Restoring a ruined City church to honour London’s citizens in wartime 

The Citizens’ Memorial aims to transform the ruined City church of Christ Church, Greyfriars, and give it a new purpose – the creation of a memorial of national significance to commemorate the heroism and sacrifice of the citizens of London during the Second World War and in subsequent bombings.

The proposal was initiated by designer Ian Heron in consultation with City guide-lecturers, historians and architects. The design, having been developed to the stage depicted on the website, was costed in January 2013 by Quantity Surveyors Gardiner & Theobald, who provided an estimate of £5.2 million. After further consultation and preparatory work, the intention is to approach the City and invite Members on the relevant Committees to consider it, with the aim of having the proposal approved in principle. A charity could then be established to raise the funding from the public and benefactors.

News and Current Activity 

The following text is the submission made in August 2014 about the proposal to the Barbican Area Enhancement Strategy consultation being carried out for the City by the firm Publica. 

This submission is about a proposal for a transformative improvement for the Christ Church, Greyfriars site, at the corner of Newgate Street and King Edward Steet, in the Ward of Farringdon Within.

The site’s importance in relation to the Barbican lies in the fact that it is a prominent heritage asset located on the main visitor route from St Paul’s, via Temple Bar and Paternoster Square, King Edward Street and Postman’s Park to the Museum of London and the Barbican. Much of the pedestrian traffic from Paternoster Square to the Barbican, and almost all journeys from Paternoster to St Bartholomew’s and Smithfield, are channelled through King Edward Street, and most of these will pass through the church site, as the pavement is aligned through the former nave area next to the east end.
Historical Outline
Christ Church was burnt out in the heaviest air-raid on the City, on 29th December 1940. The remaining fabric was given Grade 1 monument status in 1950, and the outer walls remained intact until 1973.
Alone among Wren’s major churches, the authorities decided against restoration. Instead the nave space was proposed as a war memorial garden. Subsequently, the fortunes of the site have largely been dictated by the vagaries of planning decisions. In 1973, at a time when planning policy accepted the need to allow for increasing urban traffic, the east wall, most of the south and part of the north walls were shamefully demolished for road-widening, and traffic actually traversed the south-east corner of the church site.
In 1989, the memorial purpose of the garden was confirmed by the City of London Planning Committee.
In 2001, following the use of ‘Section 106’ funds from the adjacent Merrill Lynch Financial Centre, and against a background of more restrictive traffic policies, King Edward Street, although still one-way, was returned close to its original alignment, and the footprint of the church was reinstated. Although the architects wished to rebuild the missing walls, this would have entailed a more thorough archaeological investigation than could be contemplated at that time, and the low stone walls seen today were built instead to mark their position.
Sadly today the site presents to visitors and Londoners a seriously disfigured ruin. The remaining walls have been left crudely truncated. Apart from the steeple, the architectural concept, balance and order of Wren’s design has been rendered incoherent. The garden within the nave area is well looked after, but the missing walls detract from its amenity by exposure to the nuisance of constant traffic. The quality of seating and paving materials do not meet today’s higher expectations, and there is limited on-site lighting.  
The general impression given by the site is that its potential is being overlooked, and that it is in need of a renewal which respects the history of the church, its neighbourhood, and the City. Its conspicuous location suggests that the ambition for the site should be to create a destination that visitors can admire, and that the City and Londoners can be proud of.
The Proposal
Having missed the opportunity to rebuild the walls in 2001, a future rebuilding would need to focus on a purpose with sufficient merit to attract funding from the public and institutional benefactors, since this burden cannot be placed on the City itself.
In fact the memorial purpose attached to the site since the War provides the perfect inspiration. The proposal for the site, described on the links which follow, is to restore the missing walls, together with the bay of the church adjacent to the east wall. to create a memorial of national status to honour the sacrifice of Londoners during wartime and subsequent bombings. Whereas all the armed services have memorials of national status, the civilians do not, and for this reason a memorial to remember the toll of 28,000 innocent Londoners who lost their lives in the Blitz would remedy a long-standing injustice and would certainly appeal to Londoners across the generations. 
The working name given to the proposal by its authors is The Citizens’ Memorial.
The Area Enhancement Strategy reviews, together with the City’s review of the St Paul’s Gyratory System, provide the opportunity to put the Memorial on the City’s agenda by including the proposal in outline. As it happens, the scheduled publication of the consultation documents in 2015 is highly opportune, as it marks the 75th anniversary of the main Blitz and the destruction of the church. Given the recent history of the site as a victim of planning decisions, doing nothing to heal this scar in the heart of the City would not only sideline the original aspiration for the garden, but memorialise the reason for the missing walls, namely a discredited road-traffic policy. 

