St Mary-le-Strand - The Strand, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 30.724 W 000° 07.029
30U E 700034 N 5710711
Quick Description: This church, built between 1714 and 1717, stands on an island in the centre of a major thoroughfare - The Strand.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 8/27/2012 3:56:58 AM
Waymark Code: WMF5M4
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member lumbricus
Views: 3

Long Description:

The church's website [visit link] tells us the history of the church:

"The parish of St Mary le Strand may lay a good claim to being one of the oldest parishes in London. It stands dominating a roadway which since prehistory has been the main artery to the west from the City of London. In early Saxon times the Strand area was the very heart of London, for it seems that the City was effectively abandoned by the newly-arrived settlers. The Saxons predominantly inhabited "Lundenwic", an area stretching from Fleet Street to Whitehall and from the Thames to Covent Garden from the sixth to the ninth centuries. Christianity came to this settlement with St Mellitus and his followers in 604, and, despite their brief expulsion in the 620s, became firmly established. We do not know if any of the existing churches in the area date back that far but some, such as St Clement Danes, are known to have existed in later Saxon times.

There is no record of when St Mary le Strand was founded, but the first church, which was dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, stood just south of the present church on a site now covered by Somerset House. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Bishops of Worcester were the Patrons of the parish and had their London residence on an adjoining site. For throughout the period from the Norman Conquest to the Reformation, the Strand was mainly the home of bishops and princes. Within the parish were the "inns" - large town houses with chapels, stables and accommodation for a large retinue - of the Bishops of Worcester, Llandaff, Coventry and Lichfield. A large part of the parish was absorbed by the building of a great house, the Palace of the Savoy, by Count Peter of Savoy, the uncle of Henry III, in the 1240s. A century later this became the home of John of Gaunt, Earl of Lancaster, and the palace became a centre of culture; among its residents was Geoffrey Chaucer, who was married in the palace chapel. Gaunt's unpopularity, as the king's chief minister, caused the palace to be burned in the Peasant's Revolt. Despite its long absence, the fame of the palace has lasted in the area and was recreated in the nineteenth century by the Savoy Hotel and Theatre.

The site where the present church stands was occupied in medieval times by Strand Cross. The origins of this are unclear. It was not a cross erected in memory of Queen Eleanor - as was Charing Cross - but seems to have dated back at least to Norman times. Perhaps it began as a market cross; by the early fourteenth century it had been rebuilt in a lavish manner, almost certainly following the design of the Eleanor Crosses. Strand Cross was a famous site and it is recorded that in the thirteenth century the local magistrates held their assizes in front of it.

Until the sixteenth century, the Strand was no more than a line of Bishops' palaces on the south side of the roadway stretching all the way to Whitehall. On the north side stood a wall which bounded the Convent - later Covent - Garden, while the churches further away, St Martin's and St Giles, stood "in-the-fields". All this was to change with the Reformation. The bishops' inns around the church were seized by Edward Lord Protector who set about building himself a renaissance palace in what was then the most fashionable part of town. Even with the extensive site that he had now obtained, further space was needed and towards the end of 1548 the Lord Protector's workmen fell upon St Mary's church and demolished it to provide stone for the new palace. Further stone was provided by the demolition of a cloister at St Paul's Cathedral known as Pardon Churchyard and the greater part of the Priory of St John at Clerkenwell. Even by the standards of the time, the demolition of so much sacred property was an outrage. Somerset was never to enjoy living in his new palace; just as it was nearing completion he was overthrown by his political enemies and executed at Tower Hill in 1551.

It is said that Somerset had intended to build a new parish church. If so, all thought of it passed away with his fall. Initially, the parishioners scattered but within a short time we find them gathered in the chapel of St John the Baptist in the Savoy. Here they would remain for the next 175 years. Now known at "St Mary le Savoy", the parishioners chose and paid for their own ministers. The most famous of these was Thomas Fuller, the church historian, who was appointed in 1642, fled during the Civil War and was restored to his living in 1660.

Following the execution of Somerset, his palace had passed to the possession of the Crown. Elizabeth I occasionally lodged there and it was from Somerset House that she set off to give thanks after the defeat of the Armada. Under the Stuarts, extensive improvements were made to the palace, the most impressive being the lavish Roman Catholic chapel built by Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria.

The roadway in front of Somerset House, where Strand Cross had stood and where the present church was later to stand, was occupied in the early seventeenth century by a windmill used to pump water. In 1634 the first Hackney Carriage stand in England was established here by one Captain Bailey. Here also a maypole was erected which became the most famous maypole in London. Demolished by the Puritans, a new maypole was erected in 1661. Parts of this maypole remained until 1717, when they were removed and presented to Sir Isaac Newton as the base for a telescope.

In 1711, an Act of Parliament was passed for building 50 New Churches in the fast expanding suburbs of London. These were the so-called "Queen Ann Churches"; among them are Hawksmoor's Christ Church Spitalfields, St Anne's Limehouse, and St George's-in-the-East, Archer's St Paul's Depftord and James' St George's, Hanover Square. St Mary le Strand was quick to apply for a church to replace their demolished one and, as the site on the Strand was so prominent, the Commissioners for building the New Churches decided to make the Strand church the most lavish of the churches. Initially, it was intended that there should not be a spire but that a column celebrating the building of the New Churches should stand directly in front of the church."

The church is Grade I listed and ite entry at the English Heritage website [visit link] tells us:

"Church of St Mary- Le-Strand G.V. I Church. 1714-17 by James Gibbs. Portland stone. Exceptional treatment of island site, the design directly reflecting Gibbs' first hand experience of Rome as well as references to Wren at St Paul's. 7-bay sides, 3-bay west front and apsidal east end. Superimposed orders, Corinthian over Ionic, the latter developed into bowed porch (with finialed semi-dome) to west front,above which the centre bay has pairs of columns and pediment, the tower and steeple rising above in 3 diminishing stages. The "ground floor" level to sides has alternate segmental and triangular pedimented niches whilst the upper register has similar narrow end bays but Venetian window theme between,with alternate bays tabernacled with segmental and triangular pediments against balustraded parapet surmounted by urn finials. Aisleless interior with the apse framed by superimposed orders of coupled columns,and coupled columns carrying balcony over west door. Panelled walls with pilasters to upper register and coffered ceiling. Architecture in Britain 1530-1830: John Summerson."

The church's website [visit link] advises of opening and service times:

"Opening Times
St Mary le Strand is usually open to visitors Tuesdays to Thursdays from 11.00 am until 4.00 pm and on Sundays from 10.00 am until 1.00 pm

Regular Services
The Church family at St Mary le Strand meet both on Sundays and on weekdays.  Whether you live or work in the area or are a visitor to London, you are very welcome to join us. Our service times are as follows:

Sung Eucharist                      Sunday at 11:00 am
Sung Eucharist                     Thursday at 1:05 pm"

City, State or City, Country: London, United Kingdom

Year Built: 1714-1717

Architect: James Gibbs

Webpage from GreatBuildings.com or other approved listing: [Web Link]

Other website with more information about building: [Web Link]

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