American History in the City of London

I recently organised a private virtual tour focussing on the American history hiding in the historic City of London.

To be honest I was surprised just how many fascinating connections there were to the United States so I thought I’d share some of my favourites here too!

1. St Bride’s, Fleet Street

Known as the Journalist’s church, St Bride’s has plenty of connections with printing and the papers that used to be based on Fleet Street.

The magnificent spire (reportedly the inspiration for traditional tiered wedding cakes) was struck by lightening in 1764 and King George III wrote to Benjamin Franklin for advice on its repairs. Apparently the pair couldn’t agree on whether the lightning conductor should be blunt or pointed. You can read about the disagreement here!

American History London St brides

However, there’s more American history inside, including the 1957 reredos below.

American History London

On the right hand side there’s a dedicating to the memory of Edward Winslow and the Pilgrim Fathers. In 1613 Winslow was an apprentice stationer (The Worshipful Company of Stationers then managed the printing trade) and his parents were married in St Bride’s.

Winslow sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 and later became the Governor of New Plymouth, re-elected twice.

Another connection can be found in a small bust carved by Clare Waterhouse, replacing an earlier marble carving by Marjorie Meggit;

American History London

It represents Virginia Dare, the first recorded European child to be born in North America. Her parents had been married here before sailing to Roanoke in 1587.

2. John Smith, St Mary Le Bow

This swaggering chap doesn’t look quite the same as Disney’s re-imagining of him, but you can find his sculpture outside St Mary Le Bow Church.

American History London

Smith first sailed to Virginia in 1606 and was part of the first settlement in Jamestown in 1607. A year later he sent back his story of attempting to build relationships with the local Indian chief; King Powhatan which was published at the sign of the greyhound in St Paul’s Churchyard.

Perhaps inevitably, relations between locals and invaders soured and it was then that the young Princess Pocahontas intervened, saving Smith’s life.

Smith returned to the ‘New World’ multiple times and advised the Mayflower expedition. He is buried in St Sepulcre-without-Newgate.

3. St Mary Aldermanbury

Just behind Guildhall is another churchyard with US connections, although you’ll struggle to find the church itself.

Destroyed in The Blitz, St Mary Aldermanbury was never rebuilt. Instead it was bought by Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri and re-assembled across the pond!

It was bought by the college as a memorial to Winston Churchill, erected a year after his death in 1966. It was at Westminster College that in 1946 he had given his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech.

There’s a helpful plaque in the gardens to show you what the church looks like today;

American History London - St Mary Aldermanbury

4. St Paul’s Cathedral

It’s one of London’s most iconic buildings, but there’s a surprising amount of American connections in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Behind the high altar in the East End sits the American Memorial Chapel. This part of the Cathedral suffered the most damage in The Blitz and was rededicated in 1958.

Little clues to American history can be found in the railings in front of the altar below. As well as dates relating to the Cathedral, there’s also the dates 1607 (Foundation of Jamestown) and 1776 (Declaration of Independence) embedded into the ironwork.

The chapel is a place to quiet contemplation and contains a Roll of Honour to the 28,000 American servicemen who were stationed in the UK, and gave their lives, during the Second World War.

There’s a facsimile copy nearby where – if you ask a member of staff – they can help you find a particular name.

American History London

In the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral you can also find a memorial to Billy Fiske, a pilot who fought with the British during the Battle of Britain. His plaque reads; “An American citizen who died that England might live”.

5. George Peabody, Royal Exchange

Around the back of the Royal Exchange sits a distinguished-looking gentleman.

American History London

George Peabody was born in Massachusetts in a small town that’s now been renamed after him. He worked his way up in sales and banking, eventually moving to London.

He was deeply moved by the deprivation of UK workers and with no heirs to leave his wealth he founded the Peabody Trust to help with the Country’s housing crisis. Today the Peabody Housing Association manages 55,000 homes across Greater London.

Found any more surprising American connections in the City? Let me know in the comments!

More London Inspiration

23 Comments

  • Joseph Kenney

    Reply

    Ben Franklin House on Craven Street. Also, St Bartholomew the Great Church, part of which was used by a printer in the mid 18th Century for which Franklin worked during his first trip to London. And the site of the Texas Embassy, near St James Palace, when Texas was (briefly) an independent country.

    August 3, 2020 at 8:54 pm
  • Mark Brady

    Reply

    Lincoln Memorial Tower, Lambeth North. Also ‘second’ resting place of the preacher Rowland Hill

    August 5, 2020 at 7:52 am
  • Mark Morison

    Reply

    All Hallows by the Tower where John Quincy Adams was married and William Penn was baptised.
    Also I remember being told that the Peabody statue is the only statue in London of an American, who was not a President. I was told very many years ago so do not know whether it’s still true.

