The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4

Allen, Thomas


St. Martin's Church.


There was very early a church on this spot; for it appears that in there was a dispute between the abbot of and the bishop of London, concerning the exemption of the church from the jurisdiction of the latter. It is not improbable that it. might at that time have been a chapel for the use of the monks, when they visited their convent-garden, which reached to the church. Be that as it may, the endowments fell with their possessions, and the living is at present in the gift of the bishop of London. During the reign of Henry VIII. the parish was so poor that the king built them a small church at his own expence; this structure lasted till the year , when the inhabitants having


become more numerous, it was enlarged. At length, becoming ruinous, after many expensive repairs, it was wholly taken down in the year -.


Dr. Richard Willis, bishop of Salisbury, by order of George I. laid the stone of the present structure, on which is fixed the following inscription:






It was intended to have made this a round church, and plans were presented by Mr. Gibbs to the commissioners, but were properly rejected. The model of is preserved in , and engravings of both are inserted in the architect's work .

The church was consecrated on . On the laying the stone, the king gave guineas to be distributed among the workmen, and sometime after to purchase an organ. The whole expense of building and decorating the church amounted to ; the detail is as follows:

Artificers for building33,01793
Re-casting the bell and additional metal1,264183
The organ (given by the king)1,50000
Decorations & altering the communion plat1,109210

of this sum was granted by parliament, and the rest


raised by royal benefactions, subscriptions, and sales of seats in the church.

The fine organ given by king George II,

Messrs. Brayley and Nightingale state,

has been supplanted by another, by no means its equal in tone or appearance; and it is matter of some reproach that so good an instrument should be so disposed of. The present instrument cost upwards of


; and, according to our information, the former was sold to a parish in Gloucestershire for


and is fixed in their church, a mark of ingratitude in their former possessors.

Beauties of England, vol. x. pt. iv. p. 250.

The architect of the present splendid building was James Gibbs, and great credit has ever been given him for the genius displayed in the structure.

The plan gives a parallellogram, with a portico at the west end: the east end divided into parts, forming a recess in the centre for the altar, with vestibules and other apartments in the side divisions.

The principal front consists of a magnificent portico, raised on a flight of steps, and composed of columns of the Corinthian order, in front, and in flank. The columns sustain an entablature, which is received on pilasters at its entrance into the wall of the church; a lofty pediment crowns the whole, in the tympanum of which is the royal arms of George I. and on the apex a socle. The frieze bears the following inscription:



The ceiling of the portico is richly pannelled by flying cornices, the soffits enriched with guillochi, and the pannels with expanded flowers. The cella is divided in height into stories by a string course; and the order, on pilasters, with its entablature, crowned with a ballustrade, is carried round the entire building. The west front extends in breadth beyond the returns of the portico, forming small wings, in which the face of the wall is relieved by pannels; the part immediately behind the portico is made into divisions; in the centre is a circular-headed doorway in the lower story, the archivolt rusticated; and an arched window, also rusticated, in the upper: the extreme divisions have also doorways lintelled and covered with pediments and windows as before, the remaining divisions being pannelled. The tower and spire rise from the body of the church, immediately behind the centre of the portico. The elevation is made into principal divisions, a tower and spire. The is square in plan, and is composed of a lofty pedestal, with a circular window in each face. The story which succeeds to it has in each front of the elevation a window, arched and rusticated, between Ionic pilasters, disposed in pairs, and surmounted by their entablature, having vases at the angles of the design. The succeeding story takes an octangular form; it


commences with a stylobate forming the base of the spire, every face of which is broken by a circular dial, over which the cornice rises in a sweep. The succeeding story has an arched window in every face of the octagon, and at the angles are engaged columns of the Corinthian order, also crowned with their entablature, and surmounted by vases; upon this story, a stylobate, still keeping the octagonal plan, forms the base of a lofty obelisk, relieved with pannelling, and pierced with circular openings at intervals: the whole crowned with a ball and vane.

