St Michael's, Cornhill

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St Michael, Cornhill, is a medieval parish church in the City of London with pre-Norman Conquest parochial foundation. The medieval structure was lost in the Great Fire of London, and replaced by the present building, traditionally attributed to Sir Christopher Wren.<ref name=godwin/><ref name=city/> The upper parts of the tower are by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The church was embellished by Sir George Gilbert Scott and Herbert Williams in the nineteenth century.

Early history

The church of St Michael was in existence by 1133. The patronage was in the possession of the Abbot and convent of Evesham until 1503, when it was settled on the Drapers Company. A new tower was built in 1421, possibly after a fire. John Stow described the church as "fair and beautiful, but since the surrender of their lands to Edward VI, greatly blemished by the building of four tenements on the north side thereof, in the place of a green church-yard". On the south side of the church was a churchyard with what Stow calls a "proper cloister", with lodgings for choristers, and a pulpit cross, at which sermons were preached. These were maintained by Sir John Rudstone, after whose death in 1530 the choir was dissolved and the cross fell into decay.<ref name=hughson2>Template:Cite book</ref>

Rebuilding after the Great Fire

The medieval church, except for the tower, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and the present building was begun in 1672.<ref name=godwin/> The design is traditionally attributed to Sir Christopher Wren.<ref name=godwin/><ref name=clark/> However, the authors of the Buildings of England guide to the City churches believe Wren's office had no involvement with the rebuilding of the body of the church, the parish having dealt directly with the builders.<ref name=city/> The new church was 83 feet long and 67 feet wide, divided into nave and aisles by Doric columns, with a groined ceiling. There was an organ at the west end, and a reredos with paintings of Moses and Aaron at the east. The walls, George Godwin noted, did not form right-angles, indicating the re-use of the medieval foundations.<ref name=godwin/>

The fifteenth-century tower, having proved unstable, was demolished in the early eighteenth century. A 130-foot high replacement was completed in 1721. In contrast to the main body of the church, it was built in a Gothic style, in imitation of that of Magdalene College, Cambridge.<ref name=godwin>Template:Cite book</ref> Construction had began in 1715, with money from the coal fund.<ref name=clark>Template:Cite book</ref> The designer was of the lower stages was probably William Dickinson, working in Christopher Wren's office.<ref name=city>Template:Cite book</ref> Funds proved inadequate, and work stopped in 1717. The tower was eventually completed with the aid of a grant from the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches, the upper stages being to the designs of its surveyor, Nicholas Hawksmoor.<ref name=clark/>

Victorian alterations

In the late 1850s, the Drapers Company, motivated by legislation that would have forced them to hand certain funds over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners if they were not spent on St Michael’s, decided to fund a lavish scheme of embellishment, and asked George Gilbert Scott to carry out the work.<ref name=cox/>
File:St Michael Cornhill Tympanum.jpg
J.B. Philip's tympanum sculpture St Michael disputing with Satan

Scott added an elaborate Gothic porch (1858–1860) facing Cornhill. It is decorated with carving by John Birnie Philip, which includes a high-relief tympanum sculpture depicting "St Michael disputing with Satan". Scott inserted Gothic tracery to the circular clerestory windows, and into the plain round-headed windows on the south side of the church. New side windows were created in the chancel, and an elaborate stone reredos, incorporating the paintings of Moses and Aaron from its predecessor, was constructed in an Italian Gothic style. A contemporary account of the work explained that this was appropriate since “the classical feeling which pervades the Italian school of Gothic art enabled the architect to bring the classical features of the building into harmony with the Gothic treatment which our present sympathies demand“.<ref name=cox/> The chancel walls were lined with panels of coloured marble. up to the level of the top of the reredos columns, and richly painted above this point.<ref name=cox/>

Stained glass by Clayton and Bell was installed, with a representation of Christ in Glory in the large circular east window. Its splays were enriched with inlaid and carved marble, with four heads in high relief enclosed in medallions. The other windows contained a series of stained glass images illustrating the life of Christ, with the crucifixion at the west end.<ref name=cox>Template:Cite book</ref>

A further campaign of medievalising decoration was carried out in the late 1860s by Herbert Williams, who had worked with Scott on the earlier scheme. Williams built a three bay cloister-like passage, with plaster vaults, on the south side of the building, and in the body of the church added richly painted decoration to Wren's columns and capitals. The reredos was enriched with inlaid marble, and the chancel was given new white marble steps and a mosaic floor of Minton’s tesserae and tiles. In what the Building News described as a "startling novelty" a circular opening was cut in the vault of each aisle bay and filled with stained glass, and skylights installed above.

Few original furnishings were retained in its Victorian re-imagining, but the 1672 font given by James Paul survived, although a new balustrade was added.
File:St Michael, Cornhill, London EC3 - - 1077424.jpg
Interior showing the lights cut in the aisle vaults in the late 1860s

Recent history

The church escaped serious damage in the Second World War and was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. In 1960 the Victorian polychrome paintwork was replaced with a more restrained colour scheme of blue, gold and white.<ref name=city/>

A new ring of twelve bells, cast by Taylors of Loughborough, was installed in the tower in April 2011.

The church has one of the oldest sets of churchwarden's records in the City of London, which are now kept in the Guildhall Library.


