The ancient churches of St Edmund the King, St Mary Woolnoth and St Clement Eastcheap are located in the City of London and are part of the Diocese of London and the Church of England.
The churches have rich histories due to their location, yet they still play a vital role in the City of London today. While providing weekly services for people working in the City, they are also home to various ministries of the Diocese of London and continue to fulfil their roles as places of worship and mission.
St Mary Woolnoth
A church on this site was first recorded in 1273, although excavations of c1716 uncovered remains thought to be Roman, and there is evidence of major Roman buildings in the immediate vicinity. The church was rebuilt in 1442 and then repaired by Sir Christopher Wren in 1670-7, having been damaged in the Great Fire of London. The church was rebuilt again by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1716-17 as one of Queen Anne’s 50 new churches, and this is the building as it currently stands. St Mary Woolnoth is Hawksmoor's only City of London church. The Bank tube station was built underneath the church in 1897-1900.
From 1780 to 1807 the rector of St Mary Woolnoth was John Newton (1725-1807). Formerly a captain of slave ships, Newton’s conversion to Christianity led to him becoming an Anglican minister and eventually a prominent abolitionist. Newton lived to see Britain's abolition of the African slave trade in 1807, just before his death. A memorial tablet on the north wall bears an epitaph written by Newton himself, which begins: 'John Newton, Clerk. Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy.'
St Edmund the King
The present church, a Grade 1 listed building, has been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, and was built in 1670-79 on the site of a former medieval church. This medieval church is believed to have been located on the western edge of a Roman Basilica and it is therefore likely that there are significant Roman archaeological remains below ground. In 1710 the current spire was added, a much taller construction compared with the original tower that had a domed lantern above.
The building underwent significant alterations in the following centuries, including the modifying of windows, and the vestry has been re-built on several occasions, with the latest structure dating from 1968 under the direction of Rodney Tatchell. There was also extensive internal alteration in 1864 by William Butterfield and the roof was completely renewed following war damage in World War 1. Originally a central chandelier hung from the roof, but this was replaced by the current central roof lantern in the nave.
St Clement Eastcheap
There has likely been a church at St Clement Eastcheap, located in Candlewick Ward, from at least the eleventh century, probably earlier, and the first reference to the church is found in a deed written in the reign of Henry III (1207–72), which mentions 'St Clement Candlewickstrate'. The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and its rebuilding has been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren between 1683 and 1687. This seems to be confirmed by the parish account for 1685, which contains the following item: to one third of a hogshead of wine, given to Sir Christopher Wren, £4 2s.
Wren's original design, which was unusually simple, was altered by Sir William Butterfield in the late nineteenth century. Butterfield removed Wren's galleries as well as replacing the clear glass windows with stained glass. The reredos was split into three sections and polychrome tiles were installed. Then in 1932-34 the church was altered again when Sir Ninian Comper rebuilt the reredos in its original style, painting it in bright blues and gold.
The church only suffered minor bombing damage during the Second World War, so the current building remains in essence close to the original Wren construction. The famous nursery rhyme, 'Oranges and Lemons' celebrates the ‘bells of St Clements’, in the line 'Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clements'. However, St Clement Danes, another Wren church on Fleet Street, also claims to be the church mentioned in the rhyme. It is possible that the name refers to neither church, but was in fact used because 'St Clement's' rhymes with 'lemons'.