St Michael’s Church by Covent Garden

Lurking in a little nook on one of the many streets around the back of Covent Garden you may spy what looks like a church trying to squeeze its way out between more modern buildings. Here you may notice if you look a stone sign explaining that this building is just the vicarage of St.Michael’s Church, which had originally been consecrated in 1833, but then torn down in 1906.

St Michael's Vicarage - 2The church itself sat just a few feet away on the corner of Exeter and Burleigh Streets – which mark the former site of the London house of Sir William Cecil, the great Lord Burghley of Queen Elizabeth fame and his son, the later Earl of Exeter.

There seems to be some confusion as to why a church was built on the spot as the area was already well served by churches, and the church was described in the Oxford Journals of 1906 as being quite plain of design, although having gothic hints.

According to the Survey of London, Volume 36 – the church was designed by James Savage in a style he described as fourteenth-century Gothic. The body of the church was faced with white brick, with a corner spirelet and dressings of Bath stone. A brick tower at the south-east corner was surmounted by a Bath stone spire. Inside, the north, south and west galleries were supported by cast-iron girders, the aisle floors were paved with Yorkshire stone, and the pews, pulpit and desk were of painted deal.

The church was initially intended to accommodate 934 adults and children, but cost cutting shrank the church down to 877 persons.

The Duke of Bedford – who was largely responsible for the construction of Covent Garden donated the land for the church and a large stained glass window was commissioned later in memory of the Duke of Wellington. A notable friend of the church was the Prime Minister, Mr Gladstone. I have presumed that the church had a notable Organ as there is a reference to it in the Hopkins & Rimbault publication of 1855.

The last service was held on Sunday, 10th September 1905 – and the fixtures were sold before the church was torn down, although I couldn’t find out what happened to the stained glass window. Its site now forms part of the Strand Palace Hotel – the freehold having been sold for £20,500 according to a report in The Times of 29th March 1906. Unlike modern times where if a Church is sold it is usually required to be preserved in some way – typically as a fashionable conversion into flats – on this occasion it was actually part of the sale conditions that the new owner not only demolished the church, but also built something that in no way resembled a church. So now it is a hotel.

However, this small fragment of the vicarage remains to remind us of the long lost church, and one of the very few to be demolished in London for reasons other than the result of German bombs.

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