The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3
St. Stephen Wallbrook.
At the north east corner of Wallbrook stands the parish church of St. Stephen Wallbrook, which owes its name to its dedication to St. Stephen, the protomartyr, and its situation. It appears by ancient records that a church dedicated to the same patron, was situated near this spot, but on the opposite side of the stream, prior to the year , when it was given to the monastery of St. John in Colchester, by Eudo, steward of the household to Henry I. How long the patronage was possessed by this fraternity, or for what consideration they parted with it does not appear; but in , it belonged to John Duke of Bedford, in which year Robert Chichely,
|mayor, gave a plot of ground on the east side of the water course, feet and half in length, and in breadth, to the parish of St. Stephen, to build a new church thereon, and for a church-yard; and in the following year he laid the stone of the building for himself, and the for William Stondon, a former mayor, deceased, who left money for the purchase of the ground, and towards the charge of the building; the remainder being supplied by Chichely.|
Robert Whittington, draper, afterwards made a knight of the bath, purchased the advowson of this rectory from the duke of Bedford, in . From him it passed into the family of Lee, of whom of the name of Richard, supposed to be father and son, the former being a knight and the latter an esquire, served the office of mayor in and . The last of these presented to it in , after which he gave it to the grocers' company, in whom it still remains.
The old church being destroyed by the fire of London. the present edifice was erected in its stead, by sir Christopher Wren.
The exterior of this celebrated church has little to recommend it: the architect wished to surprize the spectator with the beauties of the inside, without the anticipation which an equally decorated exterior would create. The plan of the church is a parallellogram, with a tower, vestry, and porch, at the west end. The west front is concealed by adjacent buildings, the tower and porch being the only portions which are visible; the latter is situated on the south side of the tower; it is built with stone, and has an arched entrance, surmounted by an oval opening in the front; a portion of a dwelling house is built over its roof; the tower is square in plan, the elevation being made into stories, and increased in height by a pyramidal structure of stone work. The west front abuts on the foot path; in the story are lintelled windows, and, in the , an entire circular ; an arched window occupies every aspect of the story, which is clear of the adjacent buildings; the elevation is finished with a ballustrade, at the angles are mean looking vases; the tower is built with brick, with stone dressings, and covered with compo. A pyramidal composition rises above the platform, in square stories; each having lintelled openings in every aspect. At the angles of the story are Ionic columns, in groups of , having common entablature: the story is smaller, and has no columns, it is surmounted by a tall pedestal of a square form, ending in a vane. The north front of the tower is built against by a dwelling house. The church is built of brick, and, like the tower, covered with compo; the west wall is finished with a block cornice, and pierced with an arched and a circular window on each side of a semicircular bow, the flank walls are also finished with block cornices, and are pierced with oval windows in the upper parts, the south wall being concealed from public observation, and partly
|built against : the east front consists of a centre and side aisles, in the former a large arched window, now walled up, in each of the aisles an arched and a circular window, in the north aisle an entrance to the church yard; a cruciform clerestory rises above the walls, which is lighted by low arched windows, except in the ends of the transepts, in which are half circular windows; a spherical dome crowns the centre of the cross at the intersection of the nave with the transepts, it is covered with lead, and on its crown is a small cupola, forming a lantern over a circular aperture in the centre of the dome. The western porch covers a flight of steps, leading to the principal entrance of the church, which is situated in the centre of the bow: it is lintelled, and crowned with a dentil cornice. The projecting bow is an excellent contrivance, as it serves to keep the organ and its gallery from obtruding on the design. The interior is embellished with columns, in number, of the Corinthian order, of which are disposed in a square at the eastern extremity of the plan, the remaining being set on a line parallel with the western wall; they are all raised on plinths to the height of the pewing, and sustain a sort of architrave cornice, enriched with acanthines; the central intercolumniation of each side of the inscribed square is wider than the others, so that a regular cruciform arrangement results, by which the great skill of the architect is displayed in preserving in this novel and unique design the most perfect church arrangement. The entablature is broken, and returned above the square area and transepts, and from its cornice rises semicircular arches, disposed in an octagon, the spandrils forming pendentives for the support of a circular dome, which rises from a block cornice resting on the crown of the arches; the soffits of the arches are enriched, as are also the spandrils, with shields and foliage, the keystones carved with cherubic heads; the soffit of the dome is handsomely and chastely ornamented with caissons, and the vertex pierced with an eye, which is crowned with the lantern. The ceiling of the central or cruciform portion of the design, which forms a clerestory above the other parts, is arched; the largest area running from east to west, is groined with flowers on the points of intersection; the remainder of the ceiling is horizontal, sustained on architraves received on pilasters at the extreme walls, and on corbels at the flanks. The latter are composed of cherubs heads and escallops, united with the volutes of a Corinthian capital; the nearest the west are sculptured with shields of arms of the grocers' company, the patrons of the living. No adequate idea can be given of the exquisite beauty of this design by any description; the superior taste and consummate skill of the architect may be recorded, but the building must be seen to be justly admired; its praise is not confined to this country, it is the admiration of the world. It was the master-piece of the architect, and had his fame rested solely on this design, it would have placed him in the ranks of genius|
The altar screen is a common-place design, divided into compartments by Corinthian columns; the central portions contain the decalogue, between paintings of Moses and Aaron, and the side ones the creed and paternoster, surmounted by the descending dove, in lime tree. It is surmounted by a large painting of
by B. West, esq. painted in , which occupies the place of the east window. The pulpit and desks are grouped at the south-east angle of the square area; the former is hexagonal, with a massive sounding-board and solid ogee canopy, embellished with small statues of angels, holding festoons, and other enrichments carved in oak. The organ gallery is sustained on Corinthian columns and an elliptical pediment; the case of the instrument is also richly carved with statues of angels, &c. The church is wainscotted to a height corresponding with the plinths of the columns, opposite to which, in pannels, are shields with the arms of the grocers' company. The porch which covers the entrance in the eastern wall is surmounted by a shield in oak, charged with a chevron, between cinquefoils. The monuments are very numerous. Against the north wall is a tablet to the memory of Percivall Gilbourne, who died , aged , surmounted with a bust of the deceased, in the costume of Charles II.«s time, and against of the pilasters at the east end, is a large pyramid, embellished with a relief, emblematic of the Christian virtues; it is inscribed to the memory of Thomas Wilson, D. D. rector of this parish upwards of years, died , aged , and Mary his wife, died , aged . The corresponding pilaster on the other side of the altar, is also interfered with by a monument, and the pillars nearer the east have been defaced by monuments being attached to them. In the south aisle is a neat monument to George Griffin Stonestreet, esq. deputy lieutenant of the county of Surrey, and managing director of the Phoenix and Pelican insurance companies; he died , aged . This monument is by J. Bacon, and was erected by the proprietors of the companies. The font is situated in a pew near the west entrance; it is octagonal, embellished with cherubim and festoons of drapery, and is supported on a neat balluster. The cover is handsomely sculptured in oak, with figures finely carved. A monument which formerly existed in this church, is deserving of notice, being set up in the latter part of the last century, by the then rector (Dr. Wilson) to the memory of Mrs. Macauley, once celebrated for her political writings, but whose name and works are now scarcely heard of, affording a salutary proof of the fleeting nature of popular notoriety; the statue excited the ire of the successor of the clergyman who erected it, and who displayed his loyalty on the hand, and his vandalism on the other, by destroying the obnoxious idol. Mr. Pennant, himself a whig, thus mildly speaks of the action, which certainly deserved a severe reprobation:
This beautiful church was built in , by sir Christopher Wren, at an expense of only
The dimensions are as follows:--