Covent Garden, London

St. Paul, Covent Garden, London

The 4th Earl of Bedford, Francis Russell, commissioned Inigo Jones to design a church in 1631. Work began immediately and was completed in 2 years, with consecration in 1638. The sparse exterior and interior appealed to the Puritans who created a separate parish in 1645.

The first plague victim of the 1665-66 plague, Margaret Ponteous, was buried in the churchyard on 12 April 1665. In 1788 a rebuild was undertaken, but much was destroyed in a fire in 1795.

Today, St. Paul’s Church is best known as “The Actors’ Church”. It first became associated with the theatre when the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane opened in 1663 and then the Royal Opera House opened in 1723 cementing St. Paul as the church of choice for the acting profession of London’s West End.

A year before, in 1662, Samuel Pepys noted there was an “Italian puppet play” on the portico of St. Paul’s Church – this is considered the first recorded performance of Punch and Judy.

St. Paul’s central location means it has a star-studded role call of baptisms, burials and memorials; including JMW Turner and WS Gilbert (baptised), Grinling Gibbons, Thomas Arne, Ellen Terry and Edith Evans (burials) and memorials to Charlie Chaplin, Grace Fields, Noel Coward, Vivien Leigh and Ivor Novello amongst many others.

The portico also became famous in the “luvverly violets” scene at the start of Pygmalion – and even more famous when the play was turned into My Fair Lady.

It is most familiar now to visitors to Covent Garden as the backdrop for many street performers.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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