St Antholin | The Wren Steeple that moved 6 Miles to Sydenham
In the middle of Round Hill housing estate in Sydenham is quite the juxtaposition, the lone steeple of St Antholin by Christopher Wren built 1678-88.
What’s the story behind it and what’s it doing here?
History of St Antholin
Known as either St Antholin, Budge Row or St Antholin, Watling Street, the original church is first mentioned in 1119 and once stood on a Medieval street called Budge Row. It was originally named after St Anthony but the name seems to have been a corrupted over time.
Rebuilt several times, most notably after the Great Fire of London in 1666, I’ve outlined its location on the 1676 Ogilby and Morgan map below.
Completed from the late 1670s it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren who completed 51 post-fire churches (and St Paul’s Cathedral)!
Wren always knew how to maximise a budget and so the main body of the church was fairly plain but the church that rose above the surrounding buildings was elaborate.
There’s a c.1830s engraving of the church where you can admire the steeple here.
A New Home for St Antholin’s Steeple
The 19th century was a tumultuous time for City of London Churches.
As London’s population swelled, its inhabitants were moving further away from the cramped and crowded City of London so the dozens of churches were falling into disrepair.
In 1829 St Antholin’s steeple was damaged in a storm and the upper section was bought for £5 by Robert Harrild.
Born 1780 in Bermondsey, Harrild was a printing pioneer and in 1810 he added smooth rollers to the slow and cumbersome machines which hugely sped up the printing process.
During the course of the early 1800s Harrild had various offices in the City of London. He was also a church warden at St Antholin’s so this would have been very familiar to him.
Evidently he strongly believed in preserving history because he also saved Benjamin Franklin’s printing press, exhibiting to the public and donating the funds raised to the London Printers’ Pension Society.
Harrild moved his steeple to his grand manor house in Sydenham, known as Round Hill House. The spire sat in his garden on a plinth.
The rest of St Antholin’s was demolished in 1875 so now all the remains in the City is a memorial plaque on the side of another Wren church, St Mary Aldermary.
Here’s a close up of the white memorial:
Today the Bloomberg European Headquarters stands on the site of the church.
Round Hill House was converted into the Sydenham and Forest Hill Social Club in the 1930s then eventually demolished in favour of 1960s housing.
Today Wren’s spire and a magnificent cedar tree are all that remains of Harold’s garden and his with to preserve this slice of London’s history.
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