St Michael Cornhill

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• St Michael Cornhill is a medieval parish church in the City with a pre-Norman Conquest parochial foundation.

• The church of St Michael was in existence by 1133. The patronage was in the possession of the Abbot and convent of Evesham until 1503, when it was settled on the Drapers Company. A new tower was built in 1421, possibly after a fire. Stow described the church as "fair and beautiful, but since the surrender of their lands to Edward VI, greatly blemished by the building of four tenements on the north side thereof, in the place of a green church-yard". On the south side of the church was a churchyard with what Stow calls a "proper cloister", with lodgings for choristers, and a pulpit cross, at which sermons were preached. These were maintained by Sir John Rudstone, after whose death in 1530 the choir was dissolved and the cross fell into decay.

• The medieval church, except for the tower, was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, and the present building was begun in 1672. The design is traditionally attributed to Sir Christopher Wren; however, the authors of the Buidldings of England guide to the City churches believe Wren's office had no involvement with the rebuilding of the body of the church, the parish having dealt directly with the builders.

• The walls did not form right-angles, indicating the re-use of the medieval foundations.

• The fifteenth century tower, having proved unstable, was demolished in the early eighteenth century. A 130-foot high replacement was completed in 1721. In contrast to the main body of the church, it was built in a Gothic style. Construction had begun in 1715, with money from the coal fund. Funds proved inadequate, and work stopped in 1717. The tower was eventually completed with the aid of a grant, the upper stages being to the designs of its surveyor, Nicholas Hawksmoor.

• In the late 1850s, the Drapers Company, motivated by legislation that would have forced them to hand certain funds over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners if they were not spent on St Michael’s, decided to fund a lavish scheme of embellishment, and asked George Gilbert Scott to carry out the work. Scott added an elaborate Gothic porch (1858–1860) facing Cornhill. It is decorated with carving by, which includes a high-relief sculpture depicting "St Michael disputing with Satan". New side windows were created in the chancel, and an elaborate stone reredos, incorporating the paintings of Moses and Aaron from its predecessor, was constructed in an Italian Gothic style.

• Few original furnishings were retained from the Victorian re-building, but the 1672 font survived, although a new balustrade was added.

• The organ was originally built by Renatus Harris in 1684 but has been rebuilt several times.

• The church escaped serious damage in the Second World War and was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

• A new ring of twelve bells was installed in the tower in April 2011.

• The church has one of the oldest sets of churchwarden's records in the City of London, which are now kept in the Guildhall Library.


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