Christopher Wren’s brilliant pupil and later successor Nicholas Hawksmoor built a number of equally impressive, yet individually distinct, churches in London in the early eighteenth century, namely, St Alfege Greenwich (1712–14), Christ Church Spitalfields (1714–29), St George-in-the-East (1714–29), St Anne Limehouse (1714–30), St Mary Woolnoth (1716–24) and St George Bloomsbury (1716–31). He was also responsible for the spire of St Michael Cornhill (1715-24) and the west towers of Westminster Abbey (1734-45); and partly responsible for St John Horselydown (1726-33) and St Luke Old Street (1727-33).
(Sadly, St John Horselydown was substantially destroyed during and demolished after the Blitz, and the surviving parts were subsequently incorporated into the London City Mission. A photograph of the bombed church taken in 1940 shows a spire in the form of a fluted Ionic column similar to that of St Luke Old Street, topped by a weathervane supposed to be shaped like a comet, but in actuality more like a louse).
Hawksmoor’s brand of Baroque is characterised by an imaginative use of geometry, with, as the architectural historian Ian Nairn put it, “intellect and emotion … exactly matched”, as exemplified in the distinctive proportions and broach spire of Christ Church, and in the towers of St Anne and St George-in-the-East. It is also diagnosed by constant allusion to antiquity, and in this sense may be said to anticipate the later Neo-Classical style. Note in this context the serliana of St Alfege, and the portico and pyramidal tower of St George Bloomsbury (the tower being modelled on descriptions of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World).
Readers interested in further details are referred to a new book written, and with architectural drawings, by the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design Mohsen Mostafi, featuring dramatic black-and-white photographs by Helene Bonet, and entitled “Nicholas Hawksmoor London Churches” (Lars Muller Publishers, 2015).
Nicholas Hawksmoor’s London Churches
Top row, left to right: Christ Church Spitalfields; St Alfege Greenwich; St Anne Limehouse.
Middle row, left to right: St George Bloomsbury; St George-in-the East; St Luke Old Street.
Bottom row, left to right: St Mary Woolnoth; St Michael Cornhill; Westminster Abbey.