Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, July 1, 2019

Amazing Grace

English Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor has gotten a bad rap. His name conjures dark associations, probably due to his predilection for pagan symbols. One account dubs him a "poster boy for occultists, studious goths and historical conspiracy theorists...and 'the devil's architect.' (The Guardian, Sept. 26, 2006) There's an occult psychogeography that looks at his London churches - in a way I never will. Problem was, his lovely Christ Church, Spitalfields became associated with that nasty Jack the Ripper business, and that was that. Unless you follow the above link, and find the whole matter more dark and convoluted than my version. Then the esteemed London scholar Peter Ackroyd penned that bit of mischief, his murder mystery Hawksmoor. And there's more, but I'll let you read the Guardian article.

Pastor John Newton, reformed slave ship owner,
wrote Amazing Grace
Because I want to talk about this church. I've always wanted to see it, dramatic and idiosyncratic, yet when it appeared I was gob-smacked. Saint Mary Woolnoth, opened 1727. Today the church is dominated by newer larger structures (have a look around the Lombard Street neighbourhood), but when Hawksmoor was commissioned, he had open space to work with, older buildings having been demolished around it. This construction formed part of a plan to build 50 new churches, continuing on from the work of Christopher Wren, building 51 to replace the Gothic parish churches destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

The facade looms ominously above Lombard Street, the Baroque drama of the deeply channeled masonry facade out of harmony with the Classical serenity of the smooth flat-topped turrets. The classical bits - Corinthians columns, round-arches and parapet strike a different note somehow. The side view shows the facade to be a kind of false front. I've looked for descriptions of the church, to help me with this one, but haven't managed. So you'll have to content yourself with my baffled admiration.

Or visit Victor Keegan's outstanding blog London My London, for his take on St. Mary Woolnoth. I will certainly be back.
the only City church to escape WWII damage
I read somewhere

before 1900 builders removed the crypt and
installed an Underground station
Hawksmoor was apprenticed to Christopher Wren at age 18, and in the opinion of some, outshone his master. Here's a great article about these two giants of Baroque architecture in England. Hawksmoor went on to work with Baroque (think Blenheim Palace) John Vanbrugh. His name will come up again, when I reminisce about the buildings of Greenwich.

Compromise - note the Starbucks built into the wall?