Hidden London : Christchurch Greyfriars Garden, Dick Whittington and Christopher Wren were former residents

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Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden:

The garden is on the site of the Franciscan Church of Greyfriars, which was established in 1225, following the arrival from Italy in 1224 of 9 monks of the Franciscan order, called Greyfriars from the colour of their clothing. Four of the Greyfriars came to London, the remainder went to Canterbury. They first had a temporary establishment in Cornhill; as their influence grew, a mercer called John Ewin then bought them a piece of land in the parish of St Nicholas Shambles and various buildings were erected, one Lord Mayor of London building them a choir, another the body of a church. In 1306 a larger church was commenced, with support from Edward I’s second wife Margaret and other influential benefactors, the second largest medieval church in the City. Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor, founded a library here in 1429. Numerous well-known people were buried in the old church, including four Queens being Margaret, wife of Edward I (d.1317), Isabel, wife of Edward II (d.1358), Joan of the Tower, wife of Edward Bruce King of Scotland and Isabel, one time Queen of the Isle of Man.

After the Dissolution the church was used to house spoils taken from the French, but in 1546 Henry VIII gave the various buildings of the Priory, together with the parish churches of St Ewin in Newgate Market and St Nicholas in the Shambles and part of that of St Sepulchre, to the Mayor and Corporation of London, to be formed into one parish of ‘Christ’s Church within Newgate, founded by Henry VIII ‘on condition that the Corporation provided a vicar and five priests, one to attend the prisoners at Newgate when required. In 1552 Christ’s Hospital was founded to the north, inhabiting a number of the Greyfriars’ buildings and using the church as its chapel; the school buildings were demolished in 1902 when the school moved out of London. The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilding of a new church designed by Wren commenced in 1687, completed in 1704. At that time the parish of St Leonard Foster Lane, burnt down but not rebuilt, was added to the parish of Christ Church. Wren’s church was smaller than the church it replaced, the remainder of the site to the west enclosed as the burial ground now a public garden called Newgate Street Garden (q.v.).

The body of the Wren church was gutted in 1940 and only the west tower now stands. It was decided not to rebuild the church although the steeple was restored by Lord Mottistone in 1960, with urns added to replace those removed in the C19th. The east wall of the church was demolished when the Corporation of London acquired the church site in 1963 for road widening in the 1960s. A rose garden was laid out in 1989 which copies the floor plan of the church. Rose beds and surrounding box hedge outline the nave of Wren’s church, with ten wooden towers in the beds representing the pillars that held up the roof. The garden has pergolas, seating and box-hedged beds, which represent the original position of the pews.

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