The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3

Allen, Thomas


St. Alan's, Wood-street.


The parochial church of St. Alban is a rectory, and takes its name from its dedication to St. Alban, the martyr of Great . It stands on the east side of , at the south west angle of , and is supposed to be founded in by king Adlestan, or Athelstan, the Saxon, who began his reign in or about ; and was so well built, that the original foundation continued, with proper repairs, till the year , when it was pulled down, and a new church was built upon the same spot, which was destroyed years after by the fire of London. This church was originally in the patronage of the abbot and convent of St. Albans, in Hertfordshire, from whom it passed into the hands of the master, &c. of the hospital of St. James's, . But it has been in the patronage of Eton college ever since the year , when the provost and fellows of Eton presented Richard Hopton to this church.

The new church was erected, in a great measure upon the walls of the old , and was made the parish church of St. Alban in and St. Olave in by Car. II. It is situated on the east side of the street, at the northern side of ; and with the exception of the rectory-house, which is attached to the south side of the building, is insulated. The plan is irregular, in consequence of the foundations of the old church having been adhered to by the architect in the construction of the new . Although the present church is said to have been rebuilt about years anterior to the great fire, and again after that calamity, it is evident from the different styles of architecture, that considerable portions of a building older than either period have been preserved, and still exist in the present edifice. The plan gives a body and side aisles, with an attached chapel on the north side, and a tower at the west end of the north aisle, a portion of what otherwise would be the south aisle being occupied by the rectory house.

The west front of the church is bounded laterally by the tower on side, and the rectory-house on the other. The principal entrance is a poor imitation of a doorway of the century; the arch is pointed, and bounded by a sweeping canopy, ending in a finial, and ornamented with ill-formed crockets; above the doorway is a large window, which is made in breadth into divisions, subdivided by a transom into heights, forming compartments, each of which has an arched head inclosing sweeps; the arch of the window is pointed, and the head occupied by sub-arches, the spandrils of which, as well as the remainder of the design, are filled with tracery in circles and trefoils. The whole composition is either an excellent copy of a window of the latter part of the century, or, what is more probable, a remnant of the former church. The elevation is finished with a gabled parapet ornamented with upright pannels, having trefoil extremities partly destroyed by some bungling workman employed to repair the church. The tower is square, and is in stories; on the west front and northern flank are


pointed windows of lights with arched heads, the head of the arch containing quatrefoils; the design is not bad. In the next story are circular windows inclosing sweeps; the has small pointed openings. The upper story has also pointed windows divided by mullions into compartments: both the latter stories are repeated on the sides of the tower which are clear of the church. At the angles are slender buttresses, and others are attached to the centre of each face of the tower; the angular buttresses rise from the ground; the others rise from corbels formed into lions' heads, above the heads of the lower windows. The elevation is finished with a parapet pierced with oblong apertures, having sweeps at each end, and the whole is surmounted with pinnacles, which terminate the buttresses; they are notched at the angles, and end in fleurs-de-lis as finials. The tower is the worst specimen of the architect's works in the pointed style. In the north wall of the church are windows with flat pointed arches, each of which is made into divisions by mullions diverging at their tops into arched heads, inclosing sweeps. The square chapel, which is attached to, and occupies the residue of this side of the church, has a similar window in its sides which are clear of the church, the north side having, in addition, a small doorway with an elliptical arch. The walls are finished with battlements. The whole of this portion of the church is in the style of architecture which prevailed in the reign of Henry VII. and is of the same class as the generality of the few existing ancient churches in the metropolis. The north wall of the church and the attached chapel may, therefore, be considered to be anterior to the fire, with the exceptions of the battlements and the door-case, which are evidently additions. The east front to the church has unequally sized buttresses at the division between the nave and aisles; in the centre division is a pointed window, made by mullions into divisions, with a large circle and other compartments on the head, a clumsy attempt at the composition of a window in the style of the century. The north aisle has a window of lights as before described, and the southern an oval window, under which there was formerly an internal doorway to a small attached vestry, now removed. It will not be difficult in this portion to trace the ancient building; the irregular buttresses and the north window, with much of the walls, are no doubt ancient. The modern windows and battlements speak plainly for themselves and betray their origin. The south aisle, in consequence of a portion of its plan being taken up with the rectory house, has only windows of the same design as the opposite side, but surmounted by weather cornices, which are wanting in all the other specimens. Below the window, nearest the west, is an elliptical arched doorway. The body of the church is lighted by a clerestory, consisting of double windows on each side; each window is divided by a mullion into lights, having arched heads, inclosing sweeps and a quatrefoil in the


spandrils. This arrangement of the windows in pairs is similar to , , and is no doubt a close copy of the older church.

