The word "Cripplegate" has nothing to do with 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. The word comes from the Anglo-Saxon "cruplegate" which means a covered way or tunnel which ran from the town gate of Cripplegate to the Barbican, a fortified watchtower on the City wall. Sections of the wall can be seen near the Church; the foundations are generally Roman but higher up the structure is of varying dates as it was regularly strengthened and rebuilt. In 1760 the gate, up to then used as a storehouse and a prison, was sold to a carpenter in Coleman Street for £91. The Church was outside the wall at the Cripplegate, hence 'St. Giles without'.
As the population of the parish increased, the church was enlarged and was rebuilt in the perpendicular style in 1394 during the reign of Richard II. It has been extensively restored on three occasions after fire damage. The first fire occurred in 1545 in the reign of Henry VIII. The restoration plans of that year remained in Lambeth Palace, and were used in the restoration after the Second World War by Godfrey Allen. The church was built in the perpendicular, late Gothic, style that emphasises vertical lines, particularly in the window tracery. The spaces between the windows and between the columns of the arcade, are generous. The columns are slender with their thin, filleted, diagonal shafts. This provides a spacious, open, light church.
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.
The church escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666 but was badly burnt in the Cripplegate Fire of 1897 and again during the Second World War. There was a direct hit on the north door in the summer of 1940, and in 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.
The roof, the furnishings and most of the monuments were destroyed, but some valuable items were saved. These include Church Registers, which date from 1561 and are now in the Guildhall Library; two oil paintings of previous vicars, one of which, of Dr William Nicholls, is under the tower; our silverware and vestments; and the 19th century lectern, which you can see in the chancel, a memorial to Bishop Andrewes. These had been stored away in the muniment room, which was separated from the main body of the church by only a few feet but escaped all the incendiary bombs.
On the right of the east window, part of the medieval church has been deliberately exposed for visitors to see. It is the sedilia where the priests sat and the piscina
used for washing communion vessels. The tiles in the arch are of Roman origin. The floor was raised during Queen Victoria’s reign, when also the outside walls were surfaced with Kentish rag stone, one or two windows were altered and some stained glass was put in the church. Around the windows on the north wall the inside stonework has been left blackened to show the effect of the incendiary bombs.
This is new and was designed by the Nicholson Studios and follows the pattern of the medieval window of which traces came to light as the result of war damage. The design incorporates many figures of historical significance to the church,
for example the instruments of the crucifixion at the top
The figure in red in the lower frame, to the right of St. George, is Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, our most famous vicar who was born in the parish of All Hallow’s, Barking, in 1551. He was educated at the Coopers’ Company’s School, Merchant Taylors’ School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, of which he eventually became Master. The Vicar of St. Giles’ from 1588 to1604, he became successively Bishop of Chichester, of Ely and of Winchester. An eminent scholar, he contributed a large share to the translation of the 1611 Bible. He stressed the importance of ritual and liturgy in church services. Dying in 1626, he was buried in Southwark Cathedral.
Next to Bishop Andrewes is St. Anselm, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury when the first stone church was built on this spot in 1090 in the reign of William Rufus. Of that stone church nothing remains except a few stones in the tower. Alongside is St. Alphage, and he is in the window because the church of St. Alphage, now a ruin which can be seen from the raised walk way parallel to London Wall, and is now part of our parish. The Danes beat St. Alphage
to death with the bones of oxen at Greenwich. The figure at the top left is
St. Giles’ himself. A stone statue outside the church over the north
door and the top of the west window, where he is depicted with a crutch as
he was lame, also commemorate him. It is said that he was born of wealthy
parents in Athens in the 7th century, and when he inherited his wealth he
gave it away and went to live as a hermit in a cave in the Rhone Valley in
France. The animal in front of him is a hind.
