I came across the above picture of the church St Helen, Bishopsgate on an old postcard recently. It caught my eye because I pass through this scene almost every day and find it a rare haven of tranquillity amongst the bustle of the City traffic.
The picture forms part of a set of six postcards featuring Old London Churches, produced by the great postcard publishers Raphael Tuck & Co in 1904 and all painted by the same artist, Charles Flower. This was the golden age of the picture postcard and hundreds of thousands of Tuck’s cards were manufactured and sent every year.
Charles Edwin Flower (1871-1951) was one of Tuck’s most prolific artists and contributed around 300 paintings over a long career. He travelled widely, with the scenes he captured covering the USA, Canada, Germany and Argentina as well as the breadth of the UK. The ubiquity of Tuck’s postcards must have made Flower’s work some of the most recognised of the early 20th century. Despite this, we know relatively little of him beyond that, prior to working for Tuck, he was employed as an artist by the pioneering archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers to illustrate a catalogue of the vast number of finds from excavations on Pitt Rivers’ Wiltshire estate. I’ll say more about Flower in a future post.
Having tracked down all six postcards in the set, I was delighted to see that all six churches are still with us today. This is quite something, given that two (All Hallows-by-the-Tower and St Olave, Hart Street) were almost destroyed during the Blitz and a further two (St Helen’s and St Ethelburga, Bishopsgate) were blown up by IRA bombs in the early1990s. So I thought it would be good to recreate Charles Flower’s images as they appear today. All six views are plainly recognisable. The most noticeable change to the churches is the new and very different steeple added to All Hallows-by-the-Tower on its rebuilding after the second world war. Comparing old and new images also highlights the photo-bombing of these views by the City’s ever-growing plague of office towers.
If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other pieces on the City of London’s churches: