cornhill, is a medieval parish church in the City of London with pre-Norman Conquest parochial foundation. It lies in the ward of Cornhill. The medieval structure was lost in the Great Fire of London, and replaced by the present building, traditionally attributed to Sir Christopher Wren. The upper parts of the tower are by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The church was embellished by Sir George Gilbert Scott and Herbert Williams in the nineteenth century.

St Marylebone Parish Church Church in London, England

St Marylebone Parish Church is an Anglican church on the Marylebone Road in London. It was built to the designs of Thomas Hardwick in 1813–17. The present site is the third used by the parish for its church. The first was further south, near Oxford Street. The church there was demolished in 1400 and a new one erected further north. This was completely rebuilt in 1740–42, and converted into a chapel-of-ease when Hardwick's church was constructed. The Marylebone area takes its name from the church. Located behind the church is St Marylebone School, a Church of England school for girls.

St Mary Abchurch Church in London, England

St Mary Abchurch is a Church of England church off Cannon Street in the City of London. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is first mentioned in 1198–1199. The medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and replaced by the present building.

St Antholin, Budge Row Church in London, England

St Antholin, Budge Row, or St Antholin, Watling Street, was a church in the City of London. Of medieval origin, it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren, following its destruction in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The 17th-century building was demolished in 1874.

St Swithin, London Stone Church in London, England

St Swithin, London Stone, was an Anglican Church in the City of London. It stood on the north side of Cannon Street, between Salters' Hall Court and St Swithin's Lane, which runs north from Cannon Street to King William Street and takes its name from the church. Of medieval origin, it was destroyed by the Great Fire of London, and rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. It was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War, and the remains were demolished in 1962.

St Mildred, Poultry Church in London, England

St Mildred, Poultry, was a parish church in the Cheap ward of the City of London dedicated to Anglo-Saxon Saint Mildred. It was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London, and demolished in 1872. St Mildred in the Poultry was the burial place of the writer Thomas Tusser. Some description of the church and its monuments is given in John Stow's Survey of London.

St Mary Woolchurch Haw Church in London, England

St Mary Woolchurch Haw was a parish church in the City of London, destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and not rebuilt. It came within the ward of Walbrook.

Lincoln Theological College

Lincoln Theological College was a theological college in Lincoln, United Kingdom.

Church of St John the Evangelist, Poulton-le-Fylde Church in Lancashire, England

The Church of St John the Evangelist is a Roman Catholic church in the market town of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, England. The current church replaced an earlier chapel which lies a few metres to the north-east. The former chapel, with its attached presbytery, has been designated a Grade II listed building by English Heritage.

Edward James Willson

Edward James Willson, F.S.A., (1787–1854) was an English architect, antiquary, architectural writer, and mayor of Lincoln in 1851–2.

William Newman (woodcarver) English woodcarver

William Newman was an English woodcarver of the Restoration period. He collaborated in the furnishing of the churches of the City of London rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London. A number of his works survive including some of his preparatory drawings. It has been emphasised that, despite the persistent idea that Grinling Gibbons was responsible for much of the carving in the rebuilt City churches, in the building accounts and parish minute-books Gibbons's name appears only once, in connection with the exceptional altarpiece at St Mary Abchurch, a church which also contains carvings by William Newman and William Emmett.


Coordinates: 51°30′45.46″N0°5′23.71″W / 51.5126278°N 0.0899194°W / 51.5126278; -0.0899194