The Watts Church Crawl (Part the Sixteenth) Barbican

There is, it must be said, something depressing about Barbican station. It was somewhat dilapidated (well, it was a bombsite until the 80s); there have also been one or two incidents of unpleasantness here since its opening in the 1860s: it suffered severe bomb damage in 1941, and was a bomb site until the current above ground building was erected in the 1990s. There was also some very serious nastiness in 1915: a 7 year old girl was indecently assaulted and suffocated, and her body found in the cloakroom at Barbican. Very unpleasant.

The platforms give us architecture which once again bears the familiar and reassuring mark of Circle line building.

St Giles Cripplegate

Not the most politically correct of place names, but one which is consistent. The name of the church and the street are synonymous: St. Giles was a cripple who would not give his disability, rather preferring to use it as an opportunity to suffer and gain sanctity through it; therefore those struck with some kind of lameness would come to the gate of this church to beg alms.

A very romantic image, I’m sure you’ll all agree, but sadly it is probably not true. Cripplegate’s etymology is probably Anglo-Saxon: Crepelgat, and refers to a covered way or tunnel which ran from the town gate of Cripplegate to the Barbican, a fortified watchtower on the City wall. Very sensible, but not overly appealing to pious minds.

The church itself has been rebuilt several times, since the Norman era. The most recent rebuilding was after the second world war, when the place was gutted inside, along with a lot of other destruction which took place in the area. There are some very impressive photos of the place in a state of destruction.

There are a great many of interesting people connected with St. Giles: John Milton and his father are buried somewhere in the church; the author of the Book of Martyrs, John Foxe (Not high) died in the parish, and his son had a plaque put up in the church to his father’s memory, which describes him as a “very accurate martyrologist”. The Rev’d Day, in his book “Some London Churches” has the pithy remark to this: “an epithet which modern criticism has shown to be inaccurate”. By tradition King Edmund the martyr rested here, which was the possible cause of the church being erected in 1010. Also, Lancelot Andrewes was vicar here before becoming Bishop.

The church, in it’s good perpendicular Gothic, with its striking tower stands in stark contrast to the area around it, which, having been heavily bombed, was re-built, and is what may now be known as the “Barbican Centre”. Whilst it is not exactly the most architecturally beautiful of buildings, it is a sign at least that the City of London does take something of an interest in the arts (you tend to find that the places where cities make their money are somewhat void of art and beauty, and the City is no exception). It was voted London’s ugliest building in 2003 (no mean feat), and was open in 1982, after many years of planning. It was refurbished in the 1990s, with some architectural embellishments being made, which were then mostly removed in 2005-06, in a further refurbishment which took the building back to its original brutalist style.

Despite being the most attractive of buildings, it houses a lending library (one of the largest in London), pianos for public use, as well as a vast musical library and children’s library. There is also the Barbican Hall, which is the official home of both the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. There is also a theatre, and art gallery and a cinema, as well as several restaurants, and exhibition centres. Everything art related in one huge ziggurat.


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