St Martin-in-the-Fields

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St Martin-in-the-Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
Architect(s)James Gibbs
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St Martin-in-the-Fields

St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
Architect(s)James Gibbs

St Martin-in-the-Fields is an English Anglican church at the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, London. It is dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours. There has been a church on the site since the medieval period. The present building was constructed to a Neoclassical design by James Gibbs in 1722–1724.


Roman era[edit]

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

Excavations at the site in 2006 led to the discovery of a grave dated about 410.[1] 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, and this is leading to a reappraisal of Westminster's importance at that time. The burial is thought by some to mark a Christian centre of that time (possibly reusing the site or building of a pagan temple).

Medieval and Tudor[edit]

The earliest extant reference to the church is from 1222, with a dispute between the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of London as to who had control over it. It was decided in favour of Westminster, and used by the monks of Westminster Abbey.[citation needed]

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

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

Seventeenth century[edit]

By the reign of James I the church was becoming inadequate for the congregation, due to the great increase in population in the area. In 1606 the king granted an acre of ground on the west side of St. Martin's Lane for a new churchyard,[2] and the building was enlarged eastwards over the old burial ground, increasing the length of the church by about half.[3] At the same time the church was, in the phrase of the time, thoroughly "repaired and beautified".[3]Later in the 17th century capacity was increased with the addition of galleries, and 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.[2]

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,[3] supported with what Edward Hatton described as "Pillars of the Tuscan and Modern Gothick orders".[3] The interior was wainscotted in oak to a height of 6 feet (1.8 m), while the galleries, on the north, south and west sides, were of painted deal.[3]The church was about 84 feet (26 m) long and 62 feet (19 m) wide. The tower was about 90 feet (27 m) high.[3]


A survey of 1710 found that the walls and roof were in a state of decay. In 1720, an act was passed 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.[2]

The rebuilding commissioners selected James Gibbs to design the new church. His first suggestion was for a church with a circular nave and a domed ceiling,[4] but this was considered too expensive, and Gibbs then produced a simpler rectilinear plan, which was accepted. The foundation stone was laid on 19 March 1722, and the last stone of the spire was placed in position in December 1724. The total cost was £33,661 including the architect's fees.[2]

Present church[edit]

Interior of St Martin-in-the-Fields

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 was influenced by 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 its west wall, so that it rises above the roof, immediately behind the portico,[4] an arrangement previously used by John James at St George, Hanover Square (1712–24), though James' steeple was much less ambitious.[5] The spire of St Martin’s rises 192 feet above the level of the church floor.[2]

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 with cherubs, clouds, shells and scroll work, by Giuseppe Artari and Bagutti.[2]

Until the creation of Trafalgar Square in the 1820s, Gibbs’s church was crowded in by other buildings. J.P. Malcolm, writing in 1807, said that the 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“.[6]

The design was criticised widely at the time, but subsequently became extremely famous, being copied particularly widely in the United States.[7] In India, St Andrews Church, Egmore, Madras (now Chennai) is a copy of this church.

Various 18th-century notables were soon buried in the new church, including the émigré sculptor 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[8]), along with Jack Sheppard in the adjoining churchyard. This churchyard, which lay on the south side of the church, was removed to make way for Duncannon Street, cut through in the 19th century to provide access to the newly-created Trafalgar Square.[9]

Recent times[edit]

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. Its ethos as the "Church of the Ever Open Door" (a title coined by Dick Sheppard, Vicar in the early 20th century when the work with homeless people was started) continues today, even though it is not possible for it literally to be the case. It is famous for its work with homeless people through The Connection at St Martin's[10] which shares with The Vicar's Relief Fund the money raised each year by the BBC Radio 4 Appeal's Christmas appeal.[11]

There is a café in the crypt, where jazz concerts are held. All profits from this go to the work of the church. The crypt is also home to the London Brass Rubbing Centre, an art gallery and a 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. [12]

Twelve historic bells from St Martin-in-the-Fields are included in the peal of the Swan Bells tower in Perth, Western Australia.

Before embarking for the Middle East Campaign, Edmund Allenby was met by General Beauvoir de Lisle at the Grosvenor House 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.[13]

Royal connections[edit]

The church has a close relationship with the Royal Family, whose parish church it is,[14] as well as with 10 Downing Street and the Admiralty.[15]


The church had its own almhouses and pension-charity, established on 21 September 1886. Its 19 trustees administered almshouses for women, providing them with a weekly stipend. The almshouses were built in 1818 on part of the parish burial ground in Camden Town and St Pancras and replaced ones built in 1683.[16]



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.

List of organists[edit]

West end and organ by J. W. Walker

Organists include:

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 St Martin of Tours. The school's Latin motto Caritate et disciplina translates as "With love and learning".[7] The school is Christian but accepts girls of all faiths.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ BBC News
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap G. H. Gater and F. R. Hiorns (editor) (1940). "The church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields: Description". Survey of London: volume 20: St Martin-in-the-Fields, pt III: Trafalgar Square & Neighbourhood. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Hatton, Edward (1708). "St. Martin's Church (in the fields)". A New Picture of London 1. London. pp. .340 et seq. 
  4. ^ a b Summerson, John (1970). Architecture in Britain, 1530 to 1830. Pelican History of Art. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. pp. 350–3. 
  5. ^ Summerson, John (1970). Architecture in Britain, 1530 to 1830. Pelican History of Art. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 309. 
  6. ^ Malcolm, James Peller (1807). Londinium Redivivium, or, an Ancient History and Modern Description of London 4. London. p. 202. 
  7. ^ a b Sheppard, F.H.W. (1998). London : a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-822922-4. 
  8. ^ When built the church faced into on St Martin's Lane; and it was only much later, with the building of Trafalgar Square, that it attained the prominence that it has today.
  9. ^ For the planning of Duncannon Street see Mace, Rodney (1975). Trafalgar Square:Emblem of Empire. London: Lawrence & Wishart. p. 36. ISBN 0853153671. 
  10. ^ Connection at St Martins website
  11. ^ "The St Martin-in-the-Fields BBC Radio 4 Christmas Appeal". St Martin-in-the-Fields. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  12. ^ Give Light to St Martin's website
  13. ^ Fr. Victor E. Novak (2012-12-07). "Fr. Novak's Blog: AS BIRDS FLYING, The Miracle of December 8th". Retrieved 2013-11-16. 
  14. ^ King George I was a churchwarden and Queen Mary attended regularly.
  15. ^ 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's bells are rung to proclaim a naval victory.
  16. ^ [1][dead link]
  17. ^ "Humphry, William Gilson". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  18. ^ Trevor Beeson, Round the Church in 50 Years: A Personal Journey (2007), p. 149
  19. ^ New Bishop of Salisbury Announced at
  20. ^ Morning Post - Saturday 18 April 1857

External links[edit]

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