History of St Giles'
St Giles' Cripplegate is one of the few remaining medieval churches in the City of London and, after surviving devastating bombing during the Blitz, it sits at the
heart of the modern Barbican development. It is thought that there has been a church on this spot for one thousand years. We know nothing about the early Saxon church, which was probably a little
chantry or chapel made of wattle and daub. In 1090, a Norman church stood on this site, built by Alfune, Bishop of London, who afterwards assisted Rahere, the founder of nearby St Bartholomew's, in
building the neighbouring church of St Bartholomew the Great.
Some time during the Middle Ages, the church was dedicated to St Giles. The church's full name is "St Giles' without Cripplegate". The name "Cripplegate" refers to one of the gates through the old City wall, which had its origins in Roman times as a fortification to protect the Roman city from attackers. There is no definitive explanation of the origin of the word 'Cripplegate'. It is thought unlikely that it is referring to cripples, although no doubt there would have been plenty of cripples by the Cripplegate, wanting alms from travellers as they entered and left the City. It is more likely that the word comes from the Anglo-Saxon "cruplegate" which means a covered way or tunnel, which would have run from the town gate of Cripplegate to the Barbican, a fortified watchtower on the City wall.
Sections of the old wall can still be seen near the church. The foundations are generally Roman but higher up, the structure dates from various times as it was regularly strengthened and rebuilt. In 1760 the Cripplegate, which up till then had been used as a storehouse and a prison, was sold to a carpenter in Coleman Street for £91 (a huge amount at that time). The church was situated outside the wall at the Cripplegate, hence its name of "St Giles' without Cripplegate".
As the population of the parish increased, the church was enlarged and it was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style in 1394, during the reign of Richard II. The stone tower was added in 1682. The church was damaged by fire on three occasions – in 1545, 1897 and 1940, see Surviving the Fires, below. The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950 and it was extensively restored in 1966.
The official title of the benefice is "St Giles Cripplegate with St Bartholomew, Moor Lane, St Alphage, London Wall and St Luke, Old Street with St Mary Charterhouse and St Paul, Clerkenwell."
Who was St Giles?
He is thought to have been a hermit, who lived in southern France in the 7th century AD: his feast day is 1 September. He is traditionally depicted with a hind and there are various stories as to why that should be so. According to a 10th-century biography, Giles was an Athenian from a wealthy family who gave away his inherited wealth, fled to France and made himself a hermitage in a forest near the mouth of the Rhone, where, we are told, he lived on herbs and the milk of a hind. This retreat was finally discovered by the hunters of the King of the Franks (one version gives the King's name as Flavius Wamba, another as Charles Martel), who had pursued the hind to its place of refuge. An arrow shot at the deer wounded Giles instead, as he put out his hand to protect the deer and was himself speared by the arrow. The king was so impressed by Giles' holiness that he built him a monastery on the site of the hermitage and made Giles its first abbot.
Giles later became the patron saint of cripples, beggars and blacksmiths. He is portrayed in the top left
frame of the east window in the church with a hind, and holding an arrow in his right hand. See East Window below
We are told that Giles was one of the most popular saints of Western Europe in the later middle ages. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church describes Giles as one of the 14 Auxiliary Saints or "Holy Helpers", venerated for the supposed efficacy of their prayers on behalf of those in need.
St Luke's, Old Street
The parish of St Giles amalgamated with the neighbouring parish of St Luke's, Old Street, in 1959 – which is perhaps somewhat ironic, because St Luke's had originally been built in the 18th century in part to help with the overflow of parishioners from St Giles'. St Luke's was designed by the architect John James and was one of 12 churches built under Queen Anne's 1711 Act to build more churches to cope with London's growing population. St Luke's famous and unusual obelisk spire, as well as the west tower and staircase wings, were designed by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, and the church opened in 1733.
Unfortunately, St Luke's was built on marshy ground and suffered from subsidence as the wood underpinning its foundations began to rot. In 1959 it was closed as it was considered dangerous, and it was partly dismantled in 1963, remaining a shell for 40 years. It has since been rebuilt with lottery money and it has become a concert hall, rehearsal and recording venue for the London Symphony Orchestra Click www.lso.co.uk/lso-st-luke-s for more information.
St Giles' had lost its furniture in the Blitz, and so when it amalgamated with St Luke's it inherited St Luke's furniture. The pews, the altar, and the font in the northwest corner of St Giles' all come from St Luke's.
