Looking down Brushfield Street towards Christ Church Spitalfields. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the church was built between 1714 and 1729. PICTURE: Jack Bassingthwaighte/Unsplash
Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor was a key figure in the creation of the fabric of London as we know it, working alongside Sir Christopher Wren as well as alone, and responsible for numerous works with can still be seen in London today.
Hawksmoor was born into a yeoman farming family in Nottinghamshire in around 1661-62 but little else is known of his early life. He probably received a fairly basic education but is believed to have been taken on a clerk to a justice in Yorkshire before, thanks to encountering a decorative plasterer by the name of Edward Gouge, travelling to London.
There, Hawksmoor was introduced to Wren who, agreed to take on the young man as his personal clerk at just the age of 18. He moved through a number of junior positions in Wren’s household before becoming deputy surveyor at Winchester Palace – between 1683 and 1685 – under Wren.
He went on to work with his mentor on numerous further projects; these included Chelsea Hospital, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Hospital as well as Kensington Palace where, thanks to Wren’s support, he was named clerk of works in 1689 (as well as deputy surveyor of works at Greenwich). He remained in these posts for some 25 years before he was removed thanks to political machinations (although he later returned to the secretaryship).
Hawksmoor also worked with Sir John Vanbrugh, assisting him in building Blenheim Palace, taking over command of the job in 1705. Vanbrugh made him his deputy and Hawksmoor later succeeded him as architect at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, designing a number of monuments in the gardens, including the great mausoleum.
Hawksmoor is described as one of the masters of the English Baroque style – Easton Nelson in Northamptonshire, which he designed for Sir William Fermor, is an exemplar of his work (and the only country house for which he was sole architect, although it remain uncompleted).
Hawksmoor also worked on buildings for the university at Oxford and while All Soul’s College was among buildings he completed, many of his proposed designs were not implemented for various reasons (as were grand plans he had for the redesign of central Oxford).
From 1711, Hawksmoor was busy again in London where, following the passing of an Act of Parliament, he was appointed as one of the surveyors to a commission charged with overseeing the building of 50 new churches in London.
The commission only completed 12 churches, but half of them were designed by Hawksmoor (and he collaborated with fellow surveyor John James on two more). Hawksmoor’s completed churches include St Alfege in Greenwich, St George’s, Bloomsbury, Christ Church in Spitalfields, St George in the East in Wapping, St Mary Woolnoth, and St Anne’s Limehouse (the churches he collaborated on include James are St Luke Old Street and the now demolished St John Horsleydown).
In 1723, following Wren’s death, he was appointed Surveyor to Westminster Abbey and, as well as aspects of the interior (some of which still survive to this day) designed the landmark west towers (although they weren’t completed until after his death).
Hawksmoor died at his home in Millbank on 25th March, 1736, from what was described as “gout of the stomach”, having struggled with his health for a couple of decades previously. He was buried at the now deconsecrated church in Shenley, Hertsfordshire.
Hawksmoor was survived by his wife Hester by a year, and a daughter, Elizabeth.
PICTURES: Top – The West Towers of Westminster Abbey; Right – St Anne’s, Limehouse. (David Adams)
Adorned with giant beasts and topped with a statue of King George I, the steeple of this 18th century Nicholas Hawksmoor-designed English Baroque church is a sight to behold.
The unusual spire, which has topped the church since it was completed in 1731, is stepped like a pyramid and was apparently inspired by Pliny’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).
At its base can be seen four heraldic creatures – two 10 foot tall lions and two similarly-sized unicorns. They’re actually recreations of the originals by sculptor Tim Crawley based on drawings by Hawksmoor. The originals were removed – and subsequently lost – in 1870 amid fears they were about to topple off.
It’s suggested that lions and unicorns – which look as if they are in conflict over the crown in the middle – symbolise the tussle for the Crown as seen in the several Jacobite risings which took place in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
The statue on top has King George I dressed in Roman attire and standing on an altar as a symbol of St George – as clear a PR exercise as you’ll find on a steeple. It even featured in a verse by Horace Walpole:
“When Henry VIII left the Pope in the lurch,
The Protestants made him the head of the church,
But George’s good subjects, the Bloomsbury people
Instead of the church, made him head of the steeple.”
