I've visited the Barbican Centre many times and and got lost wandering the surrounding residential housing estates, but until last week I'd never set foot inside one of the City of London's few remaining medieval churches, which stands like a little island in the midst of a vast sea of brutalist architecture; St Giles' Cripplegate.
Officially, the church should be known as St Giles 'without' Cripplegate, as it originally stood just outside the city walls (churches inside the wall, being known as 'within') and one of the original six Roman gates, Cripplegate, which gave access out to the village of Islington and surrounding countryside. (The seventh gate, Moorgate was a 15th century addition). The name Cripplegate is sometimes said to refer to the cripples who used to gather outside the gate for alms, but is more unanimously understood to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word 'crepel', meaning a covered way or underground passage, which lead from the gate to the Barbican, a fortified watch tower built in to the city wall. The name Barbican is of course used for the area today.
A church has stood on the site for a thousand years, but not without incident. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was badly damaged in a fire in 1897. The biggest change occurred during the Blitz in World War II when the entire ward of Cripplegate was utterly destroyed. The church suffered a direct hit in the summer of 1940 and was then gutted by incendiary bombs at the end of that year, leaving a shell consisting of the outside walls, tower and some structural supports inside.
The church has some famous connections. John Milton, who wrote (or dictated) 'Paradise Lost' nearby, was buried in the church. Daniel Defoe, probably most famous for writing 'Robinson Crusoe' was born nearby. Oliver Cromwell was married in the church in 1620 and John Bunyan is said to have visited occasionally. You will find references and monuments to them all, and many others inside the church.
The most arresting thing for me upon visiting, was a small display of photographs, showing the area after the bombing of World War II. I think it's easy to forget just how much of London was turned to rubble, and if you imagine that the current Barbican Estate and the arts centre cover a 40 acre site, it was all a largely residential area that was eradicated by German bombs. The Barbican Estate (built between 1965 - 1976), currently houses about 4,000 residents, but after WWII it was apparently just 48. Now, as I have mentioned, the church stands in the middle of high rise buildings, walkways, schools and a world famous arts centre, but in the photos below, St Giles is as much of an island, but standing in the middle of a huge, bombed out wasteland.
When you step out of the church today, you are greeted by a quite different view from the one the people above would have experienced.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.