The Church of St. Peter upon Cornhill is a gem, largely hidden by the offices and shopfronts in Cornhill and Gracecurch Street, and approached from an alley that runs round the Church between Cornhill and Gracechurch Street - immediately opposite Leadenhall Market.
Regrettably it is not normally open to visitors as it used on a regular basis for Bible Study, Staff Training...for people associated with St Helen's.

The Corporation of the city of London is the patron of St Peter’s. i.e. the body responsible for recruiting/presenting the a new incumbent to the Bishop.

The Story of it Origins gleaned from many sources and in particular Past Master John Tuff, St Helen's supported by "A guide to London's Churches - Mervyn Blatch"

It is likely that a church has stood on this site for over 1,800 years, on the tallest "hill" in the City of London.
A brass plaque (probably an 18th C copy of an earlier 14th C version that has been "lost") in the North East Vestry, states that "The Christian King Lucius originally founded a church on this site in the year 179 AD" It would have been alongside the Roman Forum (now underneath Leadenhall Market) - the oldest foundation in the City.
In papers from around AD 700 it was already noted as the oldest Church in the City of London. There is mention in 1040 of a church called "St Peter binnon London" that apparently had seven altars, was the Burial site for various Lord Mayor's and a sanctury of fugitives from justice.

It is believed that this is the fifth chuch on this site.

In the mid 1400's, 4 grammar schools were founded in the City, one of them attached to St Peter's, together with a large liabrary. This school continued into the 18thC.

The original church, with the exception of the base of the main square tower (the part in Brick) was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. The present church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren between 1677 and 1681 reopened in 1682. It is believed to be the 5th on this site.

A special service was held on Jan 24th 1979 to celebrate the 1,800 the anniversary.

In 1983/84 some major restoration work was caried out. The first for almost 100 years. Stage 1 (Roof Repairs), Satge 2 reconstruction of the Boiler room and the antiquted heating system. After this there was a major cleaning and redecoration programme.

 

Outside

Picture of St Peter upon cornhill
St Peter, can be seen on the gates to the churchyard with keys in hand.
What was, a raised Burial Ground. This gets a specific mention in Charles Dickens' "Our Mutual Friend". It is described as "conveniently and healthily raised above the living".

The interior.
Entrance is from the South Door, going through the Church Yard.

Just inside the entrance on the right is a Worshipful Company of Poulters's Banner which dates from 1693. The Banner was the gift of Nathaniel Baldick who was Master of the Company for 4 years. It was restored in 1905.

Just inside the entrance on the left, a 17thC Wooden Banner which we believe was used by the Parish School of Lime Street and Cornhill. It was discovered at the Cass Foundation under piles of rubbish and rescued by Dennis Cotgrove CC ably supported by Past Master John Bristow . "It is a treasure to be proud of".

18th C Banner for Cornhill and Lime Street Ward

N.B. The east and west walls are not parallel. It is possible that the original foundations followed the shape of a prior Roman Building and that this line has been followed ever since ?

Great Table undeneath the Organ Loft - 17th C- was used Originally by Puritans for Holy Communion

Breadshelves:
The original “bread shelves” are at the west end of the Church, fixed to the wall above the table underneath the organ gallery which were used for storing bread that was distributed to the poor.

The organ:
The church has marvellous acoustics, and an organ, built by Schmidt (Father Smith (1681) although much altered over the years. Schmidt was also repsonsible for the building of the oprgan at Hampton Court Chapel.
The gallery and organ case date from the same time. It is famous for some unusual flute stops and is ideal for Elizabethan and Baroque music. It was played by Mendelssohn in 1840 and 1842. In a small frame on the original keyboard, there is a little scrap of music, autographed by the great composer, who declared that this was "the finest in London" (at that time). In 1979 at a Service to commerate the possible founding of a Church on this site in AD179 an organ restoration fund was set up to raise £20,000.

2 original High Backed Wren Pews separate the Vestibule from rest of the nave - the rest were removed in 1900.

The nave:
Pillars change shape higher up (become pallisters), which shows where galleries were in a previous time.

Chancel Screen:
The screen is one of only two from Wren churches in the City and the only one in its original setting. Wren did not favour screens, but the rector of St Peter's at the time of the reopening of the church insisted. The design of the screen is said to be by Wren and his sixteen-year-old daughter.
If you look you will notice that the screen seems to be at an angle, (the east and west walls of the church are not parallel). The pattern of the mosaic flooring (Victorian) had to be adapted to fit the space. The Coat of Arms of Charles II is in the centre.

The Rerados is contemporary to the rebuilding.

Font: (To the right of the Altar)
Dates from 1681
and is made of Marble. It is believed that the Cover predates the Great Fire.

Stained Glass: On the North side of the church are a large Memorial Stone and windows to the fallen of the Royal Tank Regiment (whose regimental church this was), in the past their Regimental Flags hung in the Church, these are now to be found at St Mary Aldermary  also in the City of London. On the south side are windows commemorating the fallen of Gough's 5th Army (1916 - 1918), The Bedfordshire and Herefordshire Regiment and the Devonshire Regiment.

A sad memorial:
On the South wall of the Bapistry there is an monument with carvings of seven children (1782) – it seems that, a mother and father went out to visit friends, and returned to find their house in ashes, and their seven children dead. The plaque was erected by the Mother and Father's host.

How St Peter's is used today
Apart from occasional services for the Royal Tank Regiment, the Poulters Company and the Lime Street Ward Club, there are no services held there.

The building is, however, in daily use by St Helen's Bishopsgate. At weekends it is the regular venue for the St Helen's youth group, and during the week it provides study space for members of the St Helen's staff team, including sixteen people taking part in the St Helen's Associate programme. This is a two-year programme in which young men and women receive training and gain experience in Bible teaching and Pastoral work, with a view to going on to paid Christian ministry. They assist with Bible studies for Christians as well as Christianity Explored. A course especially for those interested in investigating the claims of Jesus Christ.


St Helen's Church Office
Great St Helen's
London EC3A 6AT

Tel: 020 7283 2231
e-mail: st-helens@st-helens.org.uk