Surviving the Fires
St Giles' has been extensively restored on three occasions after fire damage – though perhaps surprisingly, not in 1666, for the church survived the Great Fire of London.
The first fire occurred in 1545 during the reign of Henry VIII. Fortunately, the restoration plans from that year were found in Lambeth Palace. Godfrey Allen (1891-1986), an architect who was for many years surveyor to the fabric of St Paul's Cathedral, rebuilt St Giles' after the Second World War, and he used those plans to make the church as much as possible like the original.
The medieval church was built in the Perpendicular Gothic style, in which the emphasis, particularly in
the window tracery, is on vertical lines. Another prominent characteristic is that the spaces, both of the windows and between the columns of the arcade, should be generous. The columns themselves
are comparatively slender and made to look even more so by the mouldings with their thin, filleted, diagonal shafts. The narrow shafts in the clerestory add to the same effect. This provides a
spacious, open, light church.
The church escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666, but it was damaged in the Cripplegate Fire on 19 November 1897. This fire broke out in an ostrich feather warehouse, one of the many warehouses in Cripplegate, and it destroyed a total of 56 buildings, mostly warehouses, before it was brought under control by local fire brigades using 45 steam fire engines.
The church was much more severely damaged during the Second World War. There was a direct hit on the north door in the summer of 1940, and the following December the church was showered with so many incendiary bombs that even the cement caught alight. All that remained was the shell, the arcade in the chancel, the outside walls and the tower. That these survived says much for the medieval architects.
Although the roof, the furnishings and most of the monuments were destroyed, some valuable items were saved. These include the Church Registers, dating from 1561 and which are now held at the London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London, EC1R 0HB. Other saved items include two oil paintings of previous vicars – one of which, of Dr William Nicholls, is on display under the tower – our silverware and vestments, and the 19th-century brass eagle lectern, which you can see in the chancel, a memorial to Bishop Andrewes. These had been stored away in the muniment or archive room, which was separated from the main body of the church by only a few feet, but which escaped all the bombs. Around the windows on the north wall of the church, the inside stonework has been left blackened to show the effect of the incendiary bombs.
The bombing of Cripplegate in 1940 was so extensive that barely any buildings remained standing in the entire ward. By 1951, only 48 people were registered as living within the ward. It was this widespread devastation which led to planners envisaging and eventually building the modern Barbican estate and arts centre, starting in 1965. There is a fascinating collection of photographs showing St Giles' and the Cripplegate area during and after the Second World War on the display boards in the southwest corner of the church.
St Giles' interior and its furniture
The interior of St Giles' is spacious, with arcades of pillars separating the north and south aisles from the nave. The main difference between the present and the medieval church is that the separation of the chancel and the nave has become less obvious. There is now little to show the difference, except the corbels representing musicians which support the clerestory shafts of the original chancel. What appears to be a remarkably truncated chancel is just that, for the end wall was once extended further back.
Part of the medieval church can be still be seen on the right of the east window, where it has been
deliberately exposed for visitors to see. Here is the sedilia, where the priests sat, and the piscine, used for washing communion vessels. The tiles in the arch here are of Roman origin. The floor
was raised during Queen Victoria's reign, when also the outside walls were surfaced with Kentish ragstone, a few windows were altered, and some stained glass was put in the church.
The chancel arch dates only from the post-war rebuilding. The small heads at the lower ends of the outer courses are of Bishop Andrewes and Sir Martin Frobisher. A small portion of an earlier arch is visible in the south aisle.
The furniture, including the pews, the altar and the 18th-century font in the northwest corner of the
church, comes from St Luke's Church, Old Street (see St Luke's, above). As St Giles' had lost much of its furniture in the Blitz, it was lucky to find replacements from the other half of the current
The old choir stalls have been removed to the south aisle of the church and replaced by the present light oak furniture, donated by, amongst others, the Barbers', Salters' and Gardeners' Companies. The pews are not fixed to the floor, meaning that they can be moved to accommodate the many musical and other events that take place in the church. In November 2013, for example, the pews were moved to the aisles to create a dramatic stage set for the Barbican's production of Curlew River, part of the series of events celebrating the centenary of Sir Benjamin Britten.
