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St Martin-in-the-Fields

Coordinates: 51°30′32″N 0°07′37″W / 51.50889°N 0.12694°W / 51.50889; -0.12694
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St Martin-in-the-Fields
The church in 2014
St Martin-in-the-Fields is located in City of Westminster
St Martin-in-the-Fields
St Martin-in-the-Fields
LocationTrafalgar Square, Westminster
London, WC2
DenominationChurch of England
StatusParish church
DedicationSaint Martin
Functional statusActive
Heritage designationGrade I
Architect(s)James Gibbs
Architectural typeChurch
Years built1721–1726
Number of spires1
Spire height192 feet (59 m)
Bells12 (full circle)
Tenor bell weight29 long cwt 1 qr 1 lb (3,277 lb or 1,486 kg)
(previously Charing Cross)
DeaneryWestminster (St Margaret)
Vicar(s)Sam Wells
Director of musicAndrew Earis[1]
Churchwarden(s)Chris Braganza
Adrian Harris
Listed Building – Grade I
Official nameChurch of St Martin in the Fields
Designated24 February 1958
Reference no.1217661[2]

St Martin-in-the-Fields is a Church of England parish church at the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, London. Dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours, there has been a church on the site since at least the medieval period. This location, at that time, was farmlands and fields beyond the London wall.

It became a principal parish church west of the old City in the early modern period as Westminster's population grew. When its medieval and Jacobean structure was found to be near failure, the present building was constructed in an influential neoclassical design by James Gibbs in 1722–1726. The church is one of the visual anchors adding to the open-urban space around Trafalgar Square.


Roman era[edit]

Excavations at the site in 2006 uncovered a group of burials dating from c A.D. 350, including a sarcophagus burial dating from c A.D. 410.[3] The site is outside the city limits of Roman London (as was the usual Roman practice for burials) but is particularly interesting for being so far outside (1.6 km or 1 statute mile west-south-west of Ludgate), and this is leading to a reappraisal of Westminster's importance at that time. The burials are thought by some to mark a Christian centre of that time (possibly reusing the site or building of a pagan temple[citation needed]) or possibly even developing around the shrine of a martyr.

St Martin-in-the-Fields and Charing Cross, circa 1562


What is extraordinary is that the Roman burial ground was acknowledged by the Saxons, who also buried their dead there. To have such a long time span as a burial ground makes St Martin-in-the-Fields relatively unusual. It is possible that the Saxon town of Lundenwic essentially grew eastwards from the early burial group (Museum of London Archaeology).[citation needed]

Medieval and Tudor[edit]

The earliest extant reference to the church is from 1222, when there was a dispute between the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of London as to who had control over it. The Archbishop of Canterbury decided in favour of Westminster, and the monks of Westminster Abbey began to use it.[4]

Henry VIII rebuilt the church in 1542 to keep plague victims in the area from having to pass through his Palace of Whitehall. At this time it was literally "in the fields", occupying an isolated position between the cities of Westminster and London.

Seventeenth century[edit]

By the beginning of the reign of James I, the local population had increased greatly and the congregation had outgrown the building. In 1606 the king granted an acre ( 4,046.86 mts2) of ground to the west of St Martin's Lane for a new churchyard,[5] and the building was enlarged eastwards over the old burial ground, increasing the length of the church by about half.[6] At the same time, the church was, in the phrase of the time, thoroughly "repaired and beautified".[6] Later in the 17th century, capacity was increased by the addition of galleries. The creation of the new parishes of St Anne, Soho, and St James, Piccadilly, and the opening of a chapel in Oxenden Street also relieved some of the pressure on space.[5]

As it stood at the beginning of the 18th century, the church was built of brick, rendered over, with stone facings. The roof was tiled, and there was a stone tower, with buttresses. The ceiling was slightly arched,[6] supported with what Edward Hatton described as "Pillars of the Tuscan and Modern Gothick orders".[6] The interior was wainscotted in oak to a height of 6 ft (1.8 m), while the galleries, on the north, south and west sides, were of painted deal.[6] The church was about 84 ft (26 m) long and 62 ft (19 m) wide. The tower was about 90 ft (27 m) high.[6]

A number of notables were buried in this phase of the church, including Robert Boyle, Nell Gwyn, John Parkinson and Sir John Birkenhead.


