Our history

The City Churches

The City of London boasts the finest concentration of glorious historic churches in the country. Today there are 42 places of worship within the Square Mile, as well as nine towers and standing remains of lost churches. All 51 buildings appear in the National Heritage List for England, fully 38 recognised as Grade I for 'exceptional interest'. 

There were of course once many more churches in the ancient City of London. Before the Great Fire of 1666, there were well over 100. Over the centuries, as people moved away from the old City, regular worshippers began to decline. By the late 1800s, a number of churches were actually demolished. There were just under fifty left by the start of the Second World War, half of which were badly damaged by incendiary raids and bombs, five beyond repair. Remarkably, a trace of these lost churches can still be seen in solitary towers and beautifully landscaped gardens nestled within their ruined walls. With restoration and rebuilding, there were 39 Anglican churches in good condition again by the late 1960s, but it was clear that many had effectively become redundant. What to do?

Over more than a century, there have been at least six formally commissioned reports into the matter. The latest of these was that from Lord Templeman for the Bishop of London, published in January 1994. The 'Templeman Report' recommended that the number of active Anglican City churches should be reduced to twelve, in three categories: four 'parish churches' and eight 'active non-parish churches', with the remaining 27 as 'reserve churches'. It was suggested that this latter group (essentially, redundant churches) could be used for cultural or educational purposes.


Fisheye view of church interior

The Friends of the City Churches

The proposals of the 1994 Templeman Commission prompted Marcus Binney of SAVE Britain's Heritage to talk with The Friends of Friendless Churches, which had under its wing an inactive charity called The Friends of the City Churches. The Friends had been set up during the Second World War to campaign for the restoration of bomb-damaged churches. After considerable success in saving churches which had been threatened with demolition, the charity effectively became idle. But with modern concerns over church redundancy, through Binney's initiative, The Friends of the City Churches' were reborn!

The 'new' Friends of the City Churches began in 1994, bringing together many people who valued the City's churches with the aim of ensuring that they would be preserved intact for posterity and, most importantly, be kept open to visitors on a regular basis. The revivified Friends' first campaign ensured that the most drastic proposals of the Templeman Commission were not implemented. 

This work was greatly helped by the Revd John Paul (1930-2003), then vicar of St Andrew by the Wardrobe. He organised a conference in November 1994 at London's Guildhall with the optimistic title of A More Excellent Way, 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 identified a number of people keen to protect the threatened churches.

Thus the Friends began their endeavour to keep the City's churches open. It would be possible to welcome visitors and worshippers to the neglected churches if volunteers could be found to watch over them at least one day a week. Melba Coombs of NADFAS (National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies, now the Arts Society) joined The Friends to organise its 'Church Watchers' service. The first church watching began at St Sepulchre without Newgate, shortly followed by St Mary Aldermary. Today over 100 Watchers help to keep about half of the City churches open in any given week.

In January 1996, the Revd Richard Chartres — who had vowed 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, so it is appropriate that Bishop Richard became Patron of the charity.

The Friends of the City Churches have gone from strength to strength and now have over 1200 members from all over the world. The Friends are always keen to expand their membership with those 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 a basement office in St Magnus the Martyr to new headquarters at St Mary Abchurch.

City of London churches graphic