St Martin-in-the-Fields Churchyard (Westminster)
St Martin-in-the-Fields gained its name from the fields that once surrounded it, and there has been a church here from at least Norman times. A mid-C16th church was enlarged in the early C17th, but the present church is that of James Gibb, completed in 1726. It was patronised by royalty due to the proximity of the Palace of Westminster. The former parish burial grounds have largely disappeared as a result of building, with one burial site covered by the National Gallery's northern block, and another by Charing Cross Road. To the south an area known as Waterman's Churchyard was lost to improvements in c.1831 and new catacombs under the church were built in compensation. Part of the churchyard immediately around the church survived, which included a strip on the north side and an area at the east end. This was paved with flagstones and planted with trees by the MPGA and opened to the public in 1887. It has recently been improved as part of restoration of the church that commenced in 2006 and now provides a pleasant public courtyard with seating.
- Site location:
- Trafalgar Square/Adelaide Street
- WC2N 4JJ
- Type of site:
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- Special conditions:
- Café in the Crypt, shop, London Brass Rubbing Centre
- Regular concerts
- Public transport:
- Rail: Charing Cross. Tube: Charing Cross (Northern), Embankment (District, Circle, Northern, Bakerloo), Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern).
- Research updated:
- Last minor changes:
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.smitf.org
Full Site Description
There are records of a church on the site in Norman times relating to a dispute in 1222 between William, Abbot of Westminster and Eustace, Bishop of London over the latter's authority over the church, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury found in favour of the former. At that time St Martin's was surrounded by fields. In c.1542 a new church was built and the parish boundaries extended due to Henry VIII's wish to keep plague victims from being carried through his palace. This building was enlarged in 1607 but later demolished in 1721 when the current building was built. This was designed by James Gibb and completed in 1726. In the C19th, whilst planning Trafalgar Square, John Nash created Church Path and the range of buildings to the north of the church. In January 2006 St Martin's embarked on a £36 million building project to restore and transform the church and surrounding buildings by creating a new sequence of beautiful, practical and inspirational spaces to serve the community, visitors and those in need. Designed by Eric Parry Architects, the work has included formation of a new public courtyard on the churchyard to the east of the church, with an entrance from Adelaide Street. Church Path has also been widened and a glass pavilion has been built providing light and access to the enhanced and refurbished spaces below the church.
St Martin-in-the-Fields' former parish burial grounds have largely disappeared as a result of building, with one burial site covered by the National Gallery's northern block, and another by Charing Cross Road. Although the railings between the columns of the church portico date from c.1726, the other churchyard railings are copies made in c.1830 by London iron founders Cottam and Hallen and cast to the pattern already used for the original railings. They were erected to surround the new churchyard created by John Nash's West Strand Improvements, which included the construction of Duncannon Street to the south. To the south of the church an area known as Waterman's Churchyard was 'given up for public improvements' in c.1831, in exchange for which the cost of building new catacombs under St Martin's was met by the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Woods and Forests. The new vaults were consecrated by the Lord Bishop of London on 7 June 1831, and were described in The Sunday Times on 12 June as 'the most capacious structure of the sort in London', going on to report on the opening that 'Crowds of ladies perambulated the vaults for some time, and the whole had more the appearance of a promenade than a grim depository of decomposing mortality'. Part of the churchyard immediately around the church survived, which included a strip on the north side and an area at the east end. This was paved with flagstones and planted with trees by the MPGA and opened to the public in 1887. Used for many years as the site of market stalls, the refurbished paved churchyard provides a new public courtyard, with seating. Near the southern boundary is a memorial drinking fountain to John Law Baker of the Madras Army that was installed in 1866. A granite drinking fountain is also attached to the church railings in the south-east corner of the churchyard adjacent of Adelaide Street, provided in c.1886 through the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. Given in memory of William Gilson Humphry, vicar of the parish, it was restored in c.1989 when a replica bronze lion mash spout was installed. Another parochial burial ground of St Martin's in Drury Lane was also converted into a small public garden that survives today as Drury Lane Gardens (q.v.). Among famous people buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields were Nell Gwynne and Jack Sheppard.
Mrs Basil Holmes, 'London Burial Grounds', 1896 pp104-6; Elizabeth Crawford, 'Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle' (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2nd ed. 2009); see history on church website
Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
- Grid ref:
- TQ301805 (530103,180544)
- Size in hectares:
- Site ownership:
- St Martin-in-the-Fields
- Site management:
- St Martin-in-the-Fields
- C13th onwards; 1726
- 2006: Eric Parry Architects
- Listed structures:
- LBI: St Martin-in-the-Fields Church; Churchyard walls & railings on north, south, east & west sides. LBII: Churchyard wall & railings adjoining entrance to crypt on north side of church; John Law Baker Drinking Fountain; Memorial Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough
- On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:
- Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
- Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
Local Authority Data
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
- On Local List:
- In Conservation Area:
- Conservation Area name:
- Trafalgar Square
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Yes - Area of Special Archaeological Priority
- Other LA designation:
St Martin-in-the-Fields Churchyard - Photo: London Gardens Trust
Date taken: 06/05/21 10:23
Click a photo to enlarge.
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