St. Mary, Strand, London

There has been a church called St. Mary Le Strand hereabouts for many centuries. The first church is mentioned in 1222 as the Church of the Innocents and was closer to the River on the site now occupied by Somerset House. It was pulled down in 1549 when Somerset House was constructed and the parishioners were promised a new church. It took almost two hundred years for this promise to be fulfilled.

The site of the new church is that of the Great Maypole which once stood here on the edge of the City of London and was the centre of May Day celebrations throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries. By the early 1700s, however, it had become dangerously decayed and a decision was made to remove it.

This paved the way for the first of the “Fifty Commission Churches” which were ordered to be built in 1714. All fifty were never built.

St. Mary Le Strand’s architect was James Gibbs who had recently been responsible for putting a spire on Wren’s church of St Clement Danes which stands very close by. The steeple was completed by 1717 but it was another six years before the church opened for business.

It is said that Bonnie Prince Charlie renounced his Catholicism here in 1750 during a secret visit to England. More solidly, Charles Dickens’ parents married here in 1809.

The 20th Century was a time of close shaves for St. Mary Le Strand. Early in the 20th Century the London County Council decided to widen The Strand. They proposed demolishing the church but a public campaign managed to avert this fate and only the graveyard was demolished. Then during the Blitz the church was one of the few buildings in the area which survived relatively unscathed – St. Clement Danes, for instance, was entirely gutted.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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