Interior of St Martin-in-the-Fields

A survey of 1710 found that the walls and roof were in a state of decay. In 1720, Parliament passed an act for the rebuilding of the church allowing for a sum of up to £22,000, to be raised by a rate on the parishioners. A temporary church was erected partly on the churchyard and partly on ground in Lancaster Court. Advertisements were placed in the newspapers that bodies and monuments of those buried in the church or churchyard could be taken away for reinterment by relatives.[5]

Lamp post detail, London, UK

The rebuilding commissioners selected James Gibbs to design the new church. His first suggestion was for a church with a circular nave and domed ceiling,[7] but the commissioners considered this scheme too expensive. Gibbs then produced a simpler, rectilinear plan, which they accepted. The foundation stone was laid on 19 March 1722, and the last stone of the spire was placed into position in December 1724. The total cost was £33,661 including the architect's fees.[5]

The west front of St Martin's has a portico with a pediment supported by a giant order of Corinthian columns, six wide. The order is continued around the church by pilasters. In designing the church, Gibbs drew upon the works of Christopher Wren, but departed from Wren's practice in his integration of the tower into the church. Rather than considering it as an adjunct to the main body of the building, he constructed it within the west wall, so that it rises above the roof, immediately behind the portico,[7] an arrangement also used at around the same time by John James at St George, Hanover Square (completed in 1724), although James' steeple is much less ambitious.[7] The spire of St Martin's rises 192 ft (59 m) above the level of the church floor.[5]

The church is rectangular in plan, with the five-bay nave divided from the aisles by arcades of Corinthian columns. There are galleries over both aisles and at the west end. The nave ceiling is a flattened barrel vault, divided into panels by ribs. The panels are decorated in stucco with cherubs, clouds, shells and scroll work, executed by Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti.[5]

Until the creation of Trafalgar Square in the 1820s, Gibbs's church was crowded by other buildings. J. P. Malcolm, writing in 1807, said that its west front "would have a grand effect if the execrable watch-house and sheds before it were removed" and described the sides of the church as "lost in courts, where houses approach them almost to contact".[8]

The design was criticised widely at the time, but subsequently became extremely famous, being copied particularly widely in the United States.[9] Although Gibbs was discreetly Catholic, his four-wall, long rectangular floor plan, with a triangular gable roof and a tall prominent centre-front steeple (and often, columned front-portico), became closely associated with Protestant church architecture world-wide.[10]

In Britain, the design of St Andrew's in the Square church (built 1739–56) in Glasgow was inspired by the church. In the American Colonies, St. Michael's Anglican Church (Charleston, South Carolina) (built 1751–61), was heavily influenced by St Martin-in-the-fields, though the columns of its front portico are of the Tuscan order, rather than the Corinthian order. St. George's Church, Dublin (built 1802), though obviously influence by St Martin's-in-the-fields, that influence seems to be via St Andrews in the Square, as exampled in the copying of its Ionic columns instead of St Martin's Corinthian columns. In India, St Andrew's Church, Egmore (built 1818–1821), Madras (now Chennai), is another example. In South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church in Cradock is modelled on St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Various notables were soon buried in the new church, including the émigré sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac (who had settled in this area of London) and the furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale (whose workshop was in the same street as the church, St Martin's Lane[11]), along with Jack Sheppard in the adjoining churchyard. This churchyard, which lay to the south of the church, was removed to make way for Duncannon Street, constructed in the 19th century to provide access to the newly created Trafalgar Square.[12] Two small parcels of the churchyard survived, to the north and east of the church. The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association laid them out for public use in 1887; unusually for the MPGA, it paved them with flagstones as well as planted them with trees. For many years covered in market stalls, the churchyard has been restored including with the provision of seating.[13]

Before embarking for the Middle East Campaign, Edmund Allenby was met by General Beauvoir De Lisle at the Grosvenor Hotel and convinced General Allenby with Bible prophecies of the deliverance of Jerusalem. He told General Allenby that the Bible said that Jerusalem would be delivered in that very year, 1917, and by Great Britain. General Beauvoir de Lisle had studied the prophecies, as he was about to preach at St Martin-in-the-Fields.[14]

Recent times[edit]

Audio description of the church by Michael Elwyn
The ceiling of the café in the crypt

Because of its prominent position, St Martin-in-the-Fields is one of the most famous churches in London. Dick Sheppard, Vicar from 1914 to 1927 who began programmes for the area's homeless, coined its ethos as the "Church of the Ever Open Door". The church is famous for its work with young and homeless people through The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields,[15] created in 2003 through the merger of two programmes dating at least to 1948. The Connection shares with The Vicar's Relief Fund the money raised each year by the BBC Radio 4 Appeal's Christmas appeal.[16]

The crypt houses a café which hosts jazz concerts whose profits support the programmes of the church. The crypt is also home to the London Brass Rubbing Centre, established in 1975 as an art gallery, book, and gift shop. A life-sized marble statue of Henry Croft, London's first pearly king, was moved to the crypt in 2002 from its original site at St Pancras Cemetery.