There is an arrow in Giles’ right
hand. It is said that the King of the Franks, Charles Martel, was out
hunting, saw the hind near the cave and went to shoot it. St. Giles rushed
to protect it and was shot in the hand. The two men became acquainted, and
it is said that the King was so impressed with St. Giles that he decided to
build the monastery of Nismes on the spot of the cave and to make St. Giles the first abbot. Other figures in the window are those of Christ, St. George and St. Paul. St. Paul is depicted in the window since the Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral are the 'patron', carrying a responsibility for the St. Giles and its rectors. St. Bartholomew also is incorporated in the window, and his arms belong to the hospital only a few minutes’ walk away. Bishop Alphune, Bishop of London, who was responsible for the building of the first stone church here 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 chancel arch dates only from the postwar building. 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 chancel is now open-planned to facilitate the use of it for concerts and recordings.
The furniture, including the pews, the altar and the font in the northeast corner of the church all come from St. Luke’s Church, Old Street, now derelict. The old choir stalls have been removed to the south isle of the church and replaced by the present light oak furniture, donated amongst others by the Barbers’, Salters’ and Gardeners’ Companies. the parish having amalgamated with St. Giles.
Designed by John James and Nicholas Hawksmoor,
St. Luke’s was opened in 1733. Unfortunately, it had been built on marshy ground. The wood underpinning its foundations began to rot and subsidence occurred. In 1959, the church had to be closed as a dangerous structure. The cost of restoration was high, the building was considered of little historical or architectural interest, and it was dismantled in 1963. Having lost most if its contents in the Blitz, St. Giles' was lucky to find replacements from the other half of the current parish.
A plaque records the death of Sir Martin Frobisher, who lived in Beech Street nearby, was an explorer of the North-West Passage to the Spice Islands, and one of the captains against the Spanish Armada. He was wounded fighting 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 at Plymouth. The rest of the body was brought back to Cripplegate and buried in the south aisle;
Lancelet Andrewes, a translator of the Authorised Version of the Bible, was vicar here from 1588 - 1605; John Foxe author of "The Book of Martyrs", is buried in the church.
Alongside is the bust of John Speed, one of the few memorials that survived the bombing. He was a historian and a map-maker during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I and lived in Milton Street. He and his wife lie buried in the church. The cast for the niche in which the bust is placed was provided by the Merchant Taylors’
Company, of which John Speed was a member. He had eighteen children, and
a few years ago two of his descendants from America, William and James,
visited the church.
Also associated with the
Church are Sir Humphrey Gilbert, founder of Newfoundland;
Thomas Morley, a great musician and organist of St Giles', Ben Johnson,
Poet Laureate; Prince Rupert cavalier and scientific inventor; the Revd.
Dr Samuel Annesley, vicar 1658-1 662 and grandfather of John Wesley; W
Holman Hunt, painter; and Sir Ebenezer Howard, pioneer of the Garden
Cities and New Towns Movement.
Within the Lordship of St Luke's part of the parish lived others
associated with the church, including George Fox, founder of the Society
of Friends; John Wesley founder of Methodism; William Blake
painter and poet; William Turner landscape painter; and David
Livingstone missionary and explorer.
At the restoration of Charles II, deprived of all official work, he went into hiding for three months in Bartholomew Close. After the Amnesty Act, he returned to live in Cripplegate. During the plague year of 1666, he moved to a cottage, still preserved as a museum in Chalfont St. Giles. It was in 1667 that his most famous work "Paradise Lost" was published. He married three times.
The plinth on which the statue stood is now outside the west door and is inscribed with words from the invocation of "Paradise Lost", asking that the poet "... may assert Eternal Providence, and justify the wayes of God to man.
"Slightly to the left of the centre aisle, on the floor near the pulpit, is a stone recording the burial place of John Milton. Our most famous parishioner died in 1674 in a house nearby in Artillery Row. Milton was born in Bread Street in 1608 and educated at St. Paul’s School and Christ College, Cambridge. In 1649, after Charles I’s execution, he was appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues to Cromwell’s newly formed Council of State. He began to go blind in about 1650.
The Grand Organ on the right comes from St. Lukes'. Noel Mander remodelled it. Although the organ loft and much of the piping and panelling are new, the core of it is the original 1733 organ of Jordan and Bridge, and it is said that Handel when he lived in London played on it. However Handel is reputed to have played on every organ in London. Henry Smart, the well-known Victorian organist and composer, was the organist at St. Luke’s from 1844 to1864.
