Rumours abound that the unusual spire of St Bride's Church was the inspiration behind the traditional wedding cake. It's easy to see where this idea comes from. The pale coloured, tapering four-tiered spire does a pretty good impression of the icing-covered fruity goodness that brides and grooms are often seen sinking a culinary trowel into. But was this City of London church really the inspiration behind the traditional confectionery architecture?
It might seem obvious, with a name like St Bride's, but it's not the straightforward case of nominal determinism it initially seems. The name St Bride's alludes to the founder of the original 7th century church, named variously as St Brigid, St Bride and St Bridie.
The current building is at least the seventh incarnation of a church on the site (remains of the previous six were uncovered in 1953). It was built in 1675, designed by Christopher Wren after the previous building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (despite reputedly having its own fire engine). The steeple wasn't added until 1703, making it the tallest church in London (after St Paul's) and a prominent landmark on the skyline of the time.
In the 17th and 18th century, wedding cakes usually took the form of 'bride pie', which could be a sweet mince pie or a savoury meat pie.
The story goes that, towards the end of the 18th century, an apprentice baker named William Rich, who worked at premises at nearby 3 Ludgate Hill, fell in love with his boss's daughter, Susannah Prichard. In order to impress her (and, presumably, his future father-in-law) Rich decided to make an elaborate cake for his nuptials. Looking around for inspiration, he caught sight of the nearby steeple, and the rest is history. Elsewhere, it's claimed that Rich actually designed the cake for his daughter's wedding rather than his own.
It's a lovely story, and may well contain a crumb of truth. Sadly, there seems to be no documentary evidence to back it up.
Although the church building was bombed heavily during the second world war, the jaunty steeple remained intact. In 2013 we had a rare opportunity to climb to the top of the steeple:
Back in 2012, someone commissioned a 5ft-tall sponge cake replica of the church building.