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  • Sperling the Priest 1133
  • John de Merham 1287
  • William de Wyholakesford 1321-1322
  • Henry de Makeseye 1330-1331
  • John de Wendland ????-1345
  • Thomas de Wallingford 1345
  • Richard Savage 1351-1357/8
  • Hugh de Denton 1366-1368
  • Richard Mitford ???? – 1371
  • Richard Atfelde 1371-1393
  • John Haseley 1393-1400
  • Thomas Whithede 1400-1407
  • William Bright 1407-1414
  • Peter Heynewick 1421-1426
  • Henry Woodchurch 1426-1432
  • Thomas Liseux 1432-1447
  • William Lyeff 1447-1454
  • William Wytham 1454
  • Thomas Bolton 1472-1474
  • Henry Best 1474-1477
  • Peter Hussye 1477-1482
  • Martin Joynour 1482-1485
  • John Moore 1485-1503
  • John Wardroper 1503-1515
  • Peter Drayton 1515-1517
  • Rowland Phillips 1517-1538
  • Edward Stepham 1538-1545


  • John Willoughby 1545-1554
  • John Philpot 1562/3-1567
  • Richard Mathew 1567-1587
  • William Ashbold 1587-1622
  • George Carew 1622-1624/5
  • William Brough 1625-1642
  • Thomas Holl 1642/3-1645
  • Anthony Harford 1645-1646
  • John Wall 1646-1652
  • Peter Vincke 1652-1660
  • William Brough 1660-1664
  • John Meriton 1664-1704
  • Samuel Baker 1705-1749
  • Arnold King 1749-1771
  • Robert Poole Finch 1771-1784
  • Arthur Dawes 1784-1793
  • Thomas Robert Wrench 1793-1836
  • Thomas William Wrench 1836-1875
  • William Hunt 1875-1887
  • Alfred Earle 1888-1896
  • George Charles Bell 1896-1913
  • John Henry Joshua Ellison 1913-1945
  • George Frederick Saywell 1945-1956
  • Norman Charles Stanley Motley 1956-1980
  • John Scott 1981-1985
  • David Burton Evans 1986-1996
  • Gordon Reid 1997-1998
  • Peter John Mullen 1998-2012


The position of Rector is vacant. The Parish Clerk is Rupert Meacher. The PCC includes Alderman Sir David Howard (formerly Lord Mayor of London). The Patrons of the living are (and have been since 1503) the Worshipful Company of Drapers.

Notable parishioners

  • John Stow, author of A Survey of London (1598)
  • Thomas Gray the poet, famous for his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, was born in a milliner's shop in 1716, adjacent to St Michael's and was baptised in the Church.
  • Martin Neary, later Organist of Westminster Abbey, was baptised in St Michael's.
  • Sir George Thalben-Ball, leading organist and choir director.
  • Sir Derek Pattinson, former General Secretary to the Church of England Synod.
  • Fay Weldon, the feminist writer, was a member of the congregation for some years.
  • Douglas Murray, media personality.


The organ, which includes historic pipework by Renatus Harris, Green, Robson, Bryceson, Hill and Rushworth and Dreaper, and was in 2010 restored by Nicholson & Co (Worcester) Ltd, has been awarded a Historic Organ Certificate of Recognition by the British Institute of Organ Studies. A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.

List of organists

  • Isaac Blackwell 1684 - 1699
  • Walter Holt 1699 - 1704
  • Philip Hart 1704 - 1723
  • Obadiah Shuttleworth 1723 - 1734
  • Joseph Kelway 1734 - 1736 (afterwards organist of St Martin-in-the-Fields)
  • William Boyce 1736 - 1768 (also appointed Master of the King's Musick in 1755 and organist at the Chapel Royal in 1758)
  • Theodore Aylward Sr. 1769 - 1781 (Gresham Professor of Music 1771, and organist of St. George's Chapel, Windsor 1788)
  • Richard John Samuel Stevens 1781 - 1810
  • George William Arnull 1810 - 1849
  • Richard Davidge Limpus 1849 - 1875
  • Edward Henry Thorne 1875 - 1891
  • Williamson John Reynolds 1891 - 1900 (afterwards organist of St Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham)
  • George Frederick Vincent 1900 - 1916
  • Harold Darke 1916 - 1966
  • Richard Popplewell 1966 - 1979
  • Jonathan Rennert 1979 - current

List of assistant organists

  • Morley Whitehead (afterwards assistant organist of High Kirk of St Giles, Edinburgh then Organist of Morningside Parish Church, Edinburgh
  • Andrew Lucas (afterwards sub organist of St Paul's Cathedral then Master of the Music of St Albans Abbey
  • James Cryer (afterwards organ scholar of Westminster Abbey & St John's College, Cambridge
  • Adrian Lenthall (afterwards organ scholar of Westminster Abbey & Emmanuel College, Cambridge
  • John Hatton (then a student of the Royal College of Music)
  • Matthew Morley (currently Assistant Director of Music, St Bride's, Fleet Street, London)
  • Lee Ward (currently director of the Schola at The London Oratory School)
  • Ross Cobb (Director of Music, Christ Church, Clifton Down and now Director of Music, St. Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney)
  • Alistair Reid (after a spell in the USA, he is now Assistant Organist of Coventry Cathedral)
  • Nigel Thomas (then a student of the Royal College of Music)
  • James Hills (currently director of music at Clifton College)
  • Jonathan Bunney (now Organist of St Giles-in-the-Fields, London)
  • Andrew Earis (currently Director of Music at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London)
  • Duncan Ferguson (currently Organist and Master of the Music of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh (Episcopal))
  • Robert Smith (currently Director of Music at St Mary-at-Hill, London)
  • Gregory Drott (currently Director of Music and Organist at St. Stephen's, Gloucester Road)



See also


  • List of churches and cathedrals of London
  • List of Christopher Wren churches in London

External links

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