Food, Days Out and Travel stories from Brighton, London and the Rest of the World


A church trail in London from St Paul's to Southwark Cathedral with spectacular views of the Shard along route

One of the things I love most about London is the architecture, in particular, the magnificence and beauty of St Paul's stuns me every time. Right beside Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece are remains of other churches embellishing the skyline with intriguing reminders of London's past.

St Paul's Cathedral, London photo by Modern Bric a Brac

This is where the trail begins. Start at the northern end of St Paul's at Christchurch Greyfriars. Now only a tower remains but formerly this church held a very prestigious role and was chosen as the resting place of three medieval Queens.

Marguerite of France, second wife to King Edward I; Isabella, widow of Edward II andit was also where the heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III was buried.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII it became a parish church and then was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Although rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren it was again destroyed this time by bombing almost three hundred years later during the Second World War and now forms part of a public garden, a fitting resting place for the three Queens.

Christchurch, Greyfriars, near St Paul's Cathedral, London photo by Modern Bric a Brac

Christchurch, Greyfriars

From there head down Rose Street to St Paul's Cathedral, a landmark that has overlooked the city of London in its various guises since 604 AD.  The current building designed by Sir Christopher Wren was built between 1675 - 1710, after becoming another victim of the Great Fire of London.

Inside are countless treasures including a moving sculpture called Mother and Child by Henry Moore and the funeral effigy of John Donne.  Climb the dome to the Whispering Gallery, known because a whisper against its walls can be heard on the opposite side 100 feet away. Or descend into the crypt where Sir Christopher Wren is buried alongside Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

St Paul's Cathedral, London photo by Modern Bric a Brac

St Augustine, Watling Street
Outside St Paul's in close proximity is yet another Fire and Blitz casualty, St Augustine of Watling Street.  Again only the tower remains and now forms part of St Paul's Choir School.  There is a lovely story about a cat the church adopted around the time of World War II. Named Faith, the cat became quite well known after the air raid which destroyed St Augustine's in 1941.  Days before the bombing she was seen moving her kitten, Panda, to a basement area.  Despite being brought back several times, Faith insisted on returning Panda to her refuge.  On the morning after the air raid the rector searched through the dangerous ruins for the missing animals and eventually found Faith, surrounded by smouldering rubble and debris but still guarding the kitten in the spot she had selected three days earlier.  The story of her premonition and rescue eventually reached Maria Dickin, founder of the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, and for her courage and devotion Faith was awarded a specially-made silver medal.  Her death in 1948 was reported on four continents.

St Paul's Cathedral, London photo by Modern Bric a Brac

St Mary of Somerset tower, London, photo by modern bric a brac

Cross the road and head towards the Millennium bridge and as you do look to your left and you'll glimpse the remains of St. Mary Somerset. According to John Stow in 1370, this where the Brabant weaving community were ordered to meet by the Mayor of London. To prevent further disputes with Flemish weavers the churchyard of St Mary Somerset was chosen as the location for hiring serving men. Meanwhile the men from Flanders were ordered to meet a safe distance away in the churchyard of St Laurence Pountney.

Destroyed by the Great Fire, it was one of 51 churches rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. Located on Upper Thames Street, the rest of the church was demolished in 1871. It has a unique feature that creates an optical illusion of changing heights when viewed from different vantage points. At the top are eight Baroque pinnacles, four on each corner with panelled bases and scrolls and surmounted by vases.  Between each of these are 20 foot obelisks, with ball finials and these play with perspective.

View of St Paul's from the Millennium bridge

As you walk along the Thames in the direction of the Shard you'll pass Cardinal Cap Alley built in the late 16th century. This was possibly used originally as an access route to the Cardinal's Cap public house. Next to it is the oldest building on Cardinal Wharf, which dates from the 18th century.

On the wall is a placard commemorating Sir Christopher Wren having stayed there during the building of St. Paul's Cathedral. Although this turned out to be false, it meant that the building survived demolition like others on this side of the Thames.

Southwark Cathedral, London photo by modern bric a brac

After passing through a pedestrianised area the path opens up to reveal the great Southwark Cathedral.  Founded by St Swithun in 860 AD and known as the Church of St Mary Overie ("Overie" meaning "over the water") in the twelfth century it only gained the status of Cathedral in 1905.

At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the church became the property of King Henry VIII who rented it to the congregation and re-named it St Saviour's.  Eventually tired of renting their church for worship, a group of merchants from the congregation, known as 'the Bargainers', bought the church from King James I in 1611 for £800.  By this time the church served across a very colourful area, from merchants and minor courtiers, to actors, foreign craftsmen, and ladies from Bankside brothels.  And It's where John Harvard (the founder of Harvard College in Boston, America) was christened in 1607.

Southwark Cathedral and the shard, London photo by modern bric a brac

The Shard, London photo by modern bric a brac

Bringing the trail right up to date, four minutes away lies The Shard.  Construction began in 2003 and it opened 1 February 2013.  At a height of 306 metres this 87 storey skyscraper illustrates the startlingly new type of architecture to push heavenward.

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