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St Paul’s Cathedral School allowed to build on site of church destroyed in the Blitz

02 February 2018


The Grade I listed Wren tower of St Augustine’s, Watling Street, London, which survived bombing in 1941, when the body of the church and original Hawksmoor spire were destroyed

The Grade I listed Wren tower of St Augustine’s, Watling Street, London, which survived bombing in 1941, when the body of the church and original Hawk...

THE Consistory Court of the diocese of London has granted a faculty for a new boarding house for St Paul’s Cathedral School to be constructed on the footprint of the former church of St Augustine’s, Watling Street, the body of which was destroyed in the Blitz in 1941. The Grade I listed Wren tower, which survived the bombing, will be retained and integrated into the plan.

Before the submission of the petition for a faculty, the proposals underwent the application procedure under the Care of Cathedrals Measure, which applies to the cathedral itself. The proposed site is not part of the cathedral or within its curtilage, however, because, historically, it was the church of the separate parish of St Augustine, Watling Street, which is now within the parish of St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside.

The Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral resolved unanimously for a petition to be submitted for a faculty in respect of the proposed works. In January last year, the bursar and clerk to the school governors, acting on behalf of the Chapter of St Paul’s and the Archdeacon of London, presented the petition in the Consistory Court. Public notice of the petition was displayed in various locations in accordance with the rules.

St Augustine’s had been rebuilt in about 1680, after the Great Fire of London, in 1666, and the tower was completed in 1696 by Christopher Wren. The spire was completed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The body of the church and the spire were destroyed by bombing in 1941, but the lower two stages of the tower, with its four Baroque obelisk finials, remained standing. The spire was reconstructed in 1966.

When the adjacent school was built in 1962-67, the brief dictated that it should incorporate the restored spire of St Augustine’s, and that no part of the school should be higher than its cornice. The Historic England description states that the Wren tower, with the post-war restored Hawksmoor spire, form “an ensemble of outstanding special interest”, and, although “the most characteristic feature is post-war in date, and the church body is now lost, it remains a special landmark tower, both for its original design and for its strong relationship with St Paul’s.”

Historic England’s Principal Inspector of Historic Building and Areas stated that the new building would have an impact on “the historical value of [the tower] as a monument to the Blitz by removing its powerful stand-alone presence”. Having applied the guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework 2012 (NPPF), however, the inspector concluded that “minor ‘less than substantial’ harm to the value of St Augustine’s tower would be outweighed by public benefits.”

The Twentieth Century Society adopted a view of the NPPF contrary to that of the Historic England inspector, and expressed the view that the current proposals would cause substantial harm that would not be outweighed by substantial public benefits.

The Chancellor, Judge Seed QC, having visited the site and examined the plans, accepted the submissions of Historic England and its approach to the NPPF, and was not persuaded by the Twentieth Century Society’s submissions to the contrary. The City of London Corporation had given planning permission for the proposals, and a faculty was issued on condition that the works be carried out in accordance with that planning permission.

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