Tag Archives: Nicholas Hawksmoor

Robbing Peter to pay Paul (Westminster Abbey)

On this day in 1540, the Abbey Church of St Peter Westminster was made a Cathedral with its own See.   Not long afterwards, it was incorporated into the Diocese of London, and much of its estate was sold off to pay for repairs to St Paul’s – hence the expression, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.  It is now a “Royal Peculiar”.

The abbey was originally founded, as the Benedictine monastery of St Peter, by the Bishop of London, Dunstan, under the Saxon King Edgar, in 960, on what was then Thorney Island – according to legend, on the site of a church founded by Sebert in around 604 (the same year that St Paul’s was founded).

1-henry-iiis-thirteenth-century-north-entrance-with-rose-window

3 - Henry III's thirteenth-century Chapter House (left) and Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel (right).JPG

It was rebuilt under Edward, “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065, rebuilt again,  in the Early Gothic style, under Henry III, in the mid thirteenth century, …

4 - Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel.jpg

5 - Wonderful grotesques on Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel  .JPG

… and extended, in the Late Gothic style, under a succession of kings, including Henry VII, in the late fourteenth to early sixteenth (in part by the master mason Henry Yevele).

6 - Hawksmoor's eighteenth-century west towers.jpg

7-twentieth-century-martyrs-memorial

The present structure is essentially surviving thirteenth- to sixteenth- century,  although with some eighteenth-century additions in the form of  the west towers,  by Hawksmoor, and some twentieth-century  additions and restorations.  There are a great many important monuments in the interior, including those of no fewer than seventeen monarchs.  An equally large number of important state occasions have been held in the abbey, including all of the Coronations since that of the first Norman King, William I, the Conqueror, in 1066.  The fore-runner of Parliament, the “Great Council”, first met in the Chapter House here in 1257, only later moving to nearby Westminster Hall.

Westminster Abbey is visited – although not entered – on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

 

Robbing Peter to pay Paul (Westminster Abbey)

On this day in 1540, the Abbey Church of St Peter Westminster was made a Cathedral with its own See.   Not long afterwards, it was incorporated into the Diocese of London, and much of its estate was sold off to pay for repairs to St Paul’s – hence the expression, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.  It is now a “Royal Peculiar”.

The abbey was originally founded, as the Benedictine monastery of St Peter, by the Bishop of London, Dunstan, under the Saxon King Edgar, in 960, on what was then Thorney Island – according to legend, on the site of a church founded by Sebert in around 604 (the same year that St Paul’s was founded).  It was rebuilt under Edward, “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065, rebuilt again,  in the Early Gothic style, under Henry III, in the mid thirteenth century, and extended, in the Late Gothic style, under a succession of kings, including Henry VII, in the late fourteenth to early sixteenth (in part by the master mason Henry Yevele). The present structure is essentially surviving thirteenth- to sixteenth- century,  although with some eighteenth-century additions in the form of  the west towers,  by Hawksmoor, and some twentieth-century  additions and restorations.  There are a great many important monuments in the interior, including those of no fewer than seventeen monarchs.  An equally large number of important state occasions have been held in the abbey, including all of the Coronations since that of the first Norman King, William I, in 1066.  The fore-runner of Parliament, the “Great Council”, first met in the Chapter House here in 1257, only later moving to nearby Westminster Hall.

Westminster Abbey is visited – although not entered – on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com), or by phone (020-8998-3051).

Nicholas Hawksmoor’s London Churches

Nicholas Hawksmoor's London ChurchesChristopher 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

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.

Hawksmoor’s – other – London churches

St Mary Woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth

St Mary Woolnoth in the City was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 by Christopher Wren  between 1670-75, in the Modern Gothic style, and then again by Wren’s brilliant pupil and later successor Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1716-27, in the Later English Baroque style.  If Wren’s general style was about gracefulness and lightness, Hawksmoor’s was  about  geometry and solidity, although in such perfect  balance as to be equally aesthetically pleasing, and arguably even more expressive (as  Pevsner put it, “the effect is of powerful forces firmly held in check”).

Classical Corinthian columns, St Mary Woolnoth

Classical Corinthian columns, St Mary Woolnoth

Baroque keystones, St Mary Woolnoth

Baroque keystones, St Mary Woolnoth

Interior, St Mary Woolnoth

Interior, St Mary Woolnoth

5 - St Alfege Greenwich

St Alfege Greenwich

Hawksmoor’s other London churches are the equally impressive, yet individually distinct, Christ Church Spitalfields, St Anne Limehouse and St George-in-the-East (as pictured in the recent “Hawksmoor Churches viewed from the Shard” blog here); and  St Alphege Greenwich and St George Bloomsbury. 

Close-up of St Alfege  Greenwich - conveying a sense of deep foreboding!

Close-up of St Alfege Greenwich – conveying a sense of deep foreboding!

