St Magnus the Martyr – On the road to nowhere?

At first glance this lovely little City of London church looks a bit odd in its setting. It has an elegant tower with a fine clock projecting out over a scrappy courtyard which goes nowhere.

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But surely it was not always thus. Why build a church in a position like this? The answer is connected to the story of London Bridge because until 1831 this Church was on the approach road to the old London Bridge.

First there were wooden bridges and then in the 12th Century Peter de Colechurch built the first stone bridge. Over the years the bridge gathered buildings along its length – houses, shops and drinking establishments and in the middle was a chapel dedicated to St Thomas Beckett. But it was narrow and congested.

So St Magnus was the first church you came to if you entered the City by London Bridge, and indeed there is a little plaque at the west end of the church to commemorate this.

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And by the porch, there are some stones which are fragments of that old London Bridge.

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Inside there is a rather fine model of old London Bridge made by a man called David T. Aggett, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers and formerly in the police service. One of the tiny figures on the bridge appears out of place in the medieval setting, wearing a policeman’s uniform.

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And we should not ignore the actual church interior itself.

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This was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London and so the building dates from the late 17th Century. Sir Christopher Wren had a hand in the rebuilding and it is said he foresaw the need to widen London Bridge and so built the west end so it could be adjusted by demolishing the last couple of bays and opening up the base of the tower so it could be used as a walkway. But this only happened in the early 1760s.

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By the way the interior is not one which Wren would recognise. For a start it has stained glass windows, which would not have been the case in Wren’s day. They are all post war (except for one in the Northwest corner which is 17th century and came from the now demolished Plumbers Hall – this being the guild church for the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. It is also the guild church for the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers – the old Billingsgate Fish market was nearby).

And in the 1920s, the church was modified and is much more “catholic” in styling than would ever have been the case in England in the 17th century.

More info about the church on its website: http://www.stmagnusmartyr.org.uk/ You can see this is a high church by the way they celebrate St Magnus Day.