This list entry was subject to a Minor Enhancement on 29/06/2020
CHURCH OF ST ANDREW, HOLBORN
Church, on the site of a mid-C15 church, rebuilt to the design of Sir Christopher Wren in 1686-7, preserving the C15 tower which he refaced in 1703-4, possibly with the involvement of Nicholas Hawksmoor. Restoration by Seeley and Paget following bomb damage, completed 1961.
MATERIALS: Portland stone, with copper-covered roof.
PLAN: aisled nave of seven bays with a shallow chancel and west tower, the tower flanked by vestibules and the chancel by vestries.
EXTERIOR: the tower retains its C15 angle buttresses and pointed lower windows. The balustraded top stage is an addition of 1703-4, with pinnacles with vases. The tower’s large upper windows have a segmental pediment on pilasters within a round-headed frame. On the west front are statues of schoolchildren from the former Parish School in Hatton Garden. The main body of the church is balustraded, having two tiers of windows, with large round-headed openings over segmental ones, or pedimented doorways in the end bays. The low vestries to the east are domed.
INTERIOR: Wren’s lofty barrel-vaulted interior was faithfully recreated by the C20 restoration, with groin-vaults over the aisles on Corinthian columns rising from the gallery fronts. There is a two-storeyed Venetian window to the chancel. The circular skylight over the chancel was probably introduced by J.H. Good during alterations of 1818. All the furnishings were introduced to the church in the C20, some from other historic churches. The C19 font and pulpit, and the late-C20 organ in a mid-C18 case given by George Frederic Handel, came from the chapel of the Foundling Hospital in Coram’s Fields, demolished in 1926; Thomas Coram’s tomb was brought here in 1961. The altar rails and part of the reredos come from the Church of St Luke, Old Street. Other fittings are by Seeley and Paget.
Excavation of the crypt in 2001 revealed Roman remains, dating between AD 150 and 300, suggesting that the site was in use at this time. King Edgar’s renewal of the Charter of Westminster Abbey circa 959 mentions a timber church in this position, which was replaced by a stone church in the mid-C15. By the late C17, the church had become ruinous, and although outside the area burned by the Great Fire of 1666, was re-built by Sir Christopher Wren together with 50 City churches destroyed by the fire. The C15 tower was kept, being refaced and raised in 1703-4. In 1818 John Henry Good was appointed to repair the church and undertake alterations, including the creation of a new gallery at the west end of the church, later removed. The construction of Holborn Viaduct from 1863 led to the removal of the parish court house and rectory to the west of the church; Samuel Sanders Teulon was commissioned to build replacements: the Gothic rectory, court house and vestry clerk’s office of 1868-71, built around a courtyard to the south, and listed at Grade II. Teulon also undertook a restoration of the church interior in 1869-72, though nothing is thought to remain from this phase. The church was struck by an incendiary bomb on 16 April 1941, and very badly damaged; restoration work by Seeley and Paget was completed in 1961. Notable figures associated with the church include John Gerard, the herbalist, who was buried here in 1618, and Benjamin Disraeli, the future prime minster, who was baptised here as a twelve-year-old in 1817. The church is now the headquarters church of the Royal College of Organists.
Amongst a number of points of historic interest, the Church of St Andrew is associated with a very significant moment in the history of Black presence in Britain, through the baptism in 1771 of James Somerset. Somerset had been enslaved in Africa and sold in Virginia to Charles Stewart, a colonial customs official, who regarded him as his property for 20 years. Somerset was brought to London by Stewart in 1769, and on 12 February 1771 was baptised at the Church of St Andrew, Holborn. Having left Stewart’s service in October 1771, Somerset was seized by Stewart and confined in irons aboard a ship bound for Jamaica on 26 November. Somerset’s white godparents, who had welcomed him into the Church at St Andrew’s, secured a writ of habeas corpus from Lord Mansfield, demanding that he be presented to the court. Somerset then persuaded Granville Sharp, by then well known for his passionate dedication to the campaign against slavery, to support his cause. The Somerset case opened in January 1772, with eight separate hearings leading up to the final decision in June of that year. The argument centred on the question of whether slavery was legal in England, and whether an English court should uphold colonial laws which did not have an English parallel. The final ruling on 22 June 1772 asserted that slavery lacked a firm foundation in English law, and therefore was understood by many at the time to grant freedom not only to James Somerset, but to all enslaved Black people in Britain. It was a significant milestone on the long road to Britain’s abolition of the slave trade in1807, and of slavery itself in 1833.
This List entry has been amended in 2020 to commemorate the anniversary on 22 June 1772 of the Somerset ruling, a significant legal landmark in the campaign against slavery.