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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.
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.
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.
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