Tag Archives: Nicholas Hawksmoor

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