The display cabinet in the south wall contains Cripplegate's historic treasures. On the bottom shelf is the Communion plate of St Luke's Church, used by John Wesley, who worshipped and took services there. Above is the beautiful silverware on loan to St Giles' from the Cripplegate Foundation. There is a horn beaker from the reign of Elizabeth I, three wine cups from the time of James I, a George III snuff box, a George IV pepperpot, the Beadle's badge of office dated 1693, and a 16th-century mazer bowl (drinking bowl or goblet).
On the top shelf are two Communion flagons, one being bequeathed to the church by John Pritchett, vicar here from 1664-1682, shortly after the restoration of Charles II, and who was for some time the Bishop of Gloucester. Also in the cabinet is the Cripplegate Workhouse Beadle's stave of 1704 and the Churchwarden's stave of St Giles', dated 1685.
Along the south wall, just above the small door, is a square tablet recording the death in 1634 of Margaret Lucy, the great-granddaughter of Sir Thomas Lucy, who was buried in the church in the same year. He is said to be satirised by Shakespeare as Justice Shallow in King Henry IV Part II and The Merry Wives of Windsor. It is said that Shakespeare had to escape from Stratford-upon-Avon because he was going to be prosecuted for stealing deer from Charlecote Park, owned by Sir Thomas. Shakespeare fled to Cripplegate to stay with his brother, Edmund – and if he had attended St Giles' he would have bumped into the Lucy family, as it was their parish church! Edmund, who was an actor like his brother and who is buried in Southwark Cathedral, had two sons who were baptised in St Giles', and tradition has it that William Shakespeare acted as the chief witness.
In the main body of the church, attached to a pillar on the right, is a sword rest, replacing one destroyed during the Second World War. Its function is to house the ceremonial swords carried on state occasions. This one contains the coats-of-arms of the five Aldermen of Cripplegate who became Lord Mayors of London, including Sir John Baddeley, Sir Peter Studd and Sir Allan Davis. Nearby was buried the body of John Foxe, who died in 1587 and is profiled in Famous local residents below. He would give sermons at St Giles' which were two to three hours long!
Under the organ gallery are four busts of famous parishioners, on
loan to St Giles' from the Cripplegate Foundation. They were modelled by the sculptor George Frampton, whose most famous statue is that of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. On the left as you enter the space under the gallery is the bust of Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, who was also a government agent, pamphleteer, and brick-maker amongst other roles. The next bust is of the author John Milton, perhaps the most famous resident to be buried at St Giles'. He is also commemorated with a bust and a statue in the south aisle, and his burial place is marked by a stone on the floor near the pulpit. On the other side of the glass doors are busts of Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England during the Protectorate in the 1650s, and the non-conformist John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, who is buried in the dissenter's graveyard of Bunhill Fields, a short walk from St Giles'. These four are profiled in Famous local residents below.
The tower dates from the 1394 rebuilding of the church. At its base there is some of the original stone
from 1090. Extensive alterations to the tower were begun in 1682. Its upper portions were taken down, together with the pinnacles erected in 1629. Fifteen feet of red brick-work was then added,
followed by what has been described as "a low cupola enclosed in a pinnacle, with, at the angles, corresponding cupolas of a smaller size. Upon the platform is a raised circular arcade of wood,
covered with a low pyramidical roof, forming an open turret."
The upper part of the tower and the turret has never been altered, and with the exception of small repairs are now in precisely the same form as when first built. The clock was put in during the reign of George I. The height of the tower from the pavement to the top of the cupola is 120 feet. In 2012-13, the church undertook an extensive project to refurbish the tower, clock and exterior of the church, conducted by Daedalus Conservation under guidance from architect Patrick Crawford of Caroe & Partners. The work was funded by grants from the City Churches Grants Committee, English Heritage and others, and information about this project is on the display boards in the southwest corner of the church.
Under the tower is a portrait of Dr William Nicholls, the first rector of St Luke's and also the vicar of St Giles', who incumbency lasted more than 40 years, from 1729-1774.