The flanks are uniform, and are made into divisions, the elevation resting on a plain socle; the extreme divisions are recessed, and occupied by pairs of columns, between which are lintelled entrances in the lower story, rusticated and covered with pediments, and approached by flights of steps. In the lower story of the other divisions are low segment arched windows, with rusticated architravaves; and in the upper stories are windows in every division, corresponding with those in the west front. The east front is made into fine divisions of unequal widths; the central is occupied by a Venetian window, the order Ionic; the succeeding divisions have windows in each story, as before, and the remaining ones are pannelled. A pediment rises above the intermediate divisions in the tympanum: a circular window, formed in a shield between palm branches; in this, as well as the western pediment, the raking cornice has modillions as well as the horizontal . The roof of the church is covered with lead, and is continued from the west to the east pediment, only broken by the tower; it increased in breadth by leantos over the divisions collateral to the portico, forming inclined plane on each side the ridge.

The interior is approached by vestibules, of which occupies the basement of the tower, the others being collateral thereto, and which contain stairs to the galleries. The body of the church is made into a nave and side aisles by Corinthian columns on each side; they are raised on plinths, the height of the pews, and surmounted by their entablature. From the cornice springs the arched ceiling; the portion above the nave is a semielliptical vault, made in length into divisions corresponding with the intercolumniations, by arched ribs, whose impost is the same cornice, and again by horizontal ribs into pannels, the entire soffits of which are occupied by the most splendid assemblage of wreaths, cherubs' heads, escallops, and other ornamental devices, perhaps ever witnessed, the work of Signiori Artari and Bagutti, the best fret workers that ever came to England. The vault is pierced laterally with arches on each side, springing likewise from the cornice above the columns; other arches corresponding with the last are turned over the aisles, and received on consoles attached to the


side wall; in the spandrils of these conjoined arches are pendentives, sustaining circular compartments coved, and resembling small domes. The altar stands in a spacious recess; the flanks are made by pilasters into divisions, crowned with an entablature. The division in plan is the quadrant of a circle, and has an arched doorway, with a window above, fronted by a ballustrade, and above the cornice is a balcony. The division is entirely occupied by the altar; it has also a window and ballustrade in the upper story: these windows on side light the royal pew, and on the south that which is appropriated for the royal household for their accommodation in attending to qualify under the repealed Test act.

The ceiling is a semi-elliptic vault, richly pannelled, in divisions; in the are the royal arms in the centre; the other has cherubic heads, in clouds, holding wreaths of foliage. The altar screen occupies the dado of the east window, and has been most unaccountably neglected; it is ornamented as a stylobate, and is broken by the pedestals to the Ionic columns of the window, on which account it has a subordinate and mean appearance; the decalogue, creed, and paternoster occupy pannels on the end and flank walls. At the west end is a gallery with oak front, pannelled, sustained on Doric columns of the same material; a continuation of this gallery extends the whole length of the side aisles, the front very properly retiring behind the line of the columns. A gallery is raised above the , at the west end; it is sustained on oaken Ionic columns, and contains the organ. On the front of this gallery is written in letters of gold:




The pulpit and desks are grouped on the north side of the nave. The former is hexagonal, resting on a single pillar; it has a sounding-board and canopy of the same form.

The font, situated in a pew in the north aisle, near the west entrance, is a plain circular basin of white marble, on a pedestal.

Length-church (external)  
 steps in the front810
 internal, aisles80 
 intercolumniations (2 1/2 diameters)74 1/2
 Height of western pediment to ridge686 1/2
 west end internal36 
 Columns, height334
 Square of plinth48
 Height of base and plinth19 1/4

There are no monuments in this church.

