A trip to the US
With foreign travel holiday plans thwarted for most of us this summer, we bring you the story of an alternative journey across the pond instead. However, it’s not a personal journey but one of a building! The sale of ‘old’ London Bridge to an American entrepreneur in the late 1960s and its reconstruction in Arizona is fairly well known but not many know the story of the City church which was transported to Fulton, Missouri in the same decade.
The Brewers’ Company was originally linked to All Hallows London Wall, which still stands today, although the current building dates from 1767. In 1438, however, for reasons unknown, the Lord Mayor requested the Brewers to transfer their allegiance to the Church of Aldermanbury, situated at the junction of Aldermanbury and Love Lane, in which parish the Company’s hall stood. First mentioned in 1181, the church was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666 and rebuilt in Portland stone by Christopher Wren.
The night of 29 December 1940 saw severe bombing in the area. Brewers’ Hall was destroyed as was St Mary Aldermanbury, possibly by the same incendiary bomb. All that remained of the church, just one of thirteen Wren churches destroyed that night, was the shell. As with much of the City, the site stood derelict for many years; it wasn’t until 1959 that it came under threat of demolition. So how did it end up rebuilt ten years later on an American college campus? The link is Winston Churchill.
After losing the General Election at the end of the Second World War, Churchill received a bold invitation from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri; this was to give a speech within their lecture series by people of international reputation to promote understanding of economic and social problems of international concern. In 1946, with President Truman in attendance, Churchill delivered his address entitled ‘The Sinews of Peace’ which became known as his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech.
By the 1960s, college authorities began discussing a memorial to Winston Churchill and his speech. A magazine article on Wren churches destroyed during the war gave them an idea which astonishingly came to fruition – in 1965 the 7000 remaining stones of St Mary Aldermanbury were taken down, labelled and shipped across the Atlantic, ready for what The Times called ‘perhaps the biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture’. With the stones rebuilt and the interior fitted out to look just as it would have done in Wren’s time, the rededication ceremony took place in 1969. A museum and library was created underneath the church; it was designated America’s National Churchill Museum in 2009.
The original site of St Mary Aldermanbury – very close to Brewers’ Hall – has been laid out as a garden, with the bases of the pillars (which couldn’t be moved) remaining in situ marking where the church stood.
The garden also contains a bust of Shakespeare atop a memorial to two parishioners buried there, John Heminge and Henry Condell. Actors, friends of and co-partners with Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre, they collated, edited and published his plays in an edition known as the First Folio, ensuring the survival of his work. Appropriately, one of the finest copies is housed across the road in Guildhall Library.
To watch snippets of Churchill’s 1946 speech and see more of the reconstructed church, visit America’s National Churchill Museum website, www.nationalchurchillmuseum.org.
For a scholarly article on the relocation and transformation of a London parish church, see Keith Eggener, “How Christopher Wren Came to America,” Places Journal, October 2014. https://doi.org/10.22269/141002.
Main image: St Mary Aldermanbury in 1814. Drawn by G. Shepherd & etched by J. Skelton for the Architectural Series of London Churches by J. Booth Duke St Portland Place Nov 25 1814. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Published on 18 August 2020