St. Martin-in-the-Fields church was built by the Scottish architect James Gibbs in the early 18th-century, but there has been a church on the site since at least 1222 – when it really was in the fields. It occupied a spot approximately halfway between The City and Westminster – the two great centres of power in the capital.
The church was rebuilt in the 1540s by Henry VIII, and knocked down in 1722. The building that we see today was heavily criticised at the time, but has gone down as a popular London landmark.
Despite its tiny size and humble decorations, St. Martins actually has strong royal connections – it is the parish church of Buckingham Palace. Charles II was one of the many royal babies to be christened here, and George I even acted as church warden. You can see the royal box to the left of the high altar.
The church also has strong connections with the Admiralty. Tradition demands that the bells are rung every time we win a naval battle.
Some of the people buried here include Nell Gwyn – Charles II’s mistress – the artist William Hogarth, and Thomas Chippendale – the cabinet maker extraordinaire.
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
St. Martin-in-the-Fields is famous for its classical orchestra – the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. If you turn up in the evening then you can catch a show by candlelight, or you can settle for the free ones every lunchtime (donations welcome).
Concerts are typically held at 1.05 PM on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Evening concerts are held at 7.30 PM on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival
Since the end of World War I St. Martin’s church has gained a worthy reputation for helping the homeless – setting up soup kitchens and charity collections.
The Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival is held on the first Sunday of October, when Cockney stall-holders and market-traders from the East End of London gather in their outfits to raise a little money.
pamHMRC – “The last time I visited st martins was when I was a young child, and my parents took me to do some brass rubbings in the basement. I have always meant to return, so when I saw that there was some mozart by candlelight I couldn't resist. The church is beautiful inside, and the music seems to fill up the whole space. The sound of the musicians is so wonderful inside the church. And whilst it was not a full orchestra (only six players) I at least did get to sit very close to them near the front, which meant I could enjoy their playing so much more than when I have to sit a long way away somewhere like the royal albert hall. It makes the evening so much more intimate, especially with the candles!.”
pwyn – “I occasionally go in to hear some music and just to have a sit down and a rest. It is cheap enough to just wander in off the street (you can spend the same amount just having a cup of tea and a roll in a restaurant) and you can listen to some wonderful classical music while you take the weight off your feet. The seats are actually in the pews, where you would sit if you came to listen to the mass, and pews are not the most comfortable of seats, so that is a black mark, but luckily the concerts do not last all that long so it doesn't really matter. And being a church, some of the seats have obstructed views so you definitely want to get as close to the front as possible. But dont worry about not being able to hear it.. Everyone is very respectful and quiet, and the sound swells and fills the entire church and sounds absolutely wonderful. I always go and have a cup of tea afterwards in the cafe. Give it a try!.”