Chancel organ, on the left, was installed 2008, has two manuals, a straight/concave pedalboard, mechanical action, 15 speaking stops, a balanced Swell pedal and a full range of modern accessories including generals and a stepper. This organ is ideal for accompanying musicians on the large chancel, to which it is adjacent.
A practice organ has also been installed in the Vestry, all changes
being the result of a successful appeal by the Church Organ Fund.
The display cabinet
In the south wall is the display cabinet. 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 us 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. On the top shelf are two Communion flagons, one being bequeathed to the church by John Pritchett, vicar here shortly after the restoration of Charles II and 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, there is a square tablet recording the death of Margaret Lucy in 1634, the great grand daughter of Sir Thomas Lucy, who was buried in the church in the same year. He is said to be satirised by William Shakespeare as Justice Shallow in "King Henry IV Part II" and "The Merry Wives of Windsor". It is said that William Shakespeare had to escape from Stratford-on-Avon, because he was going to be prosecuted for deer stealing from Charlecot Park, owned by Sir Thomas.
He fled to his brother Edmund living in Cripplegate and if he attended St. Giles’ Church on Sunday, 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 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 lies the body of John Foxe, who died in 1587. A lecturer at St. Giles, giving lengthy sermons of two or three hours duration, he wrote "The Book of Martyrs", an account of the Protestant priests that were put to death for their faith. He lived for a time in what is now known as Milton Street.
The display screens
(these are currently being
On the display screens there are two photographs of St. Luke's, one as it is today and the other showing the interior as it was in its heyday. There are photos of this area after the bomb damage, and photographs of the monuments in the church before the war. Only a few survived, including the bust of Thomas Busby, a cooper, in the side chapel, and that of Sir William Staines, Lord Mayor of London in 1801, by the north door. Look at the illustration of the interiors of St. Giles’ in the 18th century. Notice the balconies put up in the church in the early 17th century when there were 400 people in the congregation. The balconies were pulled down after the building of the railways when many of the population moved out to the suburbs.
Some of our archive photographs appear on this website under
Records and Memories
The picture of the outside of the church, dated 1830, shows Quest House and four shops that had been built outside by the north door at the end of the 17th century. During the 18th century, more houses and shops were built, so that much of the north wall of the church was obscured. These buildings were demolished in about 1900, and it was after their demolition that the statue of Milton was erected outside the church by the north door. In the 1920s the interior is dark because of the stained glass, largely 19th century, in the windows. Godfrey Allen, who did the restoration of the church after the war, wanted to make the church as light as possible, so he used stained glass only for the east and west end.
There is a photostat of a page from our registers showing the names of some of the people who died during the Great Plague in 1665. It has been estimated that between five thousand and eight thousand parishioners died of the plague, and because of the burials taking place, it is said that the graveyard had to be extended and rose by two feet. Some were buried in the church itself and others in plague pits dug in the vicinity.
Sir Thomas More was associated with St. Giles’. His parents had been married in St. Giles. He was born in Milk Street, Cripplegate, in 1478. In 1510 he was made an undersheriff of London. He was one of the most learned men of his time, a friend of Colet, Latimer and Erasmus, a patron of Holbein and was the author of "Utopia". He became Lord Chancellor in 1529, but resigned in 1532. Refusing to take the oath to the Act of Succession, which recognised Anne Boleyn’s children as legitimate heirs to the throne, he was committed to the Tower in 1534. He refused to take the oath to the Act of Supremacy, which made Henry VIII 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.
Under the organ gallery are four busts are on loan to us from the Cripplegate Foundation, modelled by George Frampton, whose most famous statue is that of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
On the left is that of Daniel Defoe, the author of "Robinson Crusoe". He is reputed to have been born in Fore Street on September 30th, 1660, the son of a butcher. There is no record, however, of his baptism in St. Giles’ Registers. His real name was Foe. He was a jack of all trades, a diplomatist, a hosier, a spy, a brick maker and a member of the Butchers’ Company. He wrote many pamphlets. For "The Shortest Waye with Dissenters" he was arrested and sentenced to a fine, the pillory and imprisonment in Newgate. Dying in Ropemaker’s Street, he was buried in Bunhill Fields. His death is recorded in St. Giles Register as follows: ~ "1731, April 26th - Mr Dubow, Cripplegate". The next bust is that of John Milton. On the other side of the glass doors are the busts of Oliver Cromwell and John Bunyan.
