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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Friday, 29 November 2013

Christchurch Greyfriars

Visit London, Wren churches, destroyed in Great Fire, City Gardens
Christchurch Greyfriars is one of those places you stumble across in London without meaning to.  It is a peaceful garden planted in an old church where butterflies flutter, bees buzz, birds tweet and the traffic of a big city almost fades into the background.  The colours are mainly blue and white, with the odd splash of deep red.  The layout mirrors that of the church it replaced, with wooden towers representing columns, albeit festooned with climbers.  It is one of I don’t know how many such places superbly maintained by the City of London parks and gardens people, bless their little green souls.

The original church attached to a Franciscan monastery was built in the 13th century; the ‘greyfriars’ comes from the colour of the monks’ habits.  By the mid-14th century, this had become the second largest church in medieval London.  Inside, so ‘tis said, it was sumptuous, with seven altars, many marbled tombs and all the usual trappings.  The monastery was dissolved during the Reformation in 1538 and the exuberant interior of the church wrecked by religious hooligans.  Then it was totally destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, one of 87 churches lost in that disaster.  A new church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was constructed on the foundations of the old.  Amongst its features, allegedly, were pews made from the timbers of a Spanish galleon.  Alas, Christchurch Greyfriars became a victim to one of the most damaging air raids of London’s Blitz on the night of Sunday 29th December 1940, when an estimated 24,000 high explosive bombs and 100,000 incendiaries were dropped by the Luftwaffe.  The iconic picture of nearby St Paul’s Cathedral was shot the following day.  The shell of the church remains; the vestry is now a dental practice and the tower is a private residence.


London Blitz, January 1940, churches destroyed, BT bad customer service
I should have guessed that a place like this had a reputation for being haunted.  The remains of no less than four queens and other sundry famous folk were buried here.  In no particular order: the heart of Queen Eleanor of Provence (d 1291), wife of King Henry III; Margaret of France (d 1318), 2nd wife of King Edward I; Queen Isabella (d 1358) the “she-wolf of France”, wife of Edward II; and Joan de la Tour (d 1362), Isabella’s daughter and Queen of Scotland, all ended up in Greyfriars.  Isabella was, famously, lover of Roger Mortimer, who was executed for treason and possibly also initially buried at Greyfriars before being moved elsewhere.  Legend has it that Isabella was buried in her wedding dress with her husband’s heart in her hand.  Also interred here was Lady Agnes Hungerford, a great beauty, hanged at Tyburn in 1523 for her first husband’s murder, and the Mad, or Holy, Maid of Kent, Elizabeth Barton, a nun executed for treason having prophesied the death of King Henry VIII if he married Anne Boleyn.  Apparently, Sir Thomas Mallory, who wrote Le Morte d’Arthur, is also round about here somewhere…what happened to them all, I wonder?

Haunted London, ghosts in the City, Christchurch Greyfriars burials
The ghosts you need to watch out for are those of Elizabeth Barton, Queen Isabella, Lady Agnes, an unidentified monk – and a dog.  Rather amusingly, Isabella and Agnes don’t appear to get on too well and have been seen having a slanging match.

I sat there in this little oasis, happily chewing my sandwich, watching the butterflies, birds and bees all do their stuff.  Just across the road are the offices of my least favourite company, BT.  I briefly toyed with the idea of lobbying parliament to introduce capital punishment for really awful customer service.  Then I decided it would be quicker to call upon on the spirits that haunt this place, and ask them to pay a visit to the executive offices opposite.  Let that be a lesson to anyone who decides to take me on.

See the City of London's website for more about Christchurch Greyfriars.  The nearest tube station is St Paul's (Central Line - the red one).

Taking part in INSPIRED SUNDAY meme



21 comments:

  1. A lot of history to this place... your shots of it are wonderful.

    I think I've heard of the hauntings here.

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    1. Thank you - I can't take credit for the one of St Paul's..

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  2. It's nice to know that the place still is remembered and used, at least Greyfriars in Oxford & Reading are still churches in use

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  3. Looks amazing - so much history!
    Liz

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  4. How I would love to see fisty cuffs between ghosts, lunch time would be different! Great history shown here. I have a photo taken by a member of my family looking across the Thames during the Blitz, terrifying. Have a great weekend. Chel

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  5. gorgeous. really enjoyed the history of the church. thanks you for sharing with us at InSPIREd Sunday. happy weekend. ( :

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    1. Thank you! I'll get the hang of this meme stuff one of these days. Meanwhile enjoying pics of churches etc from around the world.

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  6. «Louis» enjoyed this detailed post very much. He is an admirer of Christopher Wren. Wren shaped London in mud the same way as Haussmann shaped Paris.

    A Congregational Church from 1867 two miles from the Pacific Ocean is «Louis'» inSPIREd Sunday post.

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    1. Thank you! I like the thought of Wren shaping London in mud; you obviously know the grimy parts..!

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  7. really liked the moodiness in the first shot. rather spooky. :)

    just thought i'd mention it - did you know you have word verification enabled on your comments? some folks don't realize they have it on. makes it more difficult for folks to leave comments on your blog, for sure.

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  8. What a great post! I love your photo and all the info that goes with it!

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    1. Thank you very much - drop by again!

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  9. What a fascinating place with an amazing history. My city is not much more than 100 years old!

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    1. It must make construction a lot easier!!

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  10. Excellent pictures and fascinating information - I will be back.

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    1. Thank you - look forward to seeing you again.

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  11. Your post has reminded me that I stumbled across this place a few years ago, but if you had asked me where it was, I wouldn't have remembered the name. Thnaks for reminding me, and for the extra info which I really didn't know. I have to confess I am a bit jealous of whoever has a private residence in the tower. What a brilliant place to live! I will look out for that, too, when I eventually revisit.

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  12. When we next visit London, I am going to go back through all your London posts and re-read, to make sure we visit all the highlights! I could spend months in London and never tire of the 'new' (to me) and interesting places in that city full of history and mystery!

    BTW, you show up as a 'no-reply blogger,' so I can't ask you this in an email: What is the similar trip you are making this weekend? Pretty sure it's not to Indiana. To visit family? How far is it? Do you take train, bus, or car to get there? I'm nosy only because I love England and I love maps and like to picture everything on a map. It's the way my brain works. LOL

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.