St Paul's, Covent Garden

St Paul's Church, also commonly known as the Actors' Church, is a church designed by Inigo Jones as part of a commission by Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford in 1631 to create "houses and buildings fitt for the habitacons of Gentlemen and men of ability" in Covent Garden, London, England.

As well as being the parish church of Covent Garden, the church gained its nickname by a long association with the theatre community.


In 1631 Inigo Jones was commissioned by Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford to design a church. Work on the church began that year and was completed in 1633, at a cost of £4000, with it becoming consecrated in 1638. In 1645 Covent Garden was made a separate parish and the church was dedicated to St Paul.

The puritan Thomas Manton ministered from the pulpit of St Paul's until the Great Ejection. On 23 September 1662 Simon Patrick, later bishop of Ely, was preferred to the rectory of St. Paul’s where he served during the plague.

The first known victim of the 1665–1666 outbreak of the Plague in England, Margaret Ponteous, was buried in the churchyard on 12 April 1665. In 1788 Thomas Hardwick began a major restoration. However, in 1795 there was a terrible fire. Although much was destroyed, the parish records were saved, as was the pulpit — the work of Grinling Gibbons.

St Paul's connection with the theatre began as early as 1663 with the establishment of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and was further assured in 1723 with the opening of Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.

On 9 May 1662, Samuel Pepys noted in his diary the first "Italian puppet play" under the portico — the first recorded performance of "Punch and Judy", a fact commemorated by the annual MayFayre service in May.

The artist J. M. W. Turner and dramatist W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), were both baptised at St Paul's. Among those buried at St Paul's are Samuel Butler, Grinling Gibbons, Sir Peter Lely, Thomas Arne (composer of "Rule Britannia") and the Australian conductor Sir Charles Mackerras. The ashes of Dame Ellen Terry and Dame Edith Evans rest in St Paul's. Memorials in the church are dedicated to many famous personalities of the 20th century, including Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Gracie Fields, Stanley Holloway, Boris Karloff, Vivien Leigh and Ivor Novello. The Avenue of Stars, which commemorated many notable figures and groups from the entertainment industry, formerly passed outside the church. There is also a Memorial plaque to Music Hall Star Bransby Williams 1870-1961, which was unveiled by Sir Michael Redgrave. The portico of St Paul's was the setting for the first scene of Shaw's Pygmalion, the play that was later adapted as the musical My Fair Lady.

The church is surrounded by an award-winning graveyard garden, providing an area of tranquillity within busy central London.

In 2002, the church hosted the first of two weddings (the other one was held in Los Angeles) for famous musicians Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale.


The Orchestra of St Paul's (OSP) is a professional chamber orchestra resident at the Actors' Church. In addition to a concert series in Covent Garden, the Orchestra of St Paul's gives regular performances all around the UK and makes annual visits to the Southbank Centre and St John's, Smith Square. The group has featured music by composers including William Boyce, Elgar, Haydn, Mahler, Martinů, Poulenc, Rameau, Stravinsky and Wagner, as well as the UK première of the original version of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5. OSP has collaborated with Steven Osborne (pianist), Richard Baker (broadcaster) and newsreader and Classic FM (UK) presenter Katie Derham. OSP made its Southbank Centre debut at Purcell Room in September 2008. The orchestra's musical director is Ben Palmer and its patron is Sir Roger Norrington.

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