The scheme also offers the City the possibility of having for the first time an open-air venue for cultural events and private City functions, by gating-off the garden. Using the garden in these ways would not affect the existing pedestrian route through the church site.
While the Christ Church site, may be tangential to the main Barbican Area review which is currently the subject of the Publica consultation, its importance to the Barbican lies in its pedestrian connectivity, being located on a branch of the busiest visitor route through the City. The primary section of this route runs from Tate Modern to St Paul’s. The continuation of the route northwards leads visitors through Temple Bar and into Paternoster Square, after which – whether their destination is the Barbican, the Museum of London or Smithfield – they are likely to go via Christ Church and its mature neighbouring memorial garden, Postman’s Park. 

To bring the Memorial at Christ Church to realisation would mean that a now-forlorn site could take its deserved place on the heritage route as one of a series of thematically-related places of interest. The site has the potential to reveal the four great epochs of City history – the medieval period, the achievement of Wren, wartime destruction, and the modern renewal and pre-eminence of London – symbolised by rebuilding the missing walls.
More than contributing a much-needed environmental renewal, in essence the aims of the proposal uphold and promote the identity and values of our nation, in whose cause the wartime sacrifices of not only the armed services, but also of civilian Londoners, were made. 
Links and Contact

The scheme is fully described online at www.thecitizensmemorial.wordpress.com . Scroll down ‘Description of the Proposal’ to see drawings of the scheme. Visitor comments are welcome there, and at www.thecitizensmemorialcomments.wordpress.com . 
Submitting a comment also enables visitors to contact Ian Heron by email. 

An excellent article about the proposal entitled ‘A Citizens’ Memorial?’ was published as the cover story in the April 2014 issue of Barbican Life magazine. Available online at www.barbicanlifeonline.com/2014/04/06/a-citizens-memorial/ .


  1. Barbara Coughlan
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Sir Christopher Wren’s Christ Church
    GreyFriars is the ideal location for the long awaited and well deserved citizens memorial.It would be difficult to imagine a more suitable or proper place to commemorate the deaths of so many citizens of London. I wish you every success with the citizens of London proposal. Please keep me informed.
    Barbara Coughlan Oban Argyll Scotland.

  2. Posted November 27, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I walk past this spot quite often (e.g. yesterday!), and it’s a great spot to be developed for the purpose. Enclosing it somewhat would make it look more proud and less sad. I don’t know much about such things, but I’m guessing that the investment required would prove fairly modest compared with the overall positive effect it would have not just to the building itself but the whole demeanour of Newgate Street. Good luck, Mike.

  3. mwferro
    Posted January 9, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    It makes a lot of sense to have a memorial dedicated to the hardship that the citizens of London had to endure during the war as there are no significant existing memorials anywhere in the city to commemorate both the time and endurance of thousands that had to bear a brutal and long conflict that affected so many millions. I think the funds being proposed are negligible considering the purpose and symbolism. I have personally met Mr. Heron, whose passion for this project is sincere and genuine, and his vision will certainly make the entire area a memorial to peacetime and fruitful reflection of the realities of war and its consequent long-term affects.

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