St George Bloomsbury

St George Bloomsbury

St Michael Cornhill

St Michael Cornhill

He was also responsible for the tower of St Michael Cornhill, completed in 1724, and the west towers of Westminster Abbey, completed in 1745; and jointly responsible for St Luke Old Street, with its striking, obelisk-like spire, and for St John Horselydown, just off Tooley Street.  The last-named  was substantially destroyed during or demolished after the Blitz of the Second World War, and  the surviving parts were subsequently incorporated into the London City Mission.  A photograph of the bombed church taken in 1940 still survives.  It 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.

Close-up of St Michael Cornhill

Close-up of St Michael Cornhill

West towers, Westminster Abbey

West towers, Westminster Abbey

St Luke Old Street

St Luke Old Street

(Site of) St John Horselydown

(Site of) St John Horselydown

Hawksmoor Churches viewed from the Shard

Here are a few photographs –  taken from the top of the Shard – featuring three of the six London churches wholly designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736). Hawksmoor was employed by Christopher Wren as a clerk from the age of about 18. In time he became one of the greatest masters of English Baroque architecture. All six of Hawksmoor’s London churches remain standing.  (Hawksmoor also collaborated with John James on two other London churches, one of which still survives.)

Greenwich Palace and the Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Royal Naval College Grennwich

The Royal Naval College with the Queen’s House in the background

Greenwich was first recorded as Grenewic in 964, as Grenawic in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 1013, and as Grenviz in the Domesday Book of 1086.  It takes its name from the Old English grene, meaning green, in context grassy or vegetated; and wic, meaning trading settlement or harbour.

Greenwich Palace was built here by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426, and rebuilt by Henry VII between circa 1500-06.  The palace is notable as the birthplace of Henry VIII and of his daughters Mary and Elizabeth I.  It was substantially demolished at the end of the seventeenth century to make way for  the Royal Naval College, although some surviving fragments can still be seen in an exhibit in the “Discover Greenwich” Visitor Centre attached to the College.

Plaque marking site of Greenwich Palace

The plaque in the courtyard of the Royal Naval College marking the site of Greenwich Palace

The College was built by Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1692-1728.  It had to be built in two widely separated halves to allow the “Queen’s House” to the rear,  built by Inigo Jones, principally between 1629-40, to remain in the view from the river (leading Samuel Johnson to describe it  as “too much detached to make one great whole”).  The east wing, including the Chapel, was damaged by fire in 1779, and rebuilt by James “Athenian” Stuart, while the west wing, including the Painted Hall, was undamaged.

Royal Naval College Grennwich

The Royal Naval College with the Queen’s House in the background

Chiaroscuro, Lower Hall

Chiaroscuro, Lower Hall

The Painted Hall, “the finest dining hall in Europe”, was sumptuously decorated by the English artist James Thornhill, who also did the dome of St Paul’s, between 1708-1727.  It features a range of allegorical and symbolic scenes, with various members of the Royal Family, consorting with gods and goddesses, very much to the fore, as well as the Royal Navy.  Thornhill’s painterly  skill is most evident in his rendering of subjects as if in three dimensions through the use of forced perspective (trompe l’oeil).  And evidently he was only paid £3 per square yard for the ceilings, and £1 per square yard for the walls!

Painted fireplace surround, Lower Hall

Painted fireplace surround, Lower Hall

Painted symbols of Britain's military might, Lower Hall

Painted symbols of Britain’s military might, Lower Hall

The Hall was originally intended as a dining hall for the so-called “Greenwich Pensioners”, who lived at the nearby Royal Hospital for  Seamen, but  was soon deemed to be too good  for them (it appears that they once had a food fight, and got gravy on the paintwork).   Instead, it became something of an up-market tourist attraction, and between 1824-1936 also housed the National Gallery of Naval Art (now housed in the Queen’s House).   It remains open to the public, and is, remarkably, free of charge!

The ceiling of the Upper Hall, featuring Queen Anne (reigned 1702-1714) and her husband George of Denmark

The ceiling of the Upper Hall, featuring Queen Anne and her husband George of Denmark

The Lower Hall

The Lower Hall

The entrance to the Upper Hall

The entrance to the Upper Hall

The west wall of the Upper Hall,  featuring George I and his children and grandchildren

The west wall of the Upper Hall, featuring George I (reigned 1714-1727) and his children and grandchildren

Detail of the entrance to the Upper Hall, showing the royal and zodiacal motifs on the arch

Detail of the entrance to the Upper Hall, showing the royal and zodiacal motifs on the arch

The Lost Wren Churches of London

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new themed walk on “The Lost Wren Churches of London”.
The walk will be a circular one, beginning and ending at St Paul’s tube station, and taking in all 21 of the “lost” Wren churches on the way, as well as passing a number of the surviving ones (see below).
It will be another of our specials, meaning that it can be taken at any time.
To book, please either e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com) or phone (020-8998-3051).
One of the Not-Quite-Lost Wren Churches, St Dunstan-in-the-East
Background (an extract from my book, The Lost City of London published in 2012 – see link for further details)
 
In the aftermath of the Great Fire of London of 1666, the question was asked, would the City ever be rebuilt, or be the same again?
Well, of course it would, not least because the prosperity of the City was essential not only to that of the country as a whole but also to that of powerful men with vested interests, watching anxiously from the sidelines as “day by day the City’s wealth flowed out of the gate” to other boroughs.
The Lord Mayor initiated the process essentially straight away, within weeks commissioning a detailed survey of the fire-damaged area of the City to assist with the assessment of compensation claims, and to use as a  template for reconstruction plans.  The survey was undertaken by the Bohemian Wencesla(u)s Hollar, who had travelled widely before eventually settling in London, and  earned a reputation as an engraver and print-maker of some skill, specialising in landscape scenes.  Other surveys were undertaken, and maps made, by Doornick, Leake, and Ogilby and Morgan.
A number of revolutionary reconstruction plans for the City were submitted, by, among others, Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke and John Evelyn, any one of which, if implemented, would have given it a radically new look and feel, much more like that of the great European cities of the day, and indeed of today, with their uniform architecture, broad boulevards and   open piazzas.  (Evelyn wrote that “In the disposure of the streets, due consideration should be had, what are the competent breadths for commerce and intercourse (!), cheerfulness and state”).  But these  plans were over-ambitious, apart from anything else, and were abandoned on the grounds of practicality in favour of  one requiring much less groundwork, and much more like the old one (although allowing of at least one concession to modernity, in the widening, and freeing  from encumbrance to the flow of traffic, of the streets).  The City that might have been never came to be, and  that that had been would come  to be again:  for the most part neither  particularly beautiful nor harmonious; but, rather, “lived in” and fractious; and yet, familiar and loved.
The man selected to oversee and implement the chosen reconstruction plan was the aforementioned Christopher Wren, an architect and a  member of an aristocratic family who had finally found favour in the Restoration, after years in the wilderness during the Protectorate and Commonwealth: his assistants, the aforementioned brilliant but curmudgeonly Robert Hooke, memorably described by  Pepys as  “the most,  and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”; and the young and prodigiously gifted Nicholas Hawksmoor.  Incidentally, Wren was an anatomist and astronomer as well as an architect (one wonders whether he, like Sartre’s autodidact, acquired his learning by reading an encyclopaedia, starting with the letter “A”); a follower of the “New Philosophy” of Francis Bacon; and a founder member of the Royal Society.  He was, in short, an archetypal (English)  Renaissance Man, and, most definitely, the right man, in the right place, at the right time – an unusually happy conjunction in the history of the City.
Wren and his  office set about their reconstruction work as hastily, or rather speedily,  as practicable, so as to provide  the City with the opportunity of re-establishing itself with the minimum of delay and loss.  In all, they rebuilt 51 parish churches within and immediately without the walls, that is, around half of those that had been destroyed in the Great Fire (*), together with St Paul’s Cathedral, and also rebuilt numerous other public and private buildings, many in the High (English) Renaissance or Early Baroque style – the cost of the entire enterprise being covered by a tax on coal.  The most glorious of Wren’s many glorious achievements was undoubtedly St Paul’s Cathedral.  The cathedral is faced in plain Portland Stone, wonderfully reflective of the City’s light and mood.  It is crowned with a glorious and iconic dome, making it unique among all the cathedrals of England.  Wren’s simple epitaph inside the cathedral reads “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice”, meaning “Reader, should you seek his memorial, look about you”.   On the pediment above the south door is a stone bearing the image of a Phoenix rising from the ashes, and the inscription of the single word “Resurgam”, meaning “I shall rise again” (the inscription repeating  that on another stone found by one of Wren’s workmen among the debris of the  old, burnt-out cathedral – a positive portent if ever there was one).
And so, out of the ashes arose  a new London.  And England was re-born.
(*) Of  these 51 churches, 30 are still standing, together with St Paul’s Cathedral, and 21 are not.  Of  the 21 that are no longer standing, 17,  far more than one might have hoped, were demolished by our own over-zealous town planners and engineers in the pell-mell expansion of London following the Industrial Revolution – in some cases, at least marginally justifiably,  to  allow for development, but in many others simply because they were deemed, under the incomprehensibly philistine Union of Benifices Act of 1860, to be surplus to requirements!  Only 4, far fewer than one might have feared, were completely destroyed by German bombing during the Blitz of the Second World War.  However,  a number of others were also damaged to varying extents at this time, some of which were subsequently restored, and  some left as empty shells.   Two were destroyed,  and 8 damaged, on a single, fateful night, Sunday 29th December, 1940, when thousands of incendiaries were dropped on an essentially unguarded City.
At  least many of the  original plans of these recently lost churches still survive, as do some later paintings and photographs.