In January 2006, work began on a £36-million renewal project. The project included renewing the church itself, as well as provision of facilities encompassing the church's crypt, a row of buildings to the north and some significant new underground spaces in between. The funding included a grant of £15.35 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The church and crypt reopened in the summer of 2008.[4]

Its present vicar is Sam Wells (since 2012), who as well as being a priest is a renowned theologian and writer.

Twelve historic bells from St Martin-in-the-Fields, cast in 1725, are included in the peal of the Swan Bells tower in Perth, Australia. The current set of twelve bells, cast in 1988, which replaced the old ones are rung every Sunday between 9 am and 10 am by the St Martin in the Fields Band of Bell Ringers.[17] The bells are also rung by the Friends of Dorothy Society each year as part of London Pride.[18][19]

In popular culture[edit]

Being in a prominent central London location, the exterior of the church building frequently appears in films, including Notting Hill and Enigma, and television programmes, including Doctor Who and Sherlock.

References to the church take place in the following novels:

References to the church occur in the following poems:

The St Mary's Church in Pune is designed in the style of St Martin's.[20]

The church may be the St Martin's referred to in the nursery rhyme known as Oranges and Lemons.

Royal connections[edit]

The church has a close relationship with the royal family, whose parish church it is,[21] as well as with 10 Downing Street and the Admiralty.[22]


The church established its own almhouses and pension-charity on 21 September 1886. The 19 church trustees administered almshouses for women and provided them with a weekly stipend. The almshouses were built in 1818, in Bayham Street (to a design by Henry Hake Seward),[23] on part of the parish burial ground in Camden Town and St Pancras and replaced those constructed in 1683.[24]


The John Law Baker drinking fountain stands in the churchyard

The St Martin-in-the-Fields charity supports homeless and vulnerably housed people. The church has raised money for vulnerable people in its annual Christmas Appeal since 1920 and in an annual BBC radio broadcast since December 1927.[25]

The Connection at St Martin's is located next to the church, and works closely with the church's charity. It supports 4000 homeless people in London each year, by providing accommodation, medical and dental care, skills training, and creative activities.[26]



The church is known for its regular lunchtime and evening concerts: many ensembles perform there, including the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which was co-founded by Sir Neville Marriner and John Churchill, a former Master of Music at St Martin's.


The organ is housed in the west gallery. The first organ to be installed in the new Gibbs church of 1726 was built by Christopher Schreider in 1727. The current instrument was built in 1990.[29]

West end and organ by J. W. Walker

List of organists[edit]

Organists include:

  • John Weldon 1714–1736
  • Joseph Kelway 1736–1781 (formerly organist of St Michael, Cornhill)
  • Benjamin Cooke 1781–1793
  • Robert Cooke 1793–1814 (son of Benjamin Cooke)
  • Thomas Forbes Gerrard Walmisley 1814–1854
  • William Thomas Best 1852–1855?
  • W.H. Adams, appointed 1857
  • H.W.A. Beale
  • William John Kipps 1899–1924
  • Martin Shaw 1920–1924
  • Arnold Goldsborough 1924–1935
  • John Alden 1935–1938
  • Stanley Drummond Wolff 1938–1946
  • John Churchill 1949–1967
  • Eric Harrison 1967–1968
  • Robert Vincent 1968–1977 (later organist of Manchester Cathedral)
  • Christopher Stokes 1977–1989 (later Director of Music, St Margaret's Westminster Abbey and Organist & Master of the Choristers Manchester Cathedral)
  • Mark Stringer 1989–1996 (currently Director of Music, Wells Cathedral School, Wells UK, since April 2015; Executive Director Trinity College London, 1997–2012; sometime Director of Music, Methodist Central Hall, Westminster)
  • Paul Stubbings 1996–2001 (later Director of Music, St Mary's Music School, Edinburgh)
  • Nick Danks 2001–2008
  • Andrew Earis 2009 –

St Martin's school[edit]

In 1699 the church founded a school for poor and less fortunate boys, which later became a girls' school. It was originally sited in Charing Cross Road, near the church. At one time it was known as St Martin's Middle Class School for Girls, and was later renamed St Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls. It was relocated to its present site in Lambeth in 1928.

