January 3, 2012 / 5:39 PM / 7 years ago

UK "journalists' church" seeks financial suitor

LONDON (Reuters) - The distinct layered spire of London’s St Bride’s Church, spiritual home to Britain’s media and some of the leading Pilgrim Fathers, is showing its age after chunks of stone fell away from the 300-year-old structure.

St Bride’s 226-foot high spire, the tallest of any Christopher Wren church and feted with having inspired the idea of multi-tiered wedding cakes, will need 2.5 million pounds ($4 million)of repairs.

“This is of one of Wren’s most prominent buildings, and it is preserving his legacy as well as the stone of St Bride’s that we are looking to do,” James Irving, the church’s director of finance, told Reuters.

Finished in 1703, some seven years before Wren’s nearby masterpiece St Paul’s Cathedral, the spire survived the German Luftwaffe in World War Two despite a fire-bomb which pierced the roof and set the church’s interior alight.

But erosion from the weather and pollution have taken their toll as has vibration thought to have been caused by construction on the ever-changing city skyline.

Church officials are looking to the private sector for help, including donations from the media world, after failing to secure funding from heritage groups.

The church has been associated with the country’s newspaper industry ever since the first printing press was set-up in its precinct in 1500, and continued after the nation’s leading newspapers congregated a stone’s throw away in Fleet Street.

Despite newspapers now having moved away, journalists still use the “cathedral of Fleet Street” for memorial services, Christmas carol concerts and weddings.

The former editor of the Sun tabloid newspaper Rebekah Brooks married there in 2009.

Its American connection dates back to the 16th century. The parents of Virginia Dare, the first American child of English descent, were parishioners of St Bride’s, as was Edward Winslow, who became one of the leading Pilgrim Fathers, setting sail on the Mayflower in 1620.

Wren societies thrive in the U.S. unlike in Britain, where none are believed to exist.

Church restoration officials may look to the U.S. to help preserve the Grade I listed building, and some informal approaches have been made to an investment property fund as well as others, but the bulk of the funds is expected to come from its traditional Fleet Street friends.

Rupert Murdoch and his media group News Corporation, whose best-selling British newspaper the News of the World was forced to close after a phone-hacking scandal last year, have been among the most generous donors in the past.

“St Bride’s has kept its relationship with what you might call Fleet Street, even though now it’s a Diaspora,” said Paul Finch, chairman of the appeal committee.

“It’s managed to keep it going in some sense, and I think that’s quite important.”

The money will go toward conserving the spire’s stonework and recramping as well as general church repairs and a clean-up.

The latest sizeable piece of stone fell away in September, landing on a flat roof. Nobody was injured.

St Bride’s will launch its appeal in the spring, and it hopes to start on the restoration work next year.

Reporting by Avril Ormsby, editing by Paul Casciato

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