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An In(k)spiring Story

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Apologies, the terrible pun will be revealed as you read this post.

If there's one part of the City which I personally despise, and I've written about it before, it's the block of hideous late twentieth century buildings that erupted like a huge boil on the area around Cheapside and Poultry

Back in the 18th century the area looked rather different and I've overlayed the maps to give you some perspective.

You may notice I've highlighted a building in yellow on the overlay, and that is the church of St St. Antholin's.

Completed in 1688 after the Great Fire destroyed it's medieval predecessor and regarded as one of Wren's finest City churches, it stood on the corner of Sise Lane and Budge Row very near to the site of the Temple of Mithras. St. Antholin is a corruption of St. Anthony and was dedicated to St. Anthony of Egypt.

The spire, the only stone one that Wren built was octagonal and journals of the time praise it for it's pleasing dimensions, detailing and the ornate dragons head weathervane that topped it off. The rebuilding of the church cost £5,685 (about £1.5 M today), paid for from the coal tax, and from contributions by benefactors.

In 1828 the spire was removed and rebuilt and as the entire church was demolished in 1875 to accommodate the building of Queen Victoria Street that would appear to be the end of the story.

Enter, Robert Harrild, a printer and engineer. He was a native of Bermondsey, where in 1801 he set up the Bluecoat Boy Printing Office, producing books and commercial stationery. He is noted for introducing composition rollers which speeded up the printing process by automating the application of the ink to the typeface.

Robert owned a printing press factory in the City and was a church warden of St Antholin's Church. The development of the composition rollers must have meant he wasn't short of a few bob and so when the original spire was being replaced he bought it for the sum of £5 (£700 today).

He no longer inhabited Bermondsey, or the City, as he had built himself a nice little pile called Round Hill House in Sydenham, South East London and it was here in the garden that he installed the spire.

The ownership of the house passed to Roberts daughter Mary, who married another printing innovator, George Baxter. He developed a method of printing in oil colours, patented in 1835, which was more economical than earlier methods used. George seems to had an altercation with a horse drawn vehicle in 1875 in which he came off second best and was buried in nearby Christchurch, Forest Hill. Mary later died at Round Hill and the ownership left the family. From then on the building became neglected and was for some time the Sydenham and Forest Hill Social Club in the early 20th century. By 1960 the building was derelict and was demolished to make way for a new housing estate. Only two things remained of the home that Robert Harrild set up after making his money, a large Cyprus Tree, and, you've guessed it, the spire of St Anthony's which happily can still be seen rather incongruously amidst the 1960s planners dream.

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