The steeple did prove controversial when it was completed – the church commissioners initially refused to pay Hawksmoor, apparently deeming the spire too frivolous for such a serious building. But it was soon recognised as an important part of the landscape – it can be seen in the background of William Hogarth’s 1751 engraving Gin Lane.
In the mid-Noughties, the church and steeple, which had fallen into a state of dishevelment and was apparently on the verge of closure, underwent a major renovation. Funded by American Paul Mellon and the Heritage Lottery Fund, it saw the long-lost (albeit recreated) beasts returned to their place on the steeple (the project was recorded in detail by Harris Digital).
Now an elegant place to have lunch or afternoon tea, The Orangery was originally built in 1704-05. Its construction came at the behest of Queen Anne – the younger sister of Queen Mary II, she had ascended to the throne after the death of Mary’s husband King William III in 1702 following a fall from a horse (Mary had died of smallpox at Kensington Palace in 1694). Queen Anne used the building for parties in summer and in winter, thanks to underfloor heating, as a conservatory for plants (two engines were later fitted to the building to lift the orange trees kept there in colder months). The building’s architect is thought to have been the renowned Nicholas Hawksmoor, clerk of works for Kensington Palace, but it was extensively modified by Sir John Vanbrugh. The building also contains carvings by Grinling Gibbons. For more, see www.orangerykensingtonpalace.co.uk. PICTURE: Vapor Kopeny/Unsplash
When the makers of the 2010 Jack Black movie Gulliver’s Travels were looking for suitably grand buildings to represent the Lilliputian capital, they turned to the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the World Heritage-listed site made a grand backdrop for the film in which a supersized Black plays Gulliver, the hero of Jonathan Swift’s book (incidentally Blenheim Palace near Oxford also makes an appearance in the film).
It’s not the first time, of course, that the location has featured in recent films – in fact, such has been its popularity that Empire asked last year whether it was the most popular film location in the world.
Other films in which the Old Royal Naval College appears have included The Dark Knight Rises (where it features in the epilogue), Les Miserables (where the buildings represent a part of a Paris featuring a gigantic wooden elephant which is home to the street urchin Gavroche), and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (where the spectacular Painted Hall, designed by Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, represents the King’s palace).
It has also appeared in both of the recent Sherlock Holmes films as well as a host of others – everything from The Mummy Returns to The Madness of King George and Charlotte Gray.
This part of East London is believed to take its name not from lime trees nor from a house bearing that name. Rather it owes its origins to the process by which chalk shipped from Kent was converted into lime.
The process of ‘lime burning’ – which took place in these parts on the northern bank of the River Thames – involves heating the chalk in a bottle-shaped kiln, also known as an oast. Hence ‘lime oast’ became corrupted into Limehouse.
The earliest reference to the name comes from the early medieval era but in later centuries the area was noted not so much for its lime-burning but its links with shipping – particularly following the opening on the Limehouse Cut in 1770 which linked the Thames with the River Lea and allowed goods to taken from the north of London directly to ships on the Thames without the need to navigate around the Isle of Dogs (see our earlier post on the Limehouse Cut). Limehouse Basin (pictured above, from the Limehouse Cut) opened in the early 19th century.
The area, which became increasingly industrialised as a result, is also known for its links to the Chinese community – and this included, in the Victorian era, opium dens, but the association ended around the 1950s by which time the Chinese community had largely moved to Soho (where Chinatown still stands today).
• The London Festival of Architecture has returned with a month long celebration of the city’s built form in a program of events including talks, tours and exhibitions. Among the latter is Lesser Known Architecture – A Celebration of Underappreciated London Buildings – a free exhibition at the Design Museum which runs until 22nd July and looks at 10 structures ranging from London Underground Arcades and Cabmen’s Shelters (one of which is pictured) to Nunhead Cemetery. Other events include an exhibition at Somerset House – Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings – looking at churches designed by Hawksmoor in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (this runs until 1st September), and The Secret Society – A Sculptural Banquet, a large scale installation by artist and designer Kathy Dalwood at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, west London (ends this Sunday). For more on the festival, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org or for fringe events, http://londonarchitecturediary.com.
• A new exhibition featuring more than 100 images from space – including images of the colourful dust clouds in which new stars are formed, the aurora on the surface of Saturn and the sight of Earth from the International Space Station – opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Visions of the Universe takes visitors on a “visual trip through our solar system” with images of the moon, sun, plants and distant galaxies. It looks at the development of telescopy and photography and examines our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Space scientists including Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees and The Sky at Night‘s Chris Lintott introduce each section of the exhibition which has at its centre a 13×4 metre curved wall known as the ‘Mars Window’. It has the latest images from NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover projected onto it. There is a programme of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.
• Tate Britain is undergoing an overhaul this year with the opening of new galleries and a rearrangement of the institution’s collection. Last month, a new chronological presentation of the institution’s British art opened across more than 2o of the institution’s galleries. BP Walk through British Art features around 500 artworks, dating from the 1500s to present day, by artists ranging from Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth to JMW Turner, John Constable, Lucien Freud and David Hockney. Meanwhile new galleries have opened dedicated to the works of sculptor Henry Moore and artist William Blake. Around 30 of Moore’s works are featured in the rooms as well as more than 40 of Blake’s works. For more see www.tate.org.uk.
• Apsley House, regency home of the Duke of Wellington, is hosting a series of events every weekend in June in the lead-up to the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Interpreters will be at the house, known as Number 1 London, this weekend to discuss the dress and manners of the era while next weekend (15th and 16th June) visitors have the chance to meet some of Wellington’s soldiers and their wives. Gentry from the Napoleonic era will be celebrating the victory at Waterloo on 22nd and 23rd June while on the final weekend of the month, the focus will be on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, which led to eventual victory in the Peninsular War. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.
• On Now: Coins and the Bible. This free exhibition at the British Museum looks at how money was referred to in the Old and New Testament, and the use of Christian symbols such as crosses or monograms derived from Greek letters on later coins. These include the first coin, dating from about 450 AD, to depict an image of Jesus (the coin, on loan from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, is included in the exhibition). There are also early Biblical fragments on papyrus and vellum lent by the British Library and an ivory panel dating from the early 400s AD which includes an image of the purse of 30 pieces of silver Judas received after his betrayal of Jesus. Held in Room 69a, the exhibition runs until 20th October. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
A once favored residence of British monarchs, Kensington Palace’s connections with royalty date back to 1689 when, then a private country home known as Nottingham House, the building was purchased by King William III and Queen Mary II.
Wren’s work included the addition of four new pavilions – one at each corner – to provide extra accommodation for the king and queen. The King’s Apartments, approached by a Grand Staircase, were located in the south east, and the Queen Apartment’s in the north west. While many later additions were made, the basic layout of these buildings remains true to Wren’s original design.
Among the many spectacular original rooms is the King’s Gallery, built for William in 1695. It features an 1694 wind dial connected to a weather vane which turns according to the direction of the prevailing wind.
The property’s subsequent royal residents have included Queen Anne, King George I and King George II (it was King George III who made Buckingham Palace his primary London residence). Princess (later Queen) Victoria was born here in 1819 (it was she who first opened the State Apartments to visitors in 1899) while more recent residents in the palace’s private areas have included Princess Margaret and, of course, Diana, Princess of Wales.
WHERE: The Broad Walk, Kensington Gardens, Kensington (nearest tube stations are High Street Kensington or Queensway); WHEN: Daily 10am to 5pm (last admission 4pm); COST: £12.50 adult/£11 concession/£6.25 child/£34 family (online booking discounts available, Historic Royal Palaces members free); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace
PICTURE: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk