Thursday, 11 March 2010


The great Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) helped shape the London townscape in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Employed by Wren at the age of 18 he worked on St Pauls and Chelsea Hospital before creating six London churches as part of the New Churches in London & Westminster Act of 1711. St Alphege Greenwich, St George Bloomsbury, Christ Church Spitalfields, St Mary Woolnoth, St George-in-the-East and St Anne Limehouse.

Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor portrays his churches as mysterious and full of the occult. Morbid, pagan symbols and Masonic links all feature in the book as do ancient lay lines and murders. None of this is true (I hope) but walking around the grounds of a Hawksmoor church you can see where Ackroyd got his inspiration. This is especially true at St Anne’s in Newell Street in the East End.

This grade A listed building was built in 1730 and has a distinctive pyramid in the graveyard. Originally planned to be atop of the tower it now stands mysteriously in the graveyard.

Gutted by fire on Good Friday 1850 St Anne's was restored in 1851 and again in 1983. The church has a maritime link. A weight is dropped at the top of the tower when a signal is received from Greenwich to indicate the time to sea captains on the Thames. It also has permission to fly the White Ensign, which is normally reserved exclusively for the Royal Navy.

Walk west down Cable Street until you arrive at another Hawksmoor, St Georges-in-the-East. This church was built between 1714 and 1729 costing £18,557.3s.3d. It was also badly damaged by fire when hit by an incendiary bomb during the Blitz in 1941. The outer walls, tower and “pepper pot” turrets survived and now encase a modern church within its walls. It also contains four flats built under each corner tower.

St Mary’s Woolnoth is a small, Grade 1 listed church, squeezed within the confines of the maze of small lanes and alleys of 18th century London that are now Lombard Street and King William Street. It is the only church Hawksmoor built in the City of London. The site has been used for worship for at least 2,000 years and is thought to get its name from a 12th century benefactor Wulnoth de Walebrok. The original church was damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and patched up by Wren. The structure proved unsafe and was demolished in 1711. The current church was completed by Hawksmoor in 1716 with the limited interior space containing twelve Corinthian columns, grouped three to each corner.
Several attempts have been made to destroy St Mary’s (an occupational hazard with Hawksmoor church’s be it the Luftwaffe or London Transport) but the public have always saved it. London Underground tried its best with the Bank Station staircase shaft being built directly under the church. Bones had to be removed from the crypt and reburied. The church is now home to the German speaking Swiss community in London.

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