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29 March 2010

See St Mary le Strand

At the centre of one of the oldest parishes in London, St Mary le Strand now stands on a traffic island in the middle of a roadway which since prehistory has been the main route to the west from the City of London. We are told that in early Saxon times this was the very heart of London, and from the traffic volumes which rush past the church, it appears it still is.

There is, apparently, no record of when the first St Mary le Strand was founded, but the original church was just to the south of the current site, beneath what is now Somerset House. That church was knocked down in 1549 in order to build Somerset House, and a promised replacement never materialised. Wikipedia tells us that the site of the modern church was formerly occupied by a very pagan great maypole which was used for May Day festivities in the 16th and 17th century.

It wasn't until 1714 that construction began on the new St Mary le Strand, as the first new churches built under an Act of Parliament, passed for building 50 New Churches in the fast expanding suburbs of London. Since then, notable events apparently include the renunciation of the Catholic faith by Bonnie Prince Charlie on a secret visit to London in 1750, and the marriage of Charles Dickens' parents in in 1809. The church also escaped the Blitz and plans to demolish it and widen the Strand.

For more, see http://www.stmarylestrand.org/

1 comment:

  1. Your blog raises some nteresting questions.

    I realise the Duke of Somerset must have pulled down any houses and churches that stood on the site that he wanted for his new home, but that was a bit rich even for the Lord Protector. How ironic, then, that Somerset House served as one of the Royal palaces and not as a private home for the Duke’s family.

    Which leaves us asking where did the new church get placed? Was it squished into some part of Somerset House that had been left as garden space? Was it outside the Somerset property totally?

    Queen Anne’s splendid church-building programme must have gone ahead at a great pace. I wonder whose land she allocated to the new buildings?