The school badge depicts the eponymous Saint Martin of Tours. The school's Latin motto Caritate et disciplina translates as "With love and learning".[9] The school is Christian but accepts girls of all faiths.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "An interview with Andrew Earis". stmartin-in-the-fields.org. 27 October 2015. Archived from the original on 22 November 2016.
  2. ^ Historic England. "Church of St Martin in the Fields (1217661)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Ancient body prompts new theories". BBC News. 1 December 2006. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  4. ^ a b At the heart: The Renewal of St. Martin-in-the-fields (PDF). St Martin-in-the-Fields. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 May 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gater, G.H.; Hiorns, F.R., eds. (1940). "Appendix: Vicars of St. Martin-in-the-Fields". Survey of London: volume 20: St Martin-in-the-Fields, part III: Trafalgar Square & Neighbourhood. London County Council. pp. 31–54, 128. Retrieved 15 January 2014 – via British History Online.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Hatton, Edward (1708). "St. Martin's Church (in the fields)". A New Picture of London. Vol. 1. London. pp. 340 et seq.
  7. ^ a b c Summerson, John (1970). Architecture in Britain, 1530 to 1830. Pelican History of Art. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 309–353. ISBN 978-0-14-056103-6.
  8. ^ Malcolm, James Peller (10 June 1807). Londinium Redivivium, or, an Ancient History and Modern Description of London. Vol. 4. London. p. 202. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  9. ^ a b Sheppard, Francis (2000). London: a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 240. ISBN 0-19-285369-4.
  10. ^ Loth, Calder. "Soaring Steeple and Classical Portico". Sacred Architecture Journal. 26. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  11. ^ When built the church faced into on St Martin's Lane; and it was only much later, with the construction of Trafalgar Square, that it attained the prominence that it has today.
  12. ^ For the planning of Duncannon Street see Mace, Rodney (1975). Trafalgar Square: Emblem of Empire. London: Lawrence & Wishart. p. 36. ISBN 0-85315-367-1.
  13. ^ "London Gardens Trust: St Martin-in-the-Fields Churchyard". Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  14. ^ Novak, Fr. Victor (7 December 2012). "AS BIRDS FLYING, The Miracle of December 8th". Frnovak.blogspot.com. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
  15. ^ "History". The Connection at St-Martin-in-the-fields. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  16. ^ "History". St Martin-in-the-Fields. Archived from the original on 16 October 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  17. ^ "St Martin in the Fields Band of Bell Ringers Website". St Martin in the Fields Band Of Bell Ringers. Archived from the original on 12 February 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2015.
  18. ^ Boyz (20 December 2018). "Putting the camp into Campanology: Bellringing with the Friends of Dorothy Society". Boyz. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  19. ^ "Friends of Dorothy Society - LGBT Archive". lgbthistoryuk.org. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  20. ^ Mullen, Wayne (2001). Deccan Queen : a spatial analysis of Poona in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. OCLC 271844262.
  21. ^ King George I was a churchwarden and Queen Mary attended services regularly.
  22. ^ This falls within its parish, and the Trafalgar Square link strengthens the bond — the church flies the White Ensign of the Royal Navy rather than the Union Flag, and traditionally the church bells are rung to proclaim a naval victory.
  23. ^ Historic England. "St Martin in the Fields Almshouses, Numbers 1–9 (1272268)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
  24. ^ "London Family History: St Martin-in-the-Fields". Archived from the original on 20 August 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  25. ^ "About Us". St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  26. ^ "About". The Connection at St Martin's. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  27. ^ "Humphry, William Gilson (HMHY832WG)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  28. ^ Beeson, Trevor (30 November 2007). Round the Church in 50 Years: A Personal Journey. London: SCM Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780334041481. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  29. ^ "St. Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square [A00304]". National Pipe Organ Register.

External links[edit]

51°30′32″N 0°07′37″W / 51.50889°N 0.12694°W / 51.50889; -0.12694