Wren’s Spire

Restoration of the spire of St Antholin’s Church

The medieval St Antholin’s Church, once situated in Budge Row in the City, was destroyed by The Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682. The spire was unique among Wren’s new churches in that it was cut from stone (Portland stone) unlike the others which were timber framed and variously clad (commonly with tile or lead). The spire was octagonal in plan, divided by horizontal ribs and crowned with the head of a classical column of the Composite order, with round shell openings at its base. The original weathervane is recorded as ‘bearing the arms of the bishopric of London’. Today (and possibly since the 19th century) it is a wolf’s head.

In 1829, the upper part of the spire was damaged in a storm. It was subsequently removed and sold for £5 to one of St Antholin’s churchwardens, Robert Harrild. The church had a new spire for 50 years but was eventually demolished altogether in 1875 to make way for the development of Queen Victoria Street. Robert Harrild (1780 - 1853), the churchwarden who purchased the spire of St Antholin’s, was a printing pioneer. He developed a new form of printing machinery, using composite rollers rather than hand held balls to apply the ink. His new rollers vastly increased the production of newspapers and by 1825 had been installed in most Fleet Street newspaper offices. He bought Round Hill House, a grand manor house in Sydenham and had the Wren spire transported there by cart to be re-erected in his garden. Harrild was later involved in all aspects of Sydenham life, and one of its parish guardians.

Round Hill House became the Sydenham and Forest Hill Social Club in the 1930s but was demolished in the 1960s to be replaced by the current terraced estate, now owned by L&Q. The spire survives on a brick plinth in the centre of the estate along with a large cedar tree from the Victorian garden.

A 1987 plaque at the site is now lost but its content once read thus:
THIS TOWER IS THE UPPER PART / OF THE SPIRE OF THE CHURCH OF ST. ANTHOLIN / WATLING ST., ONE OF CHRISTOPHER WREN'S / CITY CHURCHES BUILT BETWEEN 1678 AND 1688. / AFTER THE DEMOLITION OF THE CHURCH IN 1875 / THE TOWER WAS MOVED TO THIS GARDEN AT / ROUND HILL HOUSE BY THE OWNER, ROBERT HARRILD / SYDENHAM SOCIETY / 1987

HOLT’s funding enabled the spire to be treated to remove dirt and the thick black sulphation crust that had formed under the circular openings in the spire. The carved elements of the spire were repaired and consolidated, and the entire structure was repointed using lime mortar. The weathervane was reinstated, secured, and gilded along with the upper stone detailing, lending a remarkable finish to this historic remnant of Wren’s architectural legacy. HOLT also funded an interpretation panel to be established, facilitating the regular school visits to the site that were already taking place.

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