A Wren Spire in Sydenham
The other evening, I was driving around Sydenham in south east London, and took a wrong turning. I pulled in to an access point which opened in to what looked like a small estate of modest 1970s housing so I could reverse out. In front of me, quite incongruously was what looked like a large stone monument, so obviously I got out for a closer look.
It turned out to be the spire of a long gone church that once stood in the City of London and had been built by none other than Christopher Wren.
Sir Christopher Wren is a name that pops up regularly on my walks. During the Great Fire of London in 1666, 87 churches were destroyed within the City of London, a small area, known today as ‘the square mile’. Wren, professor of astronomy at Oxford university at the time was responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of 51 of these churches; his most famous being St Paul’s cathedral, where he is also buried. Another famous spire of his is that of St Bride's church, said to have inspired the modern day wedding cake, which we pass on my regular Saturday morning 'pay what you want' London walking tour.
A few of these churches were demolished during the Victorian period, and most of the remainder were destroyed during the bombing of WW2, although a large number were restored. So how did the spire of one of Wren’s City churches end up in the middle of a housing estate in Sydenham?
The spire once belonged to a church called St Antholin’s which was completed in 1682 and stood on Budge Row, a street that no longer exists, just off Watling Street. It’s where the current New Change shopping centre now stands, literally a stone’s throw from St Paul’s cathedral. The spire was apparently damaged in 1829 and bought for £5 by a guy called Robert Harrild who had made his fortune by inventing a new bit of machinery used in the Fleet Street printing presses. He had the spire transported to his manor house, Round Hill House, in Sydenham and re-erected in his garden.
St Antholin’s church was demolished in 1875, and in the 1930s, Robert Harrild’s house became a social club, until it too was demolished in the 1960s. A housing estate was built on the site, but somehow Wren’s spire seems to have stayed where it was. Up until three years ago the spire was in a pretty dilapidated state, but has been restored by the Heritage of London Trust and the L&Q Housing Association.
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