Romans and Christians

Where the church now stands was the site of a pagan compitum or rural shrine, converted to Christian use even before the arrival of St Augustine’s mission.

Though difficult to verify, it is believed that it first became a site of Christian worship as early as 313AD, which would make it one of the earliest in the British Isles.

The Shrine on a hill
In days gone by, the little hillock on which the church now stands rose gently above the flood valley of the River Fleet, or Holbourne. It overlooked the site of a Roman encampment on the Brill (possibly Bury Hill), which sloped down towards Kings Cross and Euston.

Traces of the camp were visible in the lifetime of the antiquarian, Dr William E. Stukely (1687-1765), and a stone bearing the name of the XXth Legion was found in 1842 near Battlebridge (Kings Cross).

The Vatican connection
The Reverend Weldon Champneys, vicar 1797-1810, claimed to have seen in Rome documents relating to the foundation of a church here in the fourth century. Again, Maximilian Mission is quoted in Duppa’s Travels on the Continent as saying of St John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, “…this is the head and mother of all Christian churches, if you except that of St Pancras under Highgate, near London.”

However, freedom of religion had been restored to the Roman world in 313, and London was represented by Restitutus, its Bishop, at the Council of Arles in 314; so the persistent tradition, here at St Pancras, of an earlier building for Christian worship has a possible foundation.

The Doomsday Book
In 604 King Ethelbert assigned the land to St Paul’s Cathedral. A church building may well have been erected around that time as the 7th century altar stone found concealed within the church (shown above),  appears to bear out. A record of the prebendal manor is later confirmed by entries in the Domesday Book:

“At S. Pancras the Canons of S. Paul’s hold four hides,” and “At S. Pancras, Walter, a Canon of S. Paul’s holds one hide. There is a plough there, and twenty four men who render thirty shillings yearly. The land lay and lies in the demesne of S. Paul’s.”

From the ninth century the area of the old parish is a narrow strip running from Kenwood at Hampstead to a boundary with the parish of St Giles in the Fields, still to be seen marked on the shopfront of Heal’s in Tottenham Court Road. The patronage of the living is in the hands of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s to this day.