It was lamentable to see this fine edifice, confessedly the most splendid church in the metropolis after the cathedral, hid in a narrow lane, and hemmed round with the meanest dwelling houses. The defect has been deplored by all architectural critics, and more especially by Ralph; whose remarks on this church are so apposite as to deserve insertion entire:

With respect to this noble edifice,

says he,

I could wish that a view was opened from

the Mews


St. Martin's church

; I do not know any of the modern buildings about town which deserves such an advantage. The portico is at once elegant and august; and if the steps arising from the street to the front could have been made regular, and on a line from end to end, it would have given it a very considerable grace: but, as the situation of the ground would not allow it, this is to be esteemed a misfortune rather than a fault. The round columns at each angle of the church are well contrived, and have a very fine effect in the profile of the building. The east end is remarkably elegant, and very justly claims a particular applause. In short, if there is any thing wanting in this fabric, it is a little more elevation; which, I presume, is apparently wanted within, and would create an additional beauty without. I cannot help thinking, too, that in complaisance to the galleries, the architect has reversed the order of the windows; it being always usual to have the large ones near the eye, and the small, by way of attic, on the top.

The wish of Mr. Ralph, as well as of every judicious observer, to open the front view of the church, is at present in a state of progress; the mean houses which hid the north side are destroyed, and an opening made into ; in consequence, this magnificent church is redeemed from the disgraceful state in which it has stood, from the days of Gibbs to the reign of his present majesty.

Vast vaults extend from the portico to the east end of the structure, which are light and dry, and contain great numbers of bodies, deposited within separate apartments, and on the floor of the open space.

The vestry-room, detached from the south-east corner of the church, contains a fine model of this structure, admirably executed. In a recess is a half-length of George I. and over the door a bust of Richard Miller, esq. who gave to the


charity-schools; to the library, and free-school; and towards building the vestry-house. In a south window is a pretty painting of St. Martin, dividing his mantle with a beggar. The walls are adorned with half-lengths of the vicars, from the year , almost all of whom attained high distinction in the church. In the waiting-room are portraits of the architect, Mr. Gibbs, and the unfortunate sir Edmondbury Godfrey.

Mr. Malcolm records the following singular event which occurred in this church. On the , during evening prayers, a gentleman abruptly entered and fired pistol at the rev. Mr. Taylor, who was repeating the service: of the bullets grazed the surplice, but the other entered the body of Mr. Williams, farrier, of , who was sitting in a pew near the minister. The congregation fled in alarm from the church, but a sturdy carman resolutely proceeded to secure the offender, which he could not effect without a severe encounter, and much-bruising him, particularly on the head. On his examination, it was found that this man, named Roger Campaznol, was the son of the governor of Brest, in France, that having been cheated by his landlord, a Hugonot, resident near the Dials, of his mind became deranged, so that he had not sufficient discrimination to distinguish the victim of his revenge. After his commitment to Newgate he endeavoured to hang himself with his garters in the chapel; but being prevented, he fastened himself into his cell; and when the door was forced open, he was found eating part of a bottle pounded into fragments with bread. Of the subsequent fate of this lunatic we have no information.


At the bottom of on the south side of is the noble and extensive mansion


[] An elliptical ceiling, says Mr. Gibbs. I find by experience to be much better for the voice than the semicircular, though not so beautiful.

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 Title Page
CHAPTER I: Site, local divisions, and government of the City of Westminster; history of the Abbey; Coronation Ceremonies; and lists of the Abbots and Deans
CHAPTER II: Westminster Abbey, and Description of the Tombs and Monuments
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of St. Margaret's Parish
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of St. John's Parish, Westminster
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of the parish of St. Martin's in the Fields, Westminster
CHAPTER VI: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. James, Westminster
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Anne, Westminster
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Mary-le-strand
CHAPTER X: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. Clement Danes
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of the parish of st. George, Hanover Square
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of the Precinct of the Savoy
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of the Inns of Court
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of the Precincts of the Charter-house and Ely Place, and the Liberty of the Rolls
 CHAPTER XV: Historical Notices of the Borough of Southwark
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of the Parish of St. Olave, Southwark
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of the parish of St. John, Southwark
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of the parish of St. Thomas, Southwark
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topogrpahy of the parish of St. George's, Southwark
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of St. Saviour's Parish
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of the parist of Christ-church in the County of Surrey
 CHAPTER XXII: A List of the Principal Books, &c that have been published in Illustration of the Antiquities, History, Topography, and other subjects treated of in this Work
 Addenda et Corrigienda