The interior suffers in appearance in consequence of the irregularity of the plan. On each side of the nave are clusters of columns sustaining low pointed arches; the detail is far inferior to that of St. Mary Aldermary. The clustered columns are as usual attached to a square pier; but the archivolts are entirely separated from the pier by imposts formed of a continuation of the mouldings of the capitals of the columns. The division of the north aisle is occupied by the tower, and the and on the south side by the rectory-house, the several walls of which engage of the clusters of columns. From the capital of the inner column in each of the main clusters, rise slender columns united and attached to the walls of the clerestory, and which sustain on their conjoined capitals the vaulted roof; this is composed of plaster, in imitation of stone. The arch is of a low pointed form, and has a rib running along the soffit of its crown, to which the various diagonal ribs springing from the lateral columns are united; these are again crossed by shorter ribs which divide the soffit of the roof into a variety of triangles; at the intersections are bosses carved with roses and other flowers; the aisles are simply groined with diagonal cross springers, uniting in a boss, having Gothicised modillions as imposts attached to the side walls. There is a great want of solidity and relief on the various groins of this ceiling; but upon the whole, the central division may be considered as a very fair modern specimen of pointed architecture. The chapel is now walled off from the church, and divided into a porch and vestry room. The tower is approached from the church by a large doorway in its south wall; the head-way is a low pointed arch enclosed in a square head; the spandrils enriched with quatrefoils in circles; this doorway is evidently more ancient than the present church. The division of the clerestory from the west has no window on either bide, and the on the south side is closed by the wall of the rectory house. At the western end of the church is a gallery, probably coeval with the building, in which is an organ erected in . The altar screen occupies the wall beneath the principal eastern window; it consists of a central and lateral divisions, the latter have pair of Corinthian columns, sustaining an entablature and elliptical pediments; the capitals of the columns, as well as some carving on the screen and other parts of the church, are executed in lime-tree. The altar is surmounted with the royal arms, the blazonry of which have been altered at the last repair to those of the late sovereign; the wall above is painted with a curtain, and the division of the groining of the roof over it with a choir of angels. The pulpit is hexagonal, with a sounding board of the


same form, and with the desks, is affixed to the only unengaged pillar on the south side of the church. The black velvet hangings of the pulpit used in Lent have the date . To the reading desk is affixed the almost unique specimen of the hour-glass, which was in the early ages of the reformation a constant appendage to the pulpit In the present instance it has left the pulpit for the reading desk, and is of course a mere matter of ornament; it is composed of brass, and on each end is a raised run of fleurs-de-lis, and crosses patee ; and is further ornamented with angels blowing trumpets. The stand is of the same material, and is raised on a twisted column. The stand was given, together with branches for the church pulpit and desk, by Mr. Thomas Waidson, parish clerk in . The font is situated in a pew in the north aisle; it is a handsome circular basin of white marble, sustained on a balluster, and ornamented with cherubic heads with expanded wings, and covered with fruit and foliage in basso relievo. There is little doubt of its having been carved by the masterly hand of Gibbons, as it much resembles that at St. Margaret, , in every thing but the style of the ornaments.

Very many fragments of persons who had been executed for their crimes, and afterwards dissected at the barber-surgeons'-hall, in the vicinity of this church, were buried in the church-yard. The old church of St. Alban's contained several monuments to eminent persons, particularly that of sir Richard Illyngworth, baron of the exchequer; Thomas Chatworth. mayor, ; John Woodcock, mayor, ; sir John Cheke, ; and others. The most ancient was that of William Linchlade, mercer, .

The parsonage house adjoins the church, and was rebuilt in , being situated at the south-west corner of the church; it has neither yard nor garden, and must necessarily be a most unpleasant, if not unwholesome, residence.

The only monument worthy of notice is to the memory of Benjamin Harvey, esq. major of the yellow regiment of trained bands, who gave the font. He died , aged .

The reparations of the church after the great fire by sir C. Wren, were completed in . The expense was being of the lowest estimates of this architect's churches, which in itself proves that a reparation alone took place after the fire, it being impossible that the present stone building could have been rebuilt for a less sum than the brick churches of the same period. This church is feet in length, in breadth, in height, and the tower to the parapet is feet inches high, and to the finials of the pinnacles .


[] Described ante, page 427

[] In the Author's History of Lambeth, pp. 66, 67, some observations will be found on the use of hour-glasses in churches.

[] It is engraved in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. xcii, part ii, p. 300.

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 Title Page
 CHAPTER I: The site, extent, buildings, population, commerce, and a view of the progressive increase of London
 CHAPTER II: List of the parishes and churches in London, with their incumbents, &c
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of Aldersgate Ward
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of Aldgate Ward
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of Bassishaw Ward
CHAPTER VI: History and Topography of Billingsgate Ward
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of Bishopsgate Ward, Without and Within
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of Bread-street Ward
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of Bridge Ward Within
CHAPTER X: History and Topography of Broad-street Ward
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of Candlewick Ward
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of Castle Baynard Ward
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of Cheap Ward
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of Coleman-street Ward
CHAPTER XV: History and Topography of Cordwainer's-street Ward
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of Cornhill Ward
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Ward Within
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Yard Without
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topography of Dowgate Yard
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of Farringdom Ward Within
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of Farringdon Ward Without
CHAPTER XXII: History and Topography of Langbourn Ward
CHAPTER XXIII: History and Topography of Lime-street Ward
CHAPTER XXIV: History and Topogrpahy of Portsoken Ward
CHAPTER XXV: History and Topography of Queenhithe Ward
CHAPTER XXVI: History and Topography of Tower Ward
CHAPTER XXVII: History and Topography of Vintry Ward
CHAPTER XXVIII: History and Topography of Wallbrook Ward