Site Unseen: St. Alphage, London Wall

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

Surrounded by modern office blocks, themselves replacing their post-war counterparts, are the remains of an ancient church.

[I]T CARRIES THE SAME NAME as the dual-carriageway (the only such road in the City) that runs alongside its remains. St. Alphage was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die a violent death. He had been captured by Vikings whose motivation was to hold the Primate hostage to demand a ransom for his release.

The cleric refused to accede to their demands and in a drunken frenzy, the Vikings pelted the Archbishop with cattle bones. A Christian convert, not wishing to see the leader of his faith meet his demise by a medium-rare steak, administered the fatal blow with his axe, thus ensuring the victim’s martyrdom.

The remains of the church which was once built into London Wall remained forgotten for years. During World War II bombing uncovered parts of the Roman wall behind the church. Post-war reconstruction hemmed what remained of the base of its tower, which dated from the 14th century, making it virtually inaccessible.

Recent redevelopment along London Wall has made the ground level access more pedestrian-friendly with an adjacent small garden.

Featured image: Inside St. Alphage’s Tower before the latest landscaping by Tiger (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Around 1300 William Elsing, a London merchant founded a hospital (known as St Mary Elsing Spital) by London Wall. Originally a secular establishment, but with an existing priory church (part of the Benedictine nunnery of St Mary-within-Cripplegate), the hospital was taken over by Austin Friars in 1340. Seized by Henry VIII in 1536 as part of the Dissolution, the hospital was closed, but the church was adopted as the new parish church of St Alphage Cripplegate to replace an existing parish church, one of several in the London area dedicated to the martyred 10th-century Archbishop of Canterbury (whose name is also variously written as Ælfheah, Alphe, Alphege, Elphege or Alfege).

The church was substantially rebuilt in the late 18th century and again after damage during the First World War, but in 1917 the parish was amalgamated with that of St Mary Aldermanbury and the church became redundant. Most of the building was demolished in 1923, and the rest (apart from these scant remains) were removed in 1962 to make way for traffic along London Wall. Modern redevelopment has opened up this dramatic view from the high-level walkway down into the fern-filled base of the crossing tower.

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