The 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 the Strand to Whitehall.
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 churchwarden. Facing 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.
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 Cafe Orchestra, the Henry Wood Chamber Orchestra and the St Martin-in-the-Fields Sinfonia, provide candelit evening concerts.
The church also hosts free lunchtime concerts, featuring student musicians performing a wide range of music.
In the crypt is the London BrassRubbing Centre, the Cafe-in-the-Crypt and a gift shop. The crypt also hosts Jazz Nights and exhibitions. The churchyard holds a good craft market