    August 5, 2020 at 11:42 am
  • Jo Livingston

    Reply

    Plaque to John Harvard in Borough High St.

    August 5, 2020 at 11:47 am
  • Adrian Butters

    Reply

    Hi
    Yes, very interesting (and often forgotten) links, one way or another, this country has with America and Canada. Most British cities have this link (if you look hard enough).

    In Nottingham, at the bottom of Hockley, across from the Thurland pub, is a row of Georgian buildings, and during the American revoulution of the late 18th century an organisation existed that backed the American rebels, and had an office along this row.

    They received everything from death threats to life long promises of support. Not sure of the final outcome 😳

    In Leicester, on a roundabout, near the Leicester royal infirmary, is a scale model of the Statue of Liberty, erected as thanks to all the American service men who helped Britain in World War Two.

    I would be interested if anyone else could provide knowledge (yes, very interesting contributions already) of these various types of links in London (and elsewhere in UK) that remind us of our ancestors journeys to North America.

    Thank you

    Yours truly

    Adrian Butters.

    August 5, 2020 at 12:12 pm
  • christine ellis

    Reply

    Back to St Paul’s Cathedral, I believe the laying out of the garden behind the East Chapel was funded by the ‘St Paul’s Cathedral Trust in America’ and it has a lot of North American species in it.

    August 6, 2020 at 8:21 am
  • Anne K Pettitt

    Reply

    Thank you for your inspiring posts about London.
    For many years I have taken Danish 6th Formers to London as part of their A-level English, so even though I’m now retired I know the pleasure of showing surprising, hidden corners in the big city.
    Two American links: The Harvard Chapel in Southwark Cathedral. John Harvard, one of the founders of Harvard University, was born in the parish and baptised in the Cathedral.
    http://archive.southwark.anglican.org/cathedral/tour/harvard.htm

    And St-Martins-in-the Fields which occasionally creates a deja-vue in American visitors. The church was copied extensively in Colonial America. Even my teenage Danish students often recognised it from American films.
    https://britishheritage.com/the-shock-of-the-familiar-at-st-martin-in-the-fields

    Best regards
    Anne Pettitt, Denmark

    August 6, 2020 at 9:52 am
  • Caryle

    Reply

    The spire on the church opposite Lambeth North station is called stars & stripes and I’m sure it was funded by Americans.

    August 6, 2020 at 12:07 pm
  • Sara James

    Reply

    St Paul’s Cathedral. In the crypt there is a bronze bust of George Washington in Bay 5 in the Nelson Chamber.
    In the OBE Chapel there is a very large memorial to the American artist John Singer Sargent. It is a bronze Crucifixion and was given by Sargent’s sisters as his own memorial.
    There is a memorial to a choirboy who was at the Cathedral in the 1970s (I think ) who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
    New Bond Street. On the corner of Grafton Street is a statue – Allies-
    showing the bronze figures of Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting on a bench. Given to the City of Westminster in 1995 by the Bond Street Association to commemorate 50 years of peace.

    August 6, 2020 at 8:53 pm
  • Pat Wilkey

    Reply

    Katie I loved the details relating to St Brides Fleet St, especially the George III and Benjamin Franklin spat about the spire.

    I love your posts.

    August 8, 2020 at 8:53 pm
  • Mark King

    Reply

    Thank you for such an interesting selection, Katie!

    In response to your challenge and focusing just on the City rather than all of London, there’s that bust of President Lincoln in the east entrance to the Royal Exchange near the Peabody statue (I’m not sure why Lincoln is there!). A native American is also one of the four personifications surrounding Queen Anne’s statue at the West Front of St Paul’s. Finally, it may be stretching a point but one may claim that the Hudson Bay Company’s (HQ formerly in the City, see beaver weather vane by Leathersellers Hall) trading activities included parts of what today are in the US

    August 9, 2020 at 3:06 pm
  • Nigel Hulbert

    Reply

    Dear Katie
    I’m new to your website and blog – recommendation from a Muswell Hill-based friend – and I’m looking forward to discovering and receiving your weekly newsletter!
    Expanding beyond the City, there is this connection I’m aware of – at St George’s Hanover Square:
    https://www.stgeorgeshanoversquare.org/history/stgeorges-and-the-usa.html

    August 22, 2020 at 4:46 pm
  • The small, free-to-visit, and excellent Bank of England museum (entrance in Bartholomew Lane, off Threadneedle Street) has on display a ledger with an entry signed by George and Martha Washington. Apparently, it’s the earliest surviving record of their marriage.

    October 23, 2020 at 8:11 pm

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