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London’s secret hidden churches (part one).

by Rajul on February 15, 2010

The grinning skulls at St Olave Church make it one of London's most distinctive sanctuaries

The grinning skulls at the entrance to St Olave Church on Hart Street make it one of London's most distinctive sanctuaries (image credit below)

London is an intimate city with a secret side that many tourists miss completely.  Many of the capital’s best sights are hidden away in back alleys or down narrow streets where you’d never think to find them.

Some of London’s finest churches are like this, nestled in tiny corners of the city.  Let London Hotels Insight take you on a special tour to discover them.

In the shadow of the Lloyds Building in the City, you’ll find St Olave’s Hart Street for instance, where London diarist Samuel Pepys worshipped.

It’s one of the few medieval churches that survived the Great Fire of 1666; if you have a taste for the macabre you’ll love the gateway to the churchyard with its grinning skulls (Dickens called it ‘Saint Ghastly Grim’).

A very different vision of the Middle Ages comes from St Alban’s Brooke Street.  It’s in a dark narrow road by the side of the huge glowing terracotta Prudential building on Holborn.  It is Victorian Gothic in style and rather brutal in some ways but with a definite character that is all its own.

The smell of incense inside shows it still follows its High Church traditions; a tall church in garishly-patterned red brick and white stone, it was set up in the 19th century to bring Anglo-Catholicism to the slums of Holborn.

Not far away is the chapel of St Etheldreda in Ely Place, once the chapel of the Bishop of Ely’s palace in London.  It’s a lovely work of elegant Gothic, dating from about 1300; the huge west window with its elegantly thin stonework shows just how sophisticated the style of the day was.

Inside, it’s pleasantly dim and hushed.

Quite different is Christ Church Spitalfields, one of the great churches by Nicholas Hawksmoor.  This baroque architect has created a church that looks as if it’s all spire from a distance.

The whole west facade is a huge arch supporting a soaring spire; the forms are classical, but the dynamic movement is truly baroque.  The sparkling white interior is just as surprising – in fact, it’s now a concert venue.

This baroque vision is right in the middle of the rag trade area, opposite Spitalfields market and close to Brick Lane’s Bangladeshi community.

Which is the ideal hotel to explore the above churches, given that they’re all concentrated just east of central London?  Here are a couple of “rising star” hotels that have been repeatedly featured on this blog:

The Apex City of London is a well-run hotel with free WiFi which gets consistently solid guest reviews

Check the best rate for Apex City of London from 30+ hotel booking sites

Check the best rate for the Andaz Hotel from 30+ hotel booking sites

Both the above are thankfully also free WiFi hotels at the current time.  And if you wish to enjoy a good brunch before your church tour, they’re handy for S&M, one of London’s best brunch spots.

Do check out part two of this special feature on London’s hidden churches where we’ll uncover even more secret gems for you.

Get the best-value London hotel deal from 30+ booking sites in 1 click

Photo credits: Barbara Rich’s Flickrstream and Apex City of London Hotel.

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