St Mary-le-Strand


St Mary-le-Strand occupies one of the great sites of London. It and St Clement Danes, the RAF church, sit astride the Strand between Blackfriars bridge and High Courts just outside the traditional boundaries of the City.

It is a jewel.

The original medieval church was pulled down by Protector Somerset - the uncle of the child-king Edward VI. At the height of his power he cleared the site for his palace on the river where now sits Somerset House. He lost his head when the king died and the parishoners had to wait over two hundred years to get their church back. It was worth the wait.

During the reign of Queen Anne there was an Act of Parliament for the building of fifty new churches and, after a petition from the churchless parishioners, it was agreed to make St Mary-le-Strand part of that project. The most famous of the churches were designed by  Hawksmoor, like Christ Church Spitlefields or St George's-in-the East, in the pure austere Roman style.

St Mary-le-Strand was designed by Gibbs, no household name, but whose work includes the Senate House in Cambridge and the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford - arguably, with Tom Tower of Christ Church, the symbol of Oxford. He was a Scott from Aberdeen and a Tory who had his moment in the sun during the reign of Queen Anne when the Tories were briefly in power before succumbing to the Whigs on the Hanovarian succession. I think he is up there with Wren, Hawksmoor and Vanburgh - but like his near contemporary, Thomas Archer, of St Martin-in-the-fields fame, he is not well known today.

The church can be seen almost from Charing Cross on its island site in the Strand. The windows are high up - placed there to reduce the noise from the traffic that in the early 18th century was as noisy as it is now. I was there on the first day of spring and the church was filled with light and the magnolia trees framing the west door almost in flower. Despite the traffic, it has an insularity and peacefullness that is beguilling

The glorious interior is the English Baroque at its loveliest - but it has not been repainted since 1951. If this is the way we treat a treasure like this - we dont deserve it.

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