The Parish of Saint Bride, Fleet Street was bounded by the River Fleet, The House of Blackfriars and the Ludgate entrance of the City wall, in 1270. Prior to this period written information was sketchy, but a pre-conquest church was believed to have existed; probably from the 6th or 7th century, with the current building being the eighth church occupying the spot.
In the mid 1580s Ananias Dare married Eleanor White, daughter of English artist John White, in Saint Bride's Church. John White left London shortly afterwards to form the colony of Roanoke Island (in present day North Carolina), later becoming Governor of [patron] Sir Walter Raleigh's: 'Lost Colony'. It was the first attempt at an English colony in the Americas and his daughter and son-in-law accompanied him. White had been on the initial recce several years earlier as mapmaker and artist, with Sir Richard Grenville. After returning to London he was able to rustle-up 113 prospective colonists. All prepared for a fresh attempt at establishing the colony of Virginia, this time at Chesapeake Bay. They stopped en route at Roanoke Island, where his Portuguese navigator [curiously] refused permission for the colonists to re-board the ship.
The colonists, left with little choice, decided to stay put (muskets were involved). Ananias and Eleanor had a daughter shortly afterwards, Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World. Tensions with the native tribes and a severe shortage of food pressed White to return to England. Reluctantly he agreed, but his troubles were only beginning: piracy, being shot and in the care of a severely injured crew, grounded by the imminent invasion of England from the Spanish Armada and more, meant that White was unable to return to Roanoake Island for almost three years. When he did so, he found the colony abandoned with the words "CRO" and "CROATOAN" carved into a tree, and fort post respectively. That was all. The colonists including his daughter and granddaughter - Virginia Dare - were never seen again. With winter weather encroaching he was forced to abandon his search. He returned to England then Ireland, where he died several years later - a broken man.
There is a memorial to Virginia Dare in St Bride's Church. The replacement bronze sculpture, was created by Clare Waterhouse in 1999. With reminiscent overtones of the Roanoke Island mystery, the original marble sculpture of Virginia Dare disappeared without trace in early 1999.
The Great Fire and Blitz
St Bride's Church was at the westernmost fringe of the Great Fire of London's destructive path, with the nearby Middle Temple Hall being fortunately spared. St Bride's was rebuilt by Christopher Wren, though its infamously tall spire was a later inclusion, added between 1701-3. The steeple is composed of four tiered octagons, which diminish in size as they ascend. Eighteenth Century Fleet Street baker Thomas Rich, while still an apprentice, is said to have fallen in love with the master baker's daughter. After securing her hand in marriage he wandered the streets, looking for suitable inspiration to express his love - in the form of a cake. His gaze happened upon the nearby St Bride's Church. He designed the cake to match the steeple, which is reputed to account for the tradition of tiered wedding cakes.
The church (though not the steeple) was destroyed by a raid during the Blitz, in December 1940. Known as the "Second Fire of London" at the time, 1500 fires caused a firestorm which consumed the nave. One unexpected consequence of the bombing was that the sixth century foundations of the original Saxon church were revealed, proving the early Saxon church theorists right. The crypt is referred to as the Museum of Fleet Street and contains many relics from the period.
Caxton, The Press and Wynkyn
After the Second World War, St Bride's was rebuilt at the expense of newspaper barons, to restore the original Wren design. The Church of St Bride's has always been associated with the press and known as the 'journalists' church', because it was the neighbourhood catalyst for printing in England. William Caxton returned from Cologne in 1476, where he had been schooled in printing by Gutenberg himself. He developed the country's first printing press and housed it near Westminster Abbey. He was also however, a successful cloth merchant, and derived much of his fortune from the textile trade, rather than printing. When he died in 1491, his apprentice Wynkyn de Worde (it helps if you say it very slowly) acquired the press and having no alternative income was forced to make printing a financially viable business. England's first printing press with movable type was relocated alongside St Bride's, since many churchmen lived in the area and made up the bulk of potential literate customers. Many later printers followed suit and it's for this reason that journalism took root in the area. Wynkyn de Worde is buried in St Bride's Church.
Short video outlining the impact of St Bride's on printing and journalism - streamed from YouTube, video by journalism.co.uk
St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London EC4Y 8AU
Call: 020 7427 0133
Nearest Tube: Blackfriars