St Peter upon Cornhill

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
St. Peter upon Cornhill
Photo from corner of Cornhill and Gracechurch Street
Country England
Denomination Church of England
Heritage designation Grade I listed building
Architect(s) Sir Christopher Wren
Style Baroque
Parish St Helen's Bishopsgate
Diocese London

St Peter upon Cornhill is an Anglican church on the corner of Cornhill and Gracechurch Street in the City of London of medieval origin. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. It is now a satellite church in the parish of St Helen's Bishopsgate and is used for staff training, bible studies and a youth club. The St Helen's church office controls access to St Peter's.[1]

The church was used by the Tank Regiment after the Second World War, subsumed under St Helen's Bishopsgate.

Early history[edit]

The church of St Peter upon Cornhill stands on the highest point of the City of London. A tradition grew up that the church was of very ancient origin and was the seat of an archbishop until coming of the Saxons in the 5th century, after which London was abandoned and Canterbury became the seat for the 6th-century Gregorian mission to the Kingdom of Kent.[2]

The London historian John Stow, writing at the end of the 16th century, reported "there remaineth in this church a table whereon is written, I know not by what authority, but of a late hand, that King Lucius founded the same church to be an archbishop's see metropolitan, and chief church of his kingdom, and that it so endured for four hundred years".[3] The "table" (tablet) seen by Stow was destroyed when the medieval church was burnt in the Great Fire,[4] but before this time a number of writers had recorded what it said. The text of the original tablet as printed by John Weever in 1631 began:

Be hit known to al men, that the yeerys of our Lord God an clxxix [AD 179]. Lucius the fyrst christen kyng of this lond, then callyd Brytayne, fowndyd the fyrst chyrch in London, that is to sey, the Chyrch of Sent Peter apon Cornhyl, and he fowndyd ther an Archbishoppys See, and made that Chirch the Metropolitant, and cheef Chirch of this kingdom...[5]

A replacement, in the form of an inscribed brass plate, was set up after the Great Fire[4] and still hangs in the church vestry today. The text of the brass plate has been printed several times, for example by George Godwin in 1839,[6] and an engraving of it was included in Robert Wilkinson's Londina Illustrata (1819–25).[7]

In 1444 a "horsemill" was given to St Peter's. The bells of St Peter are mentioned in 1552, when a bell foundry in Aldgate was asked to cast a new bell.

Present building[edit]

From Gracechurch street

The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The parish tried to patch it up, but between 1677 and 1684 it was rebuilt to a design by Christopher Wren at a cost of £5,647.[citation needed] The new church was 10 feet (3.0 m) shorter than its predecessor, the eastern end of the site having been given up to widen Gracechurch Street.[8]

St Peter's was described by Ian Nairn as having "three personalities inextricably sewn into the City".[9] The eastern frontage to Gracechurch Street is a grand stone-faced composition, with five arched windows between Ionic pilasters above a high stylobate. The pilasters support an entablature; above that is a blank attic storey, then a gable with one arched window flanked by two round ones. The north and south sides are stuccoed and much simpler in style. Unusually, shallow 19th-century shops have survived towards Cornhill, squeezed between the church and the pavement. The tower is of brick, its leaded cupola topped with a small spire, which is in turn surmounted by a weather vane in the shape of St. Peter’s key.[6][10]

The interior is aisled, with square arcade piers[11] resting on the medieval pier foundations. The nave is barrel vaulted, while the aisles have transverse barrel vaults.[10] Unusually for a Wren church, there is a screen marking the division between nave and chancel. This was installed at the insistence of the rector at the time of rebuilding, William Beveridge.[12]

Charles Dickens mentions the churchyard in "Our Mutual Friend". A theatre group called The Players of St Peter were formed at the church in 1946 and performed there until 1987.[13] They are now based at St Clement Eastcheap where its members perform medieval mystery plays each November.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.[14]

Features and points of interest[edit]


In June 1834, the 14-year-old Elizabeth Mounsey became the organist of St. Peter's.

The organ in the gallery of St Peter's has an autographed souvenir quote from a Bach Passacaglia on display, which Felix Mendelssohn gave to Elizabeth Mounsey, on 30 September 1840 after he gave an impromptu performance the church's organ.[15]


In the 1830s, the notable missionary William Jowett was a lecturer at the church.[16]


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Allen, Thomas; Wright, Thomas (1839). The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark and Parts Adjacent. 3. London: George Virtue. pp. 447–50. 
  3. ^ Stow, John (1842). A Survey of London, Written in the Year 1598. London: Whittaker & Co. p. 73. 
  4. ^ a b Newcourt, Richard (1708). Repertorium Ecclesiasticum Parochiale Londinense: An Ecclesiastical Parochial History of the Diocese of London. I. London: C. Bateman. p. 522. 
  5. ^ Weever, John (1631). Ancient Funerall Monuments. London. p. 413. 
  6. ^ a b Godwin, George; John Britton (1839). The Churches of London: A History and Description of the Ecclesiastical Edifices of the Metropolis. London: C. Tilt. 
  7. ^ Wilkinson, Robert (1819–25). Londina Illustrata. London: Robert Wilkinson.  An illustration of Wilkinson's engraving is accessible at "Tufts Digital Library". Tufts University. Digital Collections and Archives: MS004.002.056.DO01.00049. Retrieved 6 April 2013. 
  8. ^ Jenkinson, Wilberforce (1917). London Churches Before the Great Fire. London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledgr. pp. 120–3. 
  9. ^ Nairn, Ian (1966). Nairn's London. Harmondsworth: Peguin Books. p. 27. 
  10. ^ a b Bradley, Simon and Pevsner, Nikolaus. London: The City Churches. New Haven, Yale, 1998. ISBN 0-300-09655-0 p.123
  11. ^ Malcolm, James Peller (1807). Londinium Redivivium, or, an Ancient History and Modern Description of London. 4. London. 
  12. ^ Hatts, Leigh. London City Churches, 2003, p.84 ISBN 978-0-9545705-0-7
  13. ^ Players of St Peter cast lists
  14. ^ Historic England. "Details from image database (199403)". Images of England.  accessed 23 January 2009
  15. ^ Musical Times: 719. 1 November 1905.  Missing or empty |title= (help) In addition to the Passacaglia, he played Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E minor, and his own Prelude and Fugue in C minor, Op. 37, No. 1 and another fugue in F minor.
  16. ^ Goodwin, G., revised by H. C. G. Matthew, 'Jowett, William (1787–1855), missionary', in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′47.7″N 0°5′4.5″W / 51.513250°N 0.084583°W / 51.513250; -0.084583