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St. Giles-in-the-Fields, WC2

Giles (St.) in-the-Fields, at the east end of Oxford Street was originally a village separated from London and Westminster by broad fields, and its church was so designated to distinguish it from St. Giles, Cripplegate. In 1413 Sir John Oldcastle was charged by the Parliament with having 20,000 rebels apud villam et parochiam Sancti Egidii extra Barram veteris Templi, London and forming a great camp there.

It was on this account, perhaps, that five years afterwards St Giles’s field, instead of Smithfield, was selected for his place of execution. Later, when the fields had been encroached on and new streets formed, St Giles, still in the fields, used to be spoken of as a town. Thus, in 1605, an Act was passed for paving Drury Lane and the Town of St. Giles.

The preamble runs: “Whereas the Town of St Giles-in-the-Fields, and that part thereof which leadeth to Holbome, and the lane called Drury Lane, leading firom St Giles-in-the-Fields towards the Strand and towards New Inn, is of late years, by occasion of the continual rode there, and of the carriages, become deep, foul, and dangerous to all that pass those ways.”

The hospital chapel became the parochial church when the parish of St Giles was formed, and the building remained until 1623, when it was demolished. In 1617 orders were given for building a steeple and buying new bells, but when the alterations were made it was found that some of the walls were so rotten and decayed as to be in danger of falling down, and in the end it was found necessary to pull the whole building down. The sum of £1065:9s. was subscribed by 415 householders.

The total number of souls in the parish at this period did not exceed, perhaps
not reach, 2000. The subscriptions therefore upon an average exceeded 10s. 6d.
for each parishioner, old and young, when 10s. 6d. was equal to 40s. of our money,
an example of liberality and munificence rarely equalled. — Parton’s Account of St.
Giles-in-the-Fields

Upwards of £450 were received from non-parishioners, and nearly  £240 from various parishes of London in addition to that collected from the residents.

The new church was consecrated by Archbishop Laud, as he  records in the History of his Troubles on January 23, 1630-1631. It bwas built of rubbed brick, and defaced by the Puritans ; the church-wardens’ accounts exhibiting a payment of 4s. 6d. “to the painter, for washing the twelve apostles off the organ loft”.

The second Earl of  Chesterfield (one of the De Grammont men) lived in Bloomsbury Square, and had a pew in this church, which (December 19, 1689)  Lord Weymouth wrote to borrow from him for Lady Nottingham.
His reply might have been envied by his grandson : —

As to what your Lordship mentions concerning the Lady Nottingham’s desire of
baling my pew in St Giles, your Lordship may assure her Ladyship that it is
absolutely at her devotion, and that I shall afterward think it the more sanctified by
her Ladyship’s using it I doe not know whither I may presume to covenant with
her Ladyship for saying one little prayer for me every time she is there, because I
believe that her petitions are always granted. — Chesterfield Letters p. 360.

The incumbent at this time was John Sharp, afterwards Archbishop of  York ; ”a man of learning and fervent piety, a preacher of great fame, and an exemplary parish priest.” From this pulpit he preached a sermon against Popery which gave the direst offence to James II., and led to the establishment of the High Commission Court with Judge Jeffreys at the head of it

The present church is a substantial structure of Portland stone, and  comprises chancel with altar recess, nave with aisles divided from it by columns of the Ionic order (65 feet long by 60 feet wide), and a stone tower and spire 165 feet high to the vane.

The building was com-menced in 1731, after articles of agreement had been entered into  with Henry Flitcroft, the architect, who contracted to take down the old church and build a new one on the same grotmd before the end of 1733. It was preached in for the first time on April 14, 1734.

In St Giles the architect has followed too closely Gibbs’s church of St Martin’s. The cost of the church was partly defrayed out of the fund provided for building the fifty new churches, a mode of appropriating the fund which was very strongly and properly objected to at  the time. Parliament was petitioned for this purpose, and the petition of the parish was strenuously supported by the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Chancellor Macclesfield, and other eminent parishioners, to whom the thanks of the parish were voted. It was opposed by Dawes, Archbishop of York, and five bishops with eleven temporal peers, who protested on five grounds, the chief one being ‘that it was a bad precedent to rebuild old churches out of a fund appropriated for building new ones.

Eminent Persons buried in.

Geoige Chapman, the translator of Homer (d. 1634) : Inigo Jones erected an upright oblong tomb to his memory, at his own expense, still to be seen in the churchyard, against the south wall of the church ; the monument part alone is old ; the inscription is a copy of all that remained visible. The celebrated Lord Herbert of Cherbury (d.1648). James Shirley, the dramatist, and his wife, buried in the same grave on October 29, 1666. Richard Penderell, “preserver and conduct to his sacred Majesty King Charles II., after his escape from Worcester fight” (d. 1671); there is an altar tomb to his memory in the church- yard. Andrew Marvell (died 1678).

Ten years afterwards, vizt, in 1688, the town of Kingston upon Hull, to testify
her faithfull remembrance of his honest services to her, collected a sum of money to
erect a monument to his memory in the place of his burial in the above church, and
procured an able hand to compose an Epitaph ; but the parson of the parish would
not permit the monument or inscription to be placed there. — Biog, Brit. p. 3057
(where the Epitaph is given).

 

Thompson, the editor of Marvell*s works, searched in vain, in 1774,  for his coffin; he could find no plate of an earlier date than 1722.

Oliver Pluncket, Archbishop of Armagh, executed at Tyburn in 1681 (his body afterwards removed to Landsprug, in Germany). Major Michael Mohun, the celebrated actor (d. 1684). The profligate Countess of Shrewsbury, of whom Walpole reports the almost incredible anecdote of her having in the costume of a page held the horse of Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, while the duke killed her husband in a duel (d. 1702). John Browne, dramatist (d. 1703 or later). Sir Roger L’Estrange, the celebrated political writer (d. 1704).

The only monument of interest at present in the church is a  recumbent figure of the Duchess Dudley, created a duchess in her own  right by King Charles I. (d. 1669). This monument was preserved when the church was rebuilt, as a piece of parochial gratitude to one whose benefactions to the parish had been both frequent and liberal. The duchess is buried at Stoneleigh, in Warwickshire.

Over the street entrance to the churchyard is the Lich Gate, or Resurrection Gate, containing a bas-relief of the Day of Judgement, set up on the gate of the old church in 1687. The old gate was “of red and brown brick;” the present one, of stone, was erected about 1804, W. Leverton, architect. It was removed for street improvements in 1864-1865.

The church of St Giles-in-the-Fields has been twice robbed of its communion-plate — in 1675 and 1804; yet the parish (famous for its Rookery and long the abode of wretchedness, so that St Giles has become synonymous for squalor and dirt) could show its pound, its cage, its round-house and watch-house, its stocks, its whipping-post, and at one time its gallows.

Adjoining the old church of St Pancras is a burial-ground appertaining to the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields, but now united to the adjoining burial-ground of St Pancras, and converted into a garden open to the public.

The chapel was built and the ground laid out in 1804. Here, distinguished by an altar or table-tomb of brick, surmounted by a thick slab of Portland stone, are the graves of John Flaxman, the sculptor, his wife and sister. Here also is the tomb of Sir John Soane, architect of the Bank of England.



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