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Steeped in History - St Alfege Church

As well as being a place of Christian worship for over 1000 years, the site is steeped in history and one of the most outstanding examples of baroque architecture in London.

Having been named after the former Archbishop of Canterbury St Alfege who held services on the site, the church site also hosted the baptism of King Henry VIII, the burial place of the military officer General James Woolfe and also has strong connections with the composer Thomas Tallis and General Charles Gordon.

The first church was constructed on the St Alfege site around the 10th century with others constructed in the 13th, 16th and 17th centuries.

St Alfege Church also acted as a proxy Chapel Royal when Henry VIII was baptised on the site in 1491. At the time the Chapel Royal was being restored and the nearby Greyfriars’ Chapel had not been formally recognised as a formal religious church.

The church was reconstructed from 1712 following the passing on the Fifty Churches Act, one of only twelve churches to be reconstructed under the Act. This was particularly fortunate for St Alfege Church, which had suffered a collapsed roof due to a hidden defect in one of the main pillars.

The reconstruction also brought with it another famous name associated with the church. Nicholas Hawksmoor, pupil of Sir Christopher Wren, and Clerk of the Works at Greenwich Hospital for 40 years. Hawksmoor was the architect for the building project and given the freedom to express his ideas about the management of space, the result of which was the construction of what was then the widest suspended ceiling in Europe.

The reconstruction also brought a conflict between the Royal Family and parishioners over having a Royal Pew installed in the West gallery.

The next stage in the history of St Alfege came during the Second World War when incendiary bombs lodged caused a massive inferno in the roof and nave but left the walls tower undamaged.

Restoration work was entrusted to Professor Albert Richardson, who was determined to follow the principles laid down by Hawksmoor using every surviving fragment of original work that had survived.

The church continues to be an important icon of Greenwich and a stark reminder of the community’s past.

 

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