Above: Looking west at the church from College Street.
“Upper Thames Street – Part 10”
The earliest mention of the church was 1219. The site has not changed over the years, but the church would have appeared further up College Hill (once called Royal Hill) — away from Upper Thames Street in medieval times, because of the re-arrangement of the street plan around the church in the 20th century.
The name of this parish is the longest of all those City. We will take each name separately. ‘Michael’ is the name of an archangel mentioned in the Bible — in the Book of Daniel, the Letter of Jude and the Book of Revelation. ‘Royal’ is derived from Reole, at first a tenement and later a street near the church. When the Normans came to England, the kings wanted the finest wines served at their tables and those wines had to be imported from the Bordeaux region of France. When we say ‘Bordeaux wine’ we really mean wine grown in La Reole, a town near Bordeaux, from which French merchants imported wine from 1282 onwards. The French vintners lived near the church of St Michael. Finally ‘Paternoster’ which is actually two words ‘Pater Noster’ — the first two words in Latin of the Lord’s Prayer.
In medieval times the church was right in the centre of the City’s wine importing trade. The riverfront, within the Ward of Vintry, would be busy with men unloading the wine shipped to the City from Bordeaux. To make sure the wine reaching the royal table was of the highest standard, men from Bordeaux lived in the and around the church, supervising the unloading and storage of that wine. The area was rather like a French enclave of vintners in the streets around the church. It was here that Geoffrey Chaucer’s father lived and it was here that Geoffrey was born. He was the son of a vintner who supplied fine wines to the king who, in those days, was living at the Palace of Westminster.
St Michael’s church was destroyed in the Great Fire on Monday 3 September 1666. Christopher Wren designed the new church and oversaw the rebuilding 1686-94, his master mason was Edward Strong. The steeple, also designed by Christopher Wren, was completed in 1713. It is Wren’s church that remains to be seen to this day. It is now used as one of the centres in the City of London for the Seamen’s mission.
As has already been mentioned, while the church did not stand next to Upper Thames Street. Its site is not far north of the street and it is a worthy subject for inclusion in this series relating to places of interest in Upper Thames Street.
One really famous name is associated with the church — Richard Whittington. He was famously four times Lord Mayor of London. He lived near the church and worshipped in it. Whittington lived in a house in College Hill that was close to the church. He died on 4 March 1423 and was buried in the church.
After 1424, money from Whittington’s will was used to build Whittington College. It was built next door to the church and many prayers were heard by those who passed by, particularly ‘Pater Noster’ which was incorporated into the name of the church.