A brief history of St Andrew by the Wardrobe
The plain design of Wren’s last city church attracts very little attention despite its simple grace. Thrown further into the shadows by a noisy and fast-moving road, St Andrew by the Wardrobe is even easier to ignore. Like a well-bred lady fallen on hard times, the church waits with quiet dignity for someone to stop and pass the time of day.
With its rectangular body and unembellished tower, St Andrew’s presents a no-nonsense image to the outside world. Its warmth is all on the inside, where a wealth of woodwork carved in traditional style adds a wonderfully restful feel.
Burnt down in the Great Fire and bombed out in the Blitz, today’s church of St Andrew is a complete reconstruction nestling within Wren’s walls. The details—including the 17th century emblems on the ceiling—have been reproduced with particular care, so that it is difficult to tell that the church was out of use until 1961.
The history of St Andrew’s dates back to the thirteenth century when it was associated with Baynard’s Castle, a royal residence that has long since disappeared. When King Edward III moved his state robes and other effects from the Tower of London to a large building close by, St Andrew’s became better known for its connection with the Great Wardrobe. The name stayed to specify its location although the King’s store room is now only remembered in Wardrobe Place.
One of St Andrew’s proudest boasts is its connection with Shakespeare. The playwright worked close by at the Blackfriars Theatre for at least 15 years and would have known the medieval church well. He eventually bought a house in Ireland Yard, which was also in St Andrew’s parish.
In tribute to its most distinguished resident, the modern St Andrew’s now features a memorial to William Shakespeare in the west gallery, carved in oak and limewood. There is also a matching memorial to one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, the famous lutenist, singer and composer John Dowland (1562-1626) who was buried in the churchyard of St Ann’s, Blackfriars. St Ann’s was not rebuilt after the Great Fire and its parish was afterwards merged with St Andrew’s.
‘If music and sweet poetry agree,
As they must needs, the sister and the brother…
Dowland to thee is dear, whose heavenly touch
Upon the lute doth ravish human sense…’
Appropriate though these lines may be in Dowland’s case, they have only a slim link with William Shakespeare. Although they come from The Passionate Pilgrim, a collection of verse published in 1599 with Shakespeare’s name on the title page, this poem was in fact written by one Richard Barnfield.
As well as this recent addition, St Andrew’s has acquired several antique fitments over the past thirty years, most coming from other London churches destroyed in the last war. As a Wren church denuded of its original interior, it was lucky to get a replacement pulpit from the church of St Matthew, Friday Street, which had been built in the same period. The font and cover also came from here. Among other treasures are a figure of St Andrew, dated around 1600, which stands on the north side of the sanctuary, and an unusual figure of St Ann, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is shown holding the Virgin Mary, who in turn holds the Christ child. This statue, which is probably north Italian, dates to around 1500.
A number of City Livery Companies have links with St Andrew by the Wardrobe and some of their banners are displayed in the church (Mercers, Apothecaries, Parish Clerks & Blacksmiths). St Andrew’s has been designated as the Ward Church of the Castle Baynard Ward.
The Mercers’ Company
In 1542 the Company purchased from Henry VIII the property of the Hospital of St Thomas of Acon which included the advowson of St Mary Colechurch at the corner of Cheapside and Old Jewry. The Great Fire destroyed this church and the benefice was united with St Mildred Poultry. In 1871 St Mildred’s was pulled down and an exchange of rights was made between the Company and the Crown which gave the Company a share in the presentation of St Andrew by the Wardrobe. Under a Deed signed in 1984 the Company became the joint Patrons with the Parochial Church Council of St Andrew’s.
Leaflets giving further details of the history of St Andrew by the Wardrobe are available in the foyer of the church.