On the north wall of the tower are two plaques listing the Rectors of St Luke's and the Vicars of St
Giles'. The last Rector of St Luke's was Edward Rogers. In 1966 the parishes of St Luke's and St Giles' were combined and Edward became the Rector of the combined parish. The earliest vicar of St
Giles' was Aylward. We know little about these early clerics because many of our parish records were destroyed in the 1545 fire and in the Great Fire of London in 1666. However, we know something
about Thomas Sworder, vicar here in about 1500, as his brother John, the Rector of Harlow in Essex, left a bequest to the church that is worth about £5,000 per annum and continues to benefit us
We know more about the later vicars, whose careers reflect the political and religious changes of their times. The incumbency of St Giles' was an important one, and many incumbents were or became bishops or archdeacons. Lancelot Andrewes became Bishop of Chichester, of Ely, and later of Winchester, and his successor, John Buckeridge, was Bishop of Rochester. John Dolben became the Archbishop of York and both John Pritchett and Edward Fowler became the Bishop of Gloucester. George Hand was the Archdeacon of Dorset; Frederick Blomberg, a friend of the Duke of Cambridge, the cousin of Queen Victoria, was the Archdeacon of Middlesex; and William Hale was the Archdeacon of London.
In 1966, the parishes or St Luke's and St Giles' were combined and Edward Rogers became the first rector of the combined parish. In 2000, Katharine Rumens became the first woman rector of St Giles'.
Important windows in St Giles'
The East Window
In the 19th century, the use of stained glass throughout the church made the interior very dark, so Godfrey Allen, who undertook the post-war restoration of St Giles', used stained glass in only the east and west windows in order to make the church as light as possible.
The East Window was designed by Gerald Smith of the Nicholson Studios, a London-based stained glass studio, which made the window in 1960. The firm's output covered the years of restoration following both World Wars. After the medievalism of the Gothic Revival and the intense spirituality of the Arts and Crafts movement, Nicholson and Smith's inventive, light, plain windows were much appreciated.
The East Window follows the pattern of the medieval window, of which traces came to light as a result of war damage. The design incorporates many figures of historical significance to the church, as well as the instruments of the crucifixion at the top.
Top row, left to right
St Giles: the story of St Giles is told above. In the East Window he is depicted with a hind and an arrow, recalling the story that he was shot in the hand as he tried to protect the hind from being shot by the King of the Franks. He is also commemorated by the stone statue outside the church over the north door, and at the top of the west window, where he is depicted with a crutch, as it is thought he was lame.
St Mary: the mother of Jesus holds a white lily to symbolise her purity. In scenes of the Annunciation, the Angel Gabriel is sometimes depicted presenting Mary with a lily.
Christ in Glory
St John the Evangelist: he is shown with his symbol of an eagle, to illustrate the Gospel being carried throughout the world.
St Paul: he is depicted holding his symbols of a sword and a book. The tradition is that he was beheaded, hence the sword, and the book represents the letters to he wrote the churches. The Dean and Chapter of St Paul's are the patrons of St Giles' Cripplegate, carrying a responsibility for St Giles' and its rectors.
Bottom row, left to right
St George: the patron saint of England, he has no direct connection with the parish.
St Alphege: his connection with St Giles' is that the former church of St Alphege, now a ruin, is now part of our parish. St Alphege was beaten to death with the jawbone of an ox by the Danes at Greenwich. Tradition has it that when his body was being rowed over the Thames for burial at Canterbury, the boat was steered by King Canute, our Danish King. The ruins of the church dedicated to St Alphege can still be seen as you walk along the podium parallel to London Wall.
St Anselm: an Archbishop of Canterbury, he is depicted with a hare at his feet as he was opposed to hare coursing. He was the Archbishop when the first stone church was built on this spot in 1090 in the reign of William Rufus (William II). Nothing remains of that stone church except a few stones in the tower.
Bishop Lancelot Andrewes: the most famous vicar of St Giles', see his profile in Famous local residents below.
St Bartholomew: he is of much local interest. Neighbouring churches dedicated to this saint are St Bartholomew the Great and St Bartholomew the Less, which is in the grounds of the nearby Hospital (known as 'Barts'). Alfune, Bishop of London, responsible for building the first stone church on this site in 1090, was a contemporary of Rahere, the founder of St Bartholomew's Church and Hospital, and was himself one of the first Hospitallers.
The West Window
This was designed by the Faircraft Studios and installed in 1968. In the centre is the coat-of-arms of the City of London, which is flanked on its left by the coat-of-arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and on its right by that of the Bishop of London. In the lower frame, from left to right, are the coats-of-arms of Robert Glover, Somerset Herald of Arms in the reign of Henry VIII, who was buried in the church; of John Milton; of the Earls of Bridgewater; Oliver Cromwell, and Sir Martin Frobisher. There were ten Earls of Bridgewater and three Earls of Kent buried in the church. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the wealthy classes were building their town houses in the parish. It was an Earl of Bridgwater who was the patron of John Milton, and it was the daughter of the then Earl of Bridgewater, Lady Alice Egerton, who performed the opening ceremony when the statue of Milton was placed outside the north door in 1904.
