|The Church, with
the exception of the tower,
was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
The present Church
was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren between 1669 and 1672'
|A brief history
The Church lies over the remains of the Basilica – the northern most part of the great Roman Forum built in the first century AD. It stands near to the site of a church founded by King Lucius in AD 179 - the oldest site of Christian worship in London. The name ‘Cornhill’ is first mentioned in the 12th century, the ‘hill’ indicating the rising ground on which St. Michael’s stands, and ‘corn’ being derived from the corn-market which was once held there.
The Church of St. Michael’s is known to have been in existence before the Norman Conquest, for it is recorded that in 1055 Alnothus the priest gave it to the abbot of Evesham. During the reign of King Henry VII (1485-1509), the patronage was transferred to the Drapers’ Company, which still has the gift of the living. Robert Fabyan, the author of the 'Chronicles of England and France', was buried at St. Michael's in 1513. King Henry VIII's physician, Robert Yaxley, was also buried at the Church in 1540.
The Church, with the exception of the tower, was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. The present Church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren between 1669 and 1672. The interior, with its majestic Tuscan columns, was beautified and repaired in 1701 and again in 1790. Pre-Victorian features that remain in the Church today include 17th paintings of Moses and Aaron incorporated into the reredos, as well as a wooden sculpture of 'Pelican in her Piety' dating from 1775. The vestry retains its 17th century panelling, with a fine carved overmantel.
In 1716, the poet Thomas Gray, famous for his 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard', was born in a milliner's shop adjacent to St. Michael's and was baptised in the Church. The very font in which this occurred, dating from 1672, still remains. The tower was rebuilt in the ‘Gothick’ style between 1718 and 1722, the work being commenced by Wren and completed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. It houses a peal of 12 bells, all of which were originally cast by the Phelps Foundry of Whitechapel.
The interior was extensively remodelled in the High Victorian manner by Sir George Gilbert Scott between 1857 and 1860. Scott recalled that he ‘attempted by the use of early Basilican style to give a tone to the existing classic architecture’. As part of this scheme of reordering, the eminent woodcarver William Gibbs Rogers carved new pews and a pulpit and lectern (which earned him a prize in the Great Exhibition of 1851) for the Church. In addition, an ensemble of stained glass was made by the firm Clayton & Bell and a new porch, with a tympanum sculpture of St. Michael by John Birnie Philip, was added. continue to page two