With so many other things to keep you occupied in Covent Garden it would be easy to overlook the simple church of St. Paul’s, but it’s worth a look inside even if only to take a look at the actors’ memorials that are scattered around the church.
Situated opposite the market, St. Paul’s was the first building to grace the Fourth Earl of Bedford’s square that was to be the focal point of his plans to develop the area in a manner more in keeping with an Italian piazza.
He brought in Inigo Jones to design the square including the church which was completed in 1633.
The large portico that overlooks the piazza is somewhat misleading because the entrance is around the back and entered through the pleasant garden. As you walk into the church you’ll see why the entrance isn’t through the portico because if it was you would walk straight into the altar.
St. Paul’s is one of those sort of churches that is likeable for its simplicity, but it’s the association with the nearby theatres which makes it different to most other churches, even having a theatre company of its own.
The connection started with the opening of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1663 and then the Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.
By all means take a look at some of the normal things you would expect to see in a church such as the pulpit designed by the famous woodcarver Grinling Gibbons, who is buried here in St. Paul’s, as is the composer of ‘Rule Britannia’, Thomas Arne, but the thing that captured my imagination the most was all the memorials to famous actors. There are dedications to Charlie Chaplin, Vivien Leigh, Noel Coward, Margaret Rutherford, Ivor Novello, and even Hattie Jaques and Eric Sykes, favourites from the ‘Carry On’ films.
You may be lucky and see an actor in here yourself, but you’re more likely to see a homeless person keeping warm instead, because like St Martin-in-the-Fields, it doesn’t turn the homeless away.
Four hundred years ago in ‘As you like it’ the Bard himself observed that “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”, but that description could so easily still be applied to the world outside the doors of St. Paul’s today.