“Milton and Cromwell, Andrewes, Foxe and Speed And Martin Frobisher: Our mighty dead:
Are these the saints? A glory gilds each head,
And hallows Cripplegate.”
Memorials to the Famous, Sir Robert Pearce
In the Second World War, the stained glass windows were all blown out in the bombing which nearly destroyed the church. When it was restored by Godfrey Allen, he left most of the side windows with plain glass to increase the light in the church.
The baptistery has a modern stained glass window celebrating the centenary of the Cripplegate Foundation. It includes the Barbican towers and a lady with a handbag (before the era of Margaret Thatcher, in case you were wondering).
Another window was installed as a memorial to Edward Alleyn, an Elizabethan theatrical impresario who owned the Rose Theatre across the river as well as the Fortune Theatre in Golden Lane, founded Dulwich College, and left a bequest which benefits the parish of St Giles.
The window at the east end is the most impressive, mainly because traditional Gothic tracery is used.
Plaques and busts
This is all about laying claim to those mighty dead mentioned in that appalling bit of poetry I quoted at the start.
There are four busts under the organ gallery, celebrating the parish’s four most famous names: John Milton, Daniel Defoe, Paul Bunyan and Oliver Cromwell. Some of the claims are tenuous in the extreme.
Milton is buried here, although as a Puritan he was hardly a pillar of the traditional Church of England.
Daniel Defoe was a non-conformist who worshipped at a chapel in Bishopsgate Street run by a preacher expelled from the Church of England and did not worship at St Giles at all.
Paul Bunyan occasionally attended St Giles’ church when he happened to visit London.
Oliver Cromwell was married at St Giles’ – but one afternoon’s acquaintance seems a thin excuse for erecting his bust in the church.
There are plaques on the walls commemorating some other famous individuals, who were buried in St Giles’ churchyard. These include: Martin Frobisher and, John Speed, both of whom also have blocks named after them, and John Foxe, the author of The Book of Martyrs, which gave the gruesome details of the martyrdoms of Protestant priests killed during Queen Mary’s reign.
John Speed, who died on July 28th, 1629, was buried in St Giles and a monument was put up consisting of a bust, flanked by two stone doors. Only the bust now remains; the doors were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. But I have located an engraving in John Thomas Smith’s Antiquities of London (London, 1791) which shows the monument and inscriptions as it originally looked.