Two modern windows
There are two modern stained glass windows on the north side of the church. In the baptistery is the Cripplegate Window, which celebrates the centenary of the Cripplegate Foundation www.cripplegate.org which gives grants, advice and support to local organisations. The Foundation was formally established in 1891 but its origins lie in gifts made to St Giles' for the poor and the needy dating back centuries: John Sworder made the first recorded gift in his will, dated 2 April 1500, and the head at the top of the window represents Sworder, the first of the pious donors of the parish that we know by name. The window, erected by the stained glass studio Goddard & Gibbs and designed by Sheelagh McKinlay from Bow, East London, also shows other beneficiaries of the Foundation, and the buildings in the middle ground represent St Giles' and St Luke's churches and the Barbican development.
On the north wall of the church is a memorial window to Edward Alleyn, the parish's generous benefactor (for his biography, see Famous local residents below. The design is the work of John Lawson of stained glass studio Goddard & Gibbs and depicts Alleyn in the centre, as well as the Fortune Theatre (which he founded), almshouses (which he built in the parish and which were destroyed in the Second World War), and St Luke's Church, Old Street. The Dulwich Estates, which manage the Alleyn bequest, made payments to the St Luke's Parochial Trust in respect of pensions paid to certain parishioners. It is to commemorate this event that the new window has been installed. The cost was met by St Luke's Trust and the Dulwich Estates.
The organs and the bells
For information on the three organs in St Giles', its restored bell tower, and the musical life of the church, see the Music pages of the website here.
Adapted from Frank Major's text by Catherine Urquhart, January 2014. Photographs by Geoffrey Rivett, Tim Middleton and others
Famous local residents and people connected with St Giles'
Residents of, and visitors to, the modern Barbican Estate, which has been built around St Giles', will recognise many of the eminent names of those connected with St Giles', because the residential blocks in the Barbican – such as Cromwell Tower, Shakespeare Tower, Defoe House and Andrewes House – have been named after some of the area's famous residents. Many of them also have connections with St Giles'.
Edward Alleyn (1566-1626): Alleyn was an actor who, after retirement, became the proprietor of several profitable playhouses – including the Rose Theatre at Bankside and the Fortune Theatre at Cripplegate – bear-pits and brothels. The Fortune Theatre was built in 1600, the year after the rival Globe Theatre was completed south of the river, and was situated in Golden Lane. Alleyn also built almshouses in the parish, and founded Dulwich College.
Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626): an eminent scholar, Andrewes was vicar of St Giles' Cripplegate from 1588 to 1605, and was one of the translators of the King James Bible in 1611. He was born in the parish of All Hallows, Barking, and was educated at the Coopers' Company School, Merchant Taylors' School, and Pembroke College, Cambridge, of which he eventually became Master. As a priest he stressed the importance of liturgy and ritual in church services. After leaving St Giles', he became successively the Bishop of Chichester, of Ely, and of Winchester. He died in 1626 and is buried in Southwark Cathedral. Bishop John Buckeridge, then Bishop of Rochester, who had succeeded Andrewes as vicar of St Giles' in 1605, said of Andrewes in his funeral oration: "He was Dr Andrewes in the school and Bishop Andrewes in the pulpit; but in his own personal character he was Saint Andrewes."
John Bunyan (1628-1688): the famous Christian writer and preacher occasionally attended St Giles'. A non-conformist, he was imprisoned for many years, during which time he wrote two of his best-known books, The Pilgrim's Progress, an allegorical novel, and the autobiographical Grace Abounding. After his release from Bedford Gaol, he used to preach once or twice a year in Monkwell Street Chapel in this parish, and he is buried in the Bunhill Fields burial ground, a short walk from St Giles', where his tomb is marked by a recumbent statue is also buried at Bunhill Fields.
