The Great Fire of London burned for four days at the beginning of September 1666, completely destroying the medieval City of London inside the old Roman city wall. About three-fifths of the City was burned down: 13,200 houses, most great public buildings, St Paul’s Cathedral and 87 parish churches. Rebuilding housing took until the 1670s. Public buildings took longer, with St Paul’s finished only in 1711. This program had a modernising effect, for the city was now less dense, with only 9,000 houses rebuilt and not all churches and public buildings replaced.

The architect Christopher Wren (1632 – 1732) was given responsibility for rebuilding 52 of the destroyed churches, including St Paul’s Cathedral.

When I started researching London places associated with my family history, churches – at least those associated with records of my family’s marriages and baptisms – were of course sites of interest to me. I began to notice something I should have expected. When my Huguenot refugee ancestors were married in them in the late 1600s and early 1700s these churches were new.

My Huguenot forebears had arrived from France in a city in the process of being rebuilt after the recent fire. The streets were on the same layout but the public buildings and churches and houses were new.

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The Church of Saint Mary Magdalen Old Fish Street from The Churches of London by George Godwin (1839) retrieved through Wikimedia Commons

When two of my 7th great grandparents, Thomas Champion Crespigny and Magdelaine Grainger, married in 1695, the church they married in, St Mary Magdalen Old Fish Street, was only eight years old. The church had been destroyed in the great fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt 1683 – 1687 by the office of Sir Christopher Wren.

Claude Fonnereau and Elizabeth Bureau, also my 7th great grandparents, married in 1698 also at St Mary Magdalen Old Fish Street. Claude Fonnereau’s second marriage in 1738 was at St Antholin, Budge Row – another Wren church but since demolished 1874 to make way for Queen Victoria Street.

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Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Photograph date: ca. 1865-ca. 1885 Photograph from A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Cornell University Library Accession Number: 15/5/3090.01143 and retrieved through Wikimedia Commons

St Paul’s Cathedral, the most notable of Wren’s 52 churches rebuilt after the Great Fire, was the place of marriage of my 6th great grandparents Philip Champion de Crespigny (1704 – 1765) and Anne Fonnereau (1704 – 1782). They were married at St Paul’s by licence on 5 February 1731.

St Benet, Paul's Wharf

St Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf. Photograph by George Rex, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The children of Philip and Anne Champion de Crespigny were baptised in St Benet’s, Paul’s Wharf. This church was one of only four City churches to escape the bombs of the 1940 Blitz.

The church at Old Fish Street has not survived. A fire damaged the church in 1886 and it was pulled down. The land is now covered by post-war development.

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Map of a few of the 52 Wren Churches. St Paul’s Cathedral, St Bride’s Church (where my 5th great grandparents Thomas Plaisted and Lydia Wilks married in 1797), and St Benet’s are still standing. The Church of Saint Mary Magdalen Old Fish Street was pulled down in the late nineteenth century.

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