Open House Festival

St Martin-in-the-Fields

religious, concert/performance space, restaurant/bar

James Gibbs, 1726

Trafalgar Square , WC2N 4JH

One of Britain's finest churches, built in the Italian Baroque tradition and beautifully restored in 2008. Sustainable features include new heating and management systems and lightwell. RIBA Award Winner 2009. Civic Trust Award Winner 2010.

Getting there


Leicester Square, Charing Cross


Charing Cross


11, 24, 29, 87, 91



Accessibility notes



Building history and design

St Martin-in-the-Fields is a landmark. Its fine architecture and prominent location place it at the heart of the nation. Its work has valued historic tradition, but St Martin's has always been innovative in response to changing needs. From London's first free lending library to the first religious broadcast, St Martin's has broken new ground in defining what it means to be a church.

There is no official reference to a church on the site of St Martin's until Norman times, when in 1222 a dispute was recorded between William, Abbot of Westminster, and Eustace, Bishop of London on the Bishop's authority over the church. The Archbishop of Canterbury decided in favour of the abbot and St Martin's, then surrounded by fields, appears to have been used by the monks of Westminster.

In around 1542, Henry VIII, as ruthless with the monks as with his wives, built a new church and extended the parish boundaries to keep plague victims from being carried through his palace. This was enlarged in 1607 at the cost of Prince Henry, the son of King James I. This church was pulled down in 1721 to be replaced by the current building.

The present church was designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1726. It has become one of the most significant ecclesiastical buildings in the English-speaking world. In the 19th century, whilst planning Trafalgar Square, John Nash created Church Path and the range of buildings to the north. St Martin's has always been at the heart of London, offering continued service amidst an ever-changing city.

The work of this church today is informed by the practical Christianity exemplified in the life of its patron saint. Martin, after a career in the Roman army, entered the Christian Church and became Bishop of Tours. He is remembered for an instinctive act of generosity, sharing his cloak with a beggar. Paradoxically, the ultimate blessing was given to Martin by the beggar, who returned to him in a dream as Christ.

The example of St Martin was followed by Dick Sheppard, Vicar of St Martin's during World War I, who gave refuge to soldiers on their way to France. He saw St Martin's as 'the church of the ever open door'. The doors have remained open ever since.

St Martin's fight against homelessness was formalised with the foundation of the Social Service Unit in 1948. The work continues today through The Connection at St Martin's, which cares for around 7,500 individuals each year.

Changing needs in society were again evident in the 1960s. St Martin's was concerned for the welfare of new arrivals in the emerging Chinatown and welcomed a Chinese congregation. Today, the Ho Ming Wah Chinese People's Day Centre provides vital services for the Chinese community in London.

Throughout the 20th century, St Martin's has also looked beyond its own doors and played an active role in wider social, humanitarian and international issues. Architecturally, spiritually, culturally and socially, St Martin's has helped to form the world around it.

•James Gibbs' design has been imitated across North America and throughout the world.
•St Martin's was involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the founding of many charitable organisations, including Amnesty International, Shelter and The Big Issue.
•The Vicar's Christmas Appeal on BBC Radio 4 has been broadcast annually since 1924, now raising over £500,000 a year for disadvantaged people across the country.
•The Academy of St Martin in the Fields has become one of the world's foremost chamber ensembles.
•St Martin's is a place where people of different faiths regularly pray together.

The Renewal of St Martin-in-the-Fields

The Renewal of St Martin-in-the-Fields is aimed at improving our ability to care for those in need and providing inspiration for those who visit.

St Martin-in-the-Fields is a landmark church in the heart of London and is well known for its welcoming atmosphere, award-winning Café, popular classical and jazz concerts and historic James Gibbs architecture. It aims to be the "Church of the Ever Open Door" and has at its heart a practical and hospitable Christianity that seeks to "comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable". It holds regular church services in English, Cantonese and Mandarin and offers social care services to London's Chinese community and homeless people.

The Renewal of St Martin-in-the-Fields has created modern facilities to replace what was once a series of Victorian burial vaults, which have inadequately housed many of St Martin's services for decades. The aim of the Renewal Project is to enable St Martin's to better serve those in greatest need and to enrich people's lives through worship, social care and internationally renowned musical performances in spaces fit for the purpose.


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