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658): the military and political leader, who was Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1653 to 1658, was married in St Giles' Cripplegate in 1620, aged 21. His wife, Elizabeth Bouchier, was the daughter of a Cripplegate leather merchant, and the couple had nine children. At the head of the New Model Army in the 1640s, Cromwell, one of the 'Roundheads' or Parliamentarians, played an important role in defeating the Royalists at battles including Marston Moor in 1644 and Naseby in 1645, and he was one of the 59 signatories of King Charles I's death warrant in 1649. Upon becoming Protector he ruled England with a Council of State and a single House of Parliament, and his rule became increasingly autocratic. His legacy is controversial, with many admiring his moral, Puritan values but others seeing an anti-Catholic ruthless dictator. However, Dr Patrick Little, chairman of the Cromwell Association, writes: "As lord protector, Cromwell put into practice a policy of 'healing and settling' which included trying to reconcile both royalists and Anglicans to his regime. Privately he was tolerant towards his opponents, in accordance with his sincerely held belief in 'liberty of conscience'."
Daniel Defoe (1660-1731): the author of Robinson Crusoe is reputed to have been born in Fore Street on 30 September 1660, the son of a butcher. However, there is no record of his baptism in St Giles' register. His real name was Foe and he later added the aristocratic-sounding "De" to his name. He was a 'jack of all trades' – at various times a diplomat, a hosier, a spy, a brick-maker and a member of the Butcher's Company. As well as his famous novels, including Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders (Defoe is considered one of the earliest proponents of the novel in England, helping to popularise it along with authors such as Samuel Richardson), Defoe is thought to have written more than 500 books, pamphlets and journals on a wide range of topics. He was arrested for publishing The Shortest Waye with Dissenters, in which he satirised High Church Tories and argued for religious tolerance, and was sentenced to a fine, to be placed in a pillory and then imprisoned in Newgate. He died in Ropemaker Street, and was buried in Bunhill Fields. His death is recorded in St Giles' register thus: 1731, April 26th – Mr Dubow, Cripplegate. There is a bust of Defoe under the organ gallery in the church.
John Foxe (1517-1587): the lecturer and writer lived for a time in what is now known as Milton Street. He was for a time in the 1560s a preacher at St Giles', although he was never officially its vicar. His best-known work is Foxe's Book of Martyrs, or Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church, an account of Christian martyrs from the first century to the early 16th century, emphasising the sufferings of English Protestants. First published in 1563, the book was lavishly produced and illustrated with many woodcuts and was the largest publishing project undertaken in England up to that time. Foxe was buried by the right pillar of the chancel arch in St Giles'.
Sir Martin Frobisher (1535 (or 1539) –1594): the explorer lived in the parish in what is now known as Beech Street. Frobisher led three expeditions to the New World to search for the Northwest Passage, the sea route through the Arctic Ocean connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. He was knighted for his services as a captain in helping to repel the Spanish Armada in 1588. He was wounded in a naval engagement in 1594 against the Spanish off the French coast and taken to Plymouth, where he died. His heart and entrails were removed and buried in St Andrew's Church in Plymouth, and the remainder of his body was brought back to Cripplegate and buried in St Giles'. A plaque on the south wall of the church records his death.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c1539-1583): a half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh, Gilbert was an adventurer, explorer, MP, soldier and one of the pioneers of English colonisation, being a founder of the first colony in Newfoundland. He backed one of Frobisher's (above) expeditions. Gilbert lived with his family in Red Cross Street; one of his sons was baptised at St Giles' and a second son was buried here. Gilbert's wife continued to live in Red Cross Street after Gilbert was lost at sea on the return voyage from Newfoundland.
Ben Jonson (1572-1637): the playwright, poet and actor is thought to have lived with his family for some time in the parish of Cripplegate. Jonson's best-known plays include Volpone, The Alchemist and Every Man in his Humour and he is regarded as second only to William Shakespeare as a dramatist of the 17th century. He is considered to have been England's first poet laureate. Two of his sons, both named Benjamin, were buried at St Giles'.
John Milton (1608-1674): the poet and republican is perhaps the most famous former parishioner of St Giles' and his statue stands by the south wall of the church. He was born in Bread Street in the City of London in 1608 and educated at St Paul's School, and Christ's College Cambridge. After travelling extensively in Europe in the 1630s, he returned to England in 1639 and started to write pamphlets in support of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. In 1649, after Charles I was executed, he was appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues in Cromwell's newly formed Council of State, but upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 he had to go into hiding for three months in Bartholomew Close. After a general pardon was issued, he returned to live in Cripplegate, first in Jewin Street and then in Artillery Row (now called Bunhill Row). He wrote his most famous work, Paradise Lost, in 1658-64, when he had already gone blind, and it was first published in 1667. In the plague year of 1665 he moved to a cottage in Chalfont St Giles, where his former home is preserved as a museum. He married three times, and with his first wife, Mary Powell, had three daughters who survived to adulthood.
