In the last post Judy, my London Correspondent, was taking us through some of the not-so-famous churches of London. She had one more to show us, but I thought it deserved a post all of its own, if only for its name!
4. St James Garlickhythe
This has been a sacred place since 1100, but the early church was lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1683, although the tower was not added until 1717, by the other famous London church architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor. It is known as “Wren’s Lantern” because it was rebuilt to be full of light. The name Garlickhythe refers to the nearby landing place or ‘hythe’ on the Thames where garlic was sold in mediaeval times.
In 1860 the congregation had dwindled to twenty. Charles Dickens attended a service which he described in The Uncommercial Traveller. The building was pervaded with damp and dust, which Dickens used to convey the presence of dead parishioners.
During World War I a bomb dropped by a Zeppelin missed the church but caused damage nearby. In May 1941 during the London blitz a 500lb bomb crashed through the roof and buried itself in the south aisle, but did not explode, and it was removed and detonated elsewhere.
The buildings surrounding Saint James were destroyed by incendiary bombs and damaged the external walls, and the clock of St James. While this damage was being repaired in 1953 it was found that the building was infested with death-watch beetle, and closed for repairs until 1963. Sir John Betjeman said it was the best restoration of a city church.
It is lucky that the church survives to this day, because in 1991 a nearby crane collapsed and part of it buried itself in the south wall, so the church was closed again for repairs.
The new bells were cast in Whitechapel Foundry in 2012, installed first on a barge on the Thames and rung on the river during the pageant for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. They are now called the Jubilee Bells.
St James Garlickhythe is home to eleven livery companies, and has had long associations with London Companies, especially the Vitners, the Weavers and the Joiners.
St James is also a stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella, as it is dedicated to St James the Great. Visitors to the church may have their pilgrim passport stamped with the impression of a scallop shell.
A change introduced by Henry VIII was the order that all parishes in England were to maintain a weekly record of births, deaths and marriages. The oldest surviving registers are those of St James, the first being a baptism of Edward Butler on 18th November 1535.