The Friends of the City Churches
The proposals of the 1994 Templeman Commission prompted Marcus Binney, of the SAVE Britain's Heritage organisation, to talk with The Friends of Friendless Churches, who had under its wing a charity called The Friends of the City Churches. The Friends had been set up after the Second World War when the rebuilding and restoration of some City churches seemed to be in doubt. After its early post-war successes, though, the charity had effectively became moribund. With modern concerns over church redundancy, and through Binney's initiative, The Friends of the City Churches' became reborn!
The 'new' Friends of the City Churches came into being in 1994, bringing together many people who cared for and valued the City's churches, with the aim of ensuring that the churches would be preserved intact for posterity and, most importantly, be kept open to visitors on a regular basis. The Friend's growing campaign made sure that the more drastic proposals of the Templeman Commission were never implemented.
This campaign was greatly helped by the late Reverend John Paul, then vicar of St Andrew by the Wardrobe. It was John who organised a conference in November 1994 at London's Guildhall with the optimistic title of A More Excellent Way, that was in essence a detailed and well-argued submission for the future of the City Churches. It made clear that mothballing the churches was simply not acceptable and highlighted a number of people keen to keep the threatened churches open.
Thus the Friends began their endeavour to keep the City's churches open. Regular opening of threatened churches to visitors would be possible provided that responsible and reliable persons could be found to watch over them at least one day a week. Contact was made with Melba Coombs of NADFAS (National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies), who joined The Friends to organise its 'watchers' service. The first church watching began at St Sepulchre without Newgate, shortly followed by St Mary Aldermary. Today over 100 Watchers oversee the openings of 17 City of London churches.
In January 1996 Richard Chartres — who had avowed to keep the City churches functioning as places open on a regular basis — was installed as Lord Bishop of London. His appointment gave new heart to the efforts of The Friends of the City Churches and it is appropriate that Bishop Richard became Patron of the charity.
The Friends of the City Churches has gone from strength to strength and now has over 1200 members from all over the world. The Friends are always keen to expand their membership to people of like mind — who wish to preserve the priceless heritage enshrined in our unique collection of churches in the City of London.
On 14 May 2013 The Friends moved from St Magnus the Martyr to its new headquarters at St Mary Abchurch. View some of the excitement on that quarter's blog page.