St Martin-in-the-Fields was designed by one of the most influential British architect James Gibbs (23 December 1682 – 5 August 1754). Located at the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square, Westminster, London the building is an English Anglican church. The church was designed in the Neoclassical style and Georgian style of architecture between 1722-26 by James Gibbs.
In 1710, a survey was conducted which revealed that the walls and roof of the church were starting to decay. The Parliament got concerned and passed an act for the rebuilding of the church for which an amount of £22,000 has to be raised. The responsibility of designing the new church was given to James Gibbs by the rebuilding commissioners. His first design for the church was rejected, which had a circular nave and a domed ceiling because it would have been expensive.
James Gibbs then again redesigned the church in a rectilinear plan, and this time, it was accepted by the commissioners. The construction of St Martin-in-the-Fields began in March 1722, with the foundation stone being laid. The construction last for two and a half years with last stone of spire being settled in its place in December 1724. The overall cost of construction came out to be £33,500.
It is rather nice to know that when Gibbs submitted his designs, he arranged for carriages to take the responsible committee to see a number of Wren’s churches, so that he could point out how traditionally founded was his design.
The church has a joyous six-columned portico, like that of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s contemporary St. George Bloomsbury, although the slightly different proportions change the effect considerably. The way that the steeple appears to ride on top of the church was widely copied and has irritated many critics.
A walk around the back of the building is de rigueur, for the walls are marvellously disciplined and taut. Each elevation is brought firmly to a stop by recessed coupled columns and every window is enriched by Gibbs surrounds.
The portico doorway takes one through a circular lobby and then out into the cream and gold spaces of the nave. The plan is of the type of Wren’s St. Clement Danes (q.v.) but the feeling is distinctly different festive in a Roman way, gay plasterwork on the nave’s barrel-vault, swirling in the vaulting over the aisles, utterly assured and relaxed. The building is perhaps Gibbs’s church masterpiece, a proudly accomplished design, and certainly, his most influential work variations of the building, large and small, can be seen in many parts of the United States of America and other former British colonies.
The crypt of the St Martin-in-the-Fields was renovated and converted to a cafe known as “Cafe-in-the-Crypt”. The crypt has various columns which sprung like a tree from the ground and also support the church structure. The cafe organizes jazz concerts and the profit from the concert is used for various programmes in the church itself.
The crypt also houses an art gallery, a bookshop, and London’s Brass rubbing center. The crypt also has a statue of London’s first pearly King, Henry Croft, which was moved to the crypt recently in 2002.
A renewal project of the church was commissioned in 2006, and the cost was estimated to be £36 million. The project included the renovation of the church along with the crypt and neighboring space. The renovation was completed in the summer of 2008, and the church and crypt was reopened for the public access.