first church built on this site in the 13th century stood
'in the fields' between the City and Westminster.
Designed by James Gibbs, and
built in 1721 - 26, the present church predates Trafalgar
Square by a hundred years. Before
the square was laid out in the 1820s the church was hidden
away in St Martin's Lane, north of the road that leads from
St Martin's prominent west front
has a Corinthian portico, surmounted by a soaring steeple.
The six columns of the portico are raised on a flight of steps
above St Martin's Lane. In architectural terms St Martin's
is one of the most influential churches ever built.
The combination of steeple and portico was copied in England
and in the United States, where it became the model for the
'Colonial' style of church-building.
Like many Georgian churches St
Martin's is galleried, with two tiers of windows. Because
the galleries are set well back the nave is wide and spacious.
The interior is embellished with Venetian glass and Italian
plasterwork. The ceiling is divided into gilded and
painted plasterwork panels by Artari and Bagutti.
Set above the chancel arch are
the royal arms and to the left of the altar is the royal pew,
showing that St Martin's is the official parish church of
Buckingham Palace and St James's Palace, George I was St Martin's
the royal pew is an Admiralty pew. The pews in the body
of the church, dating from 1799, were later cut down.
Much of the splendid dark woodwork
is attributed to the 17th century master carver Grinling Gibbons. In
the north aisle is a portrait of James Gibbs, and the church
once contained his bust by Rysbrack but now it is in in the
Victoria and Albert Museum.
Many famous people have been
buried at St Martin's including Nell Gwynn, mistress of Charles
II , the painters William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds and
the renowned craftsman Thomas Chippendale.
Between 1914 and 1927, when Dick
Sheppard was vicar of St Martin's, the vaulted crypt was used
as a shelter for homeless soldiers and down-and-outs, and
during World War II the building was used as an air-raid shelter.
A portrait of Dick Sheppard hangs on the west wall and
there is a chapel named after him on the south side of the
crypt. St Martin's modern reputation for an active and expansive
ministry derives almost entirely from him.
Today the church still plays
an important role, helping the homeless and providing a lunchtime
Since Dick Sheppard's time St
Martin's has also gained a national and international role
through its broadcasting, publications and music. The
church is home to the Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields and
the famous choir of the same name. These and visiting
orchestras, including the Penguin Café Orchestra, the Henry
Wood Chamber Orchestra and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Sinfonia,
provide evening concerts.
The church also hosts free lunchtime
concerts, featuring student musicians performing a wide range
In the crypt is the London Brass
Rubbing Centre, the Café-in-the-Crypt and a gift shop.
The churchyard also hosts a good craft market