Cromwell was married in the church on 22 August 1620, aged 21 years, to Elizabeth Bouchier, the daughter of a Cripplegate merchant. With his "Ironsides" and the New Model Army, he effectively defeated Charles I and the Royalists at the battles of Marston Moor and Nazeby. In 1653 he became Protector and ruled England with a Council of State and a single House of Parliament. Rejecting the Kingship in 1657, he was installed as Lord Protector, and his rule onwards was absolute. He personified the English Revolution and helped to preserve some of its gains. He died in 1658.
John Bunyan, a Nonconformist, was imprisoned for many years, during which time he wrote two of his famous books "Grace Abounding" and "Pilgrim*s Progress". He occasionally attended this church, and used to preach once or twice a year in Monkwell Street Chapel in this parish after his release from Bedford Gaol. He died in 1688 and, like Daniel Defoe, he is buried in Bunhill Fields.
Under the tower is a portrait of Dr William Nicholls, the first rector of St. Luke's and also the vicar of St. Giles. His incumbency lasted more than 40 years. The west window, the work of the Faircraft Studios, was erected in 1968. In the centre is the coat-of-arms of the City of London, and on either side are those of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the left and of the Bishop of London on the right.
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, buried in the church, and of John Milton, the Earls of Bridgewater, Oliver Cromwell and Sir Martin Frobisher. There are 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 Bridgewater who was the patron of 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.
On the north wall is a plaque listing the Rectors of St. Luke’s. The last one was Edward Rogers. In 1966 the parishes of St. Luke’s and St. Giles’ were combined and Edward became the Rector of the combined parishes. A plaque also lists the Vicars of St. Giles. The earliest is Aylward. We know little about these 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 about 1500. His brother John, the Rector of Harlow in Essex, left a bequest to the church that is worth about £5000 per annum.
We know more about the later vicars, whose careers reflect the political and religious changes of that period of their times. The incumbency was an important one, and many were or became bishops or archdeacons. Lancelot Andrewes was Bishop of Winchester; 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.
Two modern stained glass windows are worth examining.
In the baptistry the stained glass window in the west wall was erected by Goddard and Gibbs and designed by Sheenagh McKinlay from Bow, East London. It celebrates the centenary of the Cripplegate Foundation. The head at the top represents John Sworder, the first of the pious donors of the parish that we know by name. The other figures represent the beneficiaries of the Foundation, and the buildings in the middle ground represent St. Giles’ and St. Luke’s churches and the Barbican development.
This window is a memorial to Edward Alleyn, the generous benefactor to this parish. He was the founder of Dulwich College and the proprietor of the Rose Theatre on Bankside and the Fortune Theatre in Cripplegate, both long since demolished. He also built almshouses in the parish which were managed by St. Luke’s Parochial Trust and which were destroyed during the war. The stained glass design is the work of John Lawson of Goddard and Gibbs and incorporates, besides the Alleyn figure, pictures of the Fortune Theatre, the almshouses 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 has been met by both St. Luke’s Trust and the Dulwich Estates.
Two tablets under the tower list the past rectors and
vicars of St Luke's,.St Giles and the combined parrishes.
Tracing your Family Tree
Many people are interested in
genealogy. However we do not hold parish records
in the Church. The London Metropolitan Archives
Baptisms 1561 - 1961
Marriages 1561 - 1987
The parish registers for St Giles
Cripplegate are held at LMA's offices in Clerkenwell.
Enquirers are most welcome to visit LMA.
Details of the opening hours, location and History
Card registration are available at
Our full contact details are as follows:
London Metropolitan Archives
40 Northampton Road
Telephone - 020 7332 3820
Fax - 020 7833 9136
For enquirers unable to visit us in
person we do offer a Family History Research Service.
This provides for a paid search by our staff, using
the sources available here.
More information and an application form is available
on our website, but we would always recommend enquirers
contact us first to confirm that we will be able to assist.