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St Paul's Church in Covent Garden

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published September 9th 2011
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden
One view of the church, taken from the entrance on King Street
St Paul's Church Covent Garden is easily overlooked by visitors, but it provides a peaceful oasis within the bustle of the nearby shops, bars, cafés and street entertainers. It is fondly known as 'The Actors' Church' because of its long association with the theatre. This began with the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and continued with the Covent Garden Theatre (which is now the Royal Opera House). The church itself was built by Inigo Jones and consecrated in 1638.

W S Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan operatic fame) was baptised in St Paul's, as was the painter William Mallord Turner. Thomas Arne, who composed 'Rule Britannia', was both baptised and buried within the church, which also houses the ashes of leading actresses Dame Ellen Terry and Dame Edith Evans.
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden
Memorial to Thomas Arne
The church is frequently used to conduct memorial services for members of the acting and musical professions, and its walls are decorated with numerous plaques commemorating departed actors and musicians, among them Nöel Coward, Vivian Leigh and Charlie Chaplin. If the inside of the building is a little too formal, the gardens of the churchyard are filled with wooden benches, many of which are dedicated to members of the theatrical profession. Here you can take a rest from your shopping or sightseeing, or just take a lunch break, put your feet up, and eat your sandwiches.

Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist, noted on 9 May 1662 that the 'first Italian puppet play' was performed under St Paul's portico. This was the first performance of a Punch and Judy show as we recognise it today. The same portico was used by George Bernard Shaw in his play Pygmalion, which was later filmed as My Fair Lady.
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden
The famous portico of St Paul's church


St Paul's is home to the Royal Theatrical Fund Summer Fayre and the Actors' Church Union. It also boasts a small organ and a Steinway grand piano for accompaniment at concerts, and has its own theatrical company, Iris Theatre. So it is a venue not only for church services, but also for concerts and plays, and is available for hire as well. Every December they hold about twenty four carol concerts in the run up to Christmas. Why not visit them for one of these concerts? They're all in aid of various charitable causes.
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden
Memorials to twentieth-century theatricals
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Why? A place of calm and contemplation away from the crowds
When: Monday - Friday 8.30 am to 5 pm (or later for special events), Saturday variable times, Sunday 9 am - 1 pm, or 5 pm for evensong
Where: Covent Garden
Cost: Free, but donations are welcomed
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