St Stephen Coleman Street
|St. Stephen Coleman Street|
|Denomination||Church of England|
St. Stephen's Church, Coleman Street was a church in the City of London, at the corner of Coleman Street and what is now Gresham Street, first mentioned in the 13th century. Destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666, it was rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. The church was destroyed again, by bombing in 1940, and was never rebuilt.
St. Stephen's was one of two City churches dedicated to the Christian protomartyr St. Stephen who, by tradition, suffered lapidation in Jerusalem in about 35 AD. Coleman Street itself is named after the charcoal burners who used to live there. During the reign of Henry III, the church is recorded as St. Stephen in the Jewry owing to its situation in the quarter of London inhabited by many Jews. John Stow asserted, incorrectly, that the building had been used as a synagogue.
The earliest surviving reference to the church is to “the parish of St. Stephen colemanstrate” during the reign of King John. Two centuries later, the church is recorded as a chapel of ease to St. Olave Old Jewry. It regained parochial status in the middle of the 15th century.
In 1431, John Sokelyng, who owned a neighbouring brewery called ‘La Cokke on the hoop’, died and left a bequest to St. Stephen’s on the condition that Mass be sung on the anniversary of his death and that of his two wives. The gift was commemorated by a cock in a hoop motif that would decorate the church until 1940 and can still be seen in parish boundary markers.
Early in the 17th century, St. Stephen's became a Puritan stronghold. John Davenport, the vicar appointed in 1624, later resigned to become a Nonconformist pastor. His successor, John Goodwin, was also a prominent Puritan preacher. Goodwin was ejected from St Stepehn's in 1645 for setting up a covenanted community within his parish and was briefly imprisoned after the Restoration for his political views. The five Members of Parliament impeached by Charles I repaired to Coleman Street in early 1642 when his troops were searching for them, and during the Commonwealth, communion was only allowed to those passed by a committee comprising the vicar and 13 parishioners – 2 of whom had signed the death warrant of Charles I.
The church was renovated at the cost of the parishioners in 1622, and a gallery was added over the south aisle in 1629.
Rebuilding after the Great Fire
After its destruction in the Great Fire of London in 1666, the church was rebuilt on its old foundations. Work on the exterior was completed in 1677. In 1691, further funds were provided from the coal tax to build a gallery and a burial vault. The total cost of restoration was £4,517.
Wren's church retained the plan of its medieval predecessor, which was in the form of an irregular quadrilateral that tapered towards the east. The walls were made from brick and rubble covered with stucco, only the south and east fronts being exposed. The main façade, at the east end, towards Coleman Street, was faced with Portland stone with rusticated corners, and had a circular pediment between two pineapples. Between the pediment and the large round-headed window below was a carving of a cock between two swags. The south front had five large round-headed windows.
The tower was on the north west, barely visible from the street. It had a small leaded bell lantern, on top of which was a gilded vane in the form of a cock. The height of the tower to the top of the lantern was 85 feet (26 m).
The interior was a single space, undivided by piers or columns, with a flat ceiling, coved at the sides, the coving pierced by round-headed windows. The chancel was raised one step above the rest of the church. The church measured about 75 feet (23 m) long and 35 feet (11 m) wide. In 1676-77 the carver William Newman was employed to produce the altar-table and rails, and the altar-piece.
Until the early 19th century there was only one gallery, housing the organ at the west end. Then however, despite the low interior – about 24 feet (7.3 m) high – further galleries, supported on iron columns, were added; one in 1824, on the south side, and two in 1827, one on the north side and another, for children above the organ gallery. There was a small graveyard to the north of the church and a paved yard to the south. Over the gateway to the latter was a relief depicting the last judgement.
An organ was provided by John Avery in 1775.
The church suffered slight damage from bombing in 1917. It was destroyed, along with all its fittings, by German bombing in the Blitz on 29 December 1940. The church was not rebuilt; instead its parish was combined with that of St Margaret Lothbury.
- List of Christopher Wren churches in London
- List of churches rebuilt after the Great Fire but since demolished
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- A.T. Bolton and H.D. Hendry (eds), The Parochial Churches of Sir Christopher Wren, Wren Society X Part 2 (Oxford University Press 1933), pp. 28, 31-32. Bolton and Hendry (eds), The City Churches, Vestry Minutes and Churchwardens' Accounts, Wren Society XIX (Oxford University Press 1942), p. 53.
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- Allen, Thomas; Wright, Thomas (1839). The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark and Parts Adjacent. 3. London: George Virtue. p. 408.
- George Godwin thought the galleries "give a mean appearance to the whole edifice"