Above: St Gabriel’s churchyard – now called Fen Court Garden – surrounded by modern offices on the north side of Fenchurch Street.
The little church of St Gabriel stood in the middle of the roadway in Fenchurch Street. If we pause for a moment to reflect on the name of the street, it becomes obvious that its name was derived from the existence of this church. Having explained ‘church’ in ‘Fenchurch Street’ we will complete the derivation and now consider the syllable ‘Fen’ in the street name. This is a more problematic explanation. John Stow, in his ‘Survay of London’ published in 1603 says that it took the name of ‘Fennie’ or moorish ground through which the stream of ‘Langbourn’ ran. However, Stow adds that some people thought the name came from ‘faenum’ (Latin for ‘grass’) from the hay sold at Gracechurch Street Market.
In fact, there are no records to prove the existence of the mythical ‘Langbourne’ stream, nor to support the theory that the locality was low-lying or marshland, while the present levels certainly indicate the contrary. This second derivation certainly seems to be the more probable of the two because it is well-known that there was a hay market in nearby Gracechurch Street in medieval times.
The dedication of the church was after Gabriel – mentioned in the Bible in the Gospel of Luke in the stories of the Annunciation, in which the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and the Virgin Mary, foretelling the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, respectively (Luke 1:11–38).
Above: A City Plaque marking the site of St Gabriel.
Returning to the history of the church, there are frequent references to ‘Fancherche’ and the parish of ‘Fancherche’ or ‘Fencherche’ from 1170 onwards. In 1283 it was referred to as ‘All Hallows de Phanchurch’ and in 1315 the church was described as ‘St Mary de Farncherch’ and later still as ‘St Mary Fenchurch’ and ‘St Mary and All Saints’. According to Harben, the earliest reference to the church by the name of St Gabriel was 1526. Later references describe it as ‘St Mary and St Gabriel’.
Above: St Gabriel Fenchurch shown on the Agas map of c1561. Notice the well to the east of the church and the detached churchyard (with the stone cross in the middle). The three lanes on the south side of Fenchurch are (left to right) Philpot Lane, Rood Lane and Mincing Lane.
The little church stood in the centre of Fenchurch Street but there was no graveyard around it. A well is shown nearby, standing to the east of the building. In 1375 land was given for a burial place on the north side of Fenchurch Street. That piece of ground is still there and contains a few graves. It is used as a little garden in the City. The excerpt from the Agas map is probably the only visual representation of the church. It also shows the well and the graveyard to the north.
The church of St Gabriel was enlarged and beautified in 1631 but the work was only enjoyed for about 30 years because it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666). The church was not rebuilt and the parish was united with that of St Margaret Pattens. The only evidence for the church is its churchyard. Just occasionally, parish markers can be found in the City from churches that were destroyed at the time of the Great Fire and not rebuilt. Unfortunately, in this case, no parish marker is to be seen.