Thursday, 7 May 2009

St Andrew, Holborn

The tower of St Andrew’s church forms of the focal point of Holborn Circus, surrounded as it is by bland offices, with only the spire of the City Temple to provide relief.


The site has been used since Roman times, (remains were discovered during the 17th Century rebuilding), although exactly when the first church was erected is not certain. What is certain is that there was a church here by 951AD. At various times during the mediaeval period, the dedications were recorded as St Andrew Holburnestrate and, later, St Andrew de Holeburn. In 1348 the church was provided with a legacy by an armourer called John Thavie, which - clearly well invested - still supports it today.

The church was rebuilt in stone in the 15th century, the steeple from 1446-1468. Although it survived the Great Fire in 1666, the nave was in such poor condition that Wren rebuilt it in 1686-7. Only the tower survived from the earlier church, and Wren had this clad in white stone and added an upper storey in a more classical style, completed in 1704. Many of the furnishings come from the Foundling’s Hospital Chapel: the hospital itself was founded by Thomas Coram, who is buried in the church.

The church was gutted by fire during World War II, leaving just the walls and tower, but it was faithfully rebuilt to Wren’s plans and reopened in 1961. It is now a Guild church - ie without a parish, to serve the local working community. When Holborn Viaduct was built in the 1860s, part of the churchyard was taken and the bodies re-interred in the crypt. They were removed and re-interred in Ilford Cemetery in 2003, and there are now plans to develop this as a community space.

The church

The church interior is deceptively large compared with the impression gained from outside, and it is in fact Wren’s largest parish church. The incongruity of the Gothic architecture of the ground and first two floors of the tower is clear, as the rest is in Wren’s typically restrained Classical style. It is unusually light, thanks to the expansive round-headed windows, filled mostly with clear glass.

The main entrance now is from Holborn Viaduct, but a more interesting way in is through the west door: above and either side of this are the statues of two children (1696) from a local poor-house school.

Inside, the nave is broad, with a soaring barrel-vaulted roof carried on slender Corinithian columns, with gilded plasterwork everywhere. The aisles and west end all have galleries, although the immaculate condition of the woodwork testifies to their replacement after 1941.

The most impressive furnishing is the organ, donated by the composer Handel; like the pulpit and font, these came from the Foundling Hospital Chapel during the post-War restoration.

The sunken grounds of the church have attractive gardens with shrubs and seats, and are popular with lunch time office workers.

St. Andrews Vicarage St. Andrew Street, London EC4A 3AB

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