Essential Architecture-  London

St. Martin-in-the-Fields


James Gibbs


Trafalgar Square, London


1722 to 1726


English Baroque




St Martin-in-the-Fields, London

St Martin-in-the-Fields is a Church of England church at the northeast corner of Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, London.

The earliest reference to the church is recorded in 1222, with a dispute between the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of London as to who had control over it. It was decided in favour of Westminster, and used by the monks of Westminster Abbey. The church was rebuilt by Henry VIII in 1542. At this time, it was literally "in the fields" in an isolated position between the cities of Westminster and London.

The church survived the Great Fire of London due to its isolated position, but was replaced with a new building, designed by James Gibbs in 1721. The design was criticised widely at the time but subsequently became extremely famous, being copied particularly widely in the United States.[citation needed] The church is essentially rectangular, with a great pediment in the Classical style supported by a row of huge Corinthian columns. The high steeple is topped with a gilt crown. Gibbs was certainly inspired by Sir Christopher Wren as the interior is very similar to St James's in Piccadilly.

When built the church was on St Martin's Lane and it was only much later, with the building of Trafalgar Square that its spectaclar architecture attained the evidence that it has today.

The church has a close relationship with the Royal Family – King George I was a churchwarden and Queen Mary attended regularly – and with the Admiralty, which falls within its parish. The White Ensign of the Royal Navy hangs above the altar, accompanied by the flag of the Admiralty Board. Traditionally the church's bells are rung to proclaim a naval victory.

A number of notables are buried in the church, including Robert Boyle, Nell Gwynne, Roubiliac, Jack Sheppard and Thomas Chippendale.

Because of its prominent position, St Martin-in-the-Fields is possibly the most famous non-cathedral church in London. It is well known for its "open door" policy under which the church is open to the public at all times of the day and night, its work for the homeless, and its occasional free lunchtime concerts. Many today famous ensembles performed at the church, including the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the New Trinity Baroque, and the London Soloists Orchestra.

There is a popular café in the Crypt, where jazz concerts are held. All profits from this goes to the activities of the church with the homeless. The Crypt is also home to the London Brass Rubbing Centre, and art gallery and a book and gift shop.

In mid 2005 work began on a £34 million restoration and expansion project. This includes cleaning and repair to the church itself and redevelopment and expansion of its visitor, music and hostel facilities, which encompass not only the crypt of the church itself, but a row of houses to the north and some underground spaces in between. The funding includes a grant of £14.69 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Notable Performances
As noted before, St. Martin-in-the-Fields holds regular concerts. The church has hosted many famous players and composers throughout the years.