Milton was buried in the church next to his father, and an inscribed stone marks the spot, on the floor near the pulpit. There are three other Milton memorials in the church. The 1793 bust of Milton on the south wall was made for the church and paid for by Samuel Whitbread, of the brewery family. There is another bust, under the organ gallery, by the sculptor George Frampton.
The statue of Milton by the south wall is made of metal, which means it is one of the few memorials in the church that survived the bombing in the Second World War. It is the work of the sculptor Horace Montford (c1840-1919) and is based on a bust made in about 1654. It was originally placed outside the north door, after various old buildings abutting the north wall of the church were demolished. The plinth on which the statue stood is now outside the west door and it was inscribed with words from the invocation of Paradise Lost, asking that the poet "may assert Eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to man.
Sir Thomas More (1478-1535): the author and statesman was born in Milk Street, Cripplegate, in 1478. His parents had been married in St Giles'. In 1505 he entered Parliament and in 1510 he was made an under-sheriff of London. His political career flourished and he became a Privy Councillor in 1514, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1525 and Lord Chancellor in 1529, succeeding Wolsey. He was one of the most learned men of his time, a friend of Colet, Latimer and Erasmus, a patron of the artist Holbein (whose famous portrait of More hangs in the Frick Collection in New York), and author of Utopia, about the political system of an ideal, imaginary island nation. However, More resigned in 1532, because as a supporter of the Catholic Church he was increasingly concerned at Henry VIII's anti-Papal stance. He refused to take the oath to the Act of Succession, which recognised Anne Boleyn's children as legitimate heirs to the throne, and was committed to the Tower of London in 1534. He also refused to take the oath to the Act of Supremacy, which made Henry VIII the Head of the Church. In 1535, after a trial for high treason in Westminster Hall, he was beheaded on Tower Hill. In 1886 he was beatified by Pope Leo XIII and was canonised in 1935. In 1980, he was added to the Church of England's calendar of saints.
Thomas Morley (1557/8-1602): the composer and organist studied under the great Elizabethan composer William Byrd, and in around 1589 he became the organist at St Giles'. He was later the organist of St Paul's Cathedral. He was a great madrigalist, inspired by the Italian musical form, and in all he published 11 collections of madrigals. It is thought that he was a near neighbour of William Shakespeare's for some time, and a connection between them has long been speculated, although never proved, but it is known that Morley composed contemporary settings to Shakespeare's work, such as "It was a lover and his lass" from As You Like It. He published his treatise A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke in 1597.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616): the playwright lodged with the Mountjoys, a Huguenot family, in Silver Street in Cripplegate, for an unknown period in the early 17th century. Whilst living here, he wrote Othello, Measure for Measure and King Lear. His brother Edmund, who also lived in Cripplegate, had two sons who were baptised in St Giles' and tradition has it that William Shakespeare attended the service.
John Speed (1552-1629): the historian and map-maker lived on what is now known as Milton Street. He and his wife were buried in St Giles' and there is a bust of John Speed on the south wall of the church, one of the few memorials that survived the bombing, albeit that it needed repairs. The niche in which the bust is placed was provided by the Merchant Taylors' Company, of which John Speed was a member. He had 18 children, and his descendants continue to visit the church – a few years ago two of his descendants from America, William and James, paid a visit.
Where to visit us:-
St Giles' Cripplegate Church
London EC2Y 8DA
Registered Charity Number 1138077
Services and church opening hours
Communion (First Sunday in the month)
10.00 Parish Eucharist
16.00 Evening Prayer
Evening Prayer may be cancelled on the Sunday after Christmas and on Easter Day or during August. The service may also be cancelled if no key holder is available or it may take place in the rectory instead.
08.30 Morning Prayer (Monday-Thursday).
Monthly Private Prayer and Reflection
These sessions are held on the first Thursday of the month., from 13.00-13.30.
Future Dates, 12 July, 13 September, 4 October, 1 November and 13 December
These sessions are normally held on the first Thursday of the month from 13.30-15.00. Some gentle cleaning and tea and cakes at the end.
12 July, 13 September, 4 October, 1 November and 13 December
The church is normally open from 11.00-16.00 Monday to Friday.
Parish Office Opening Hours
Tel: 020 7638 1997