H is for Hawksmoor and his boss; a homage to the builders of London’s churches #atozchallenge

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St Mary Le Bow – the great bell of Bow. If you are a true cockney you are born within hearing of this bell. One of Wren’s

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

London is full of churches. And Bells. Most people know St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey and the churches mentioned above. But these merely scratch the surface.

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You’d imagine, given that people had to find something to do on a Sunday until Country File was first screened, there would be Churches going back to the Romans. There would, but for one little event.

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The Great Fire of London -1666.

As a tourist you will undoubtedly be pushed to visit the Monument, a tower you can climb which celebrates the end of the fire. But by this point the damage was done. And with the destruction of the houses so were the churches lost. Even the enormous, sprawling St Paul’s of its day went in that conflagration.

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The Monument with its great ball of fire atop (where’s Bill Haley when you want him). You can climb the inside and view the city from here; a combined ticket gains you access to Tower Bridge too

I wrote  a short story as part of Nano last year imagining events after this cataclysm. Here’s a link if you’re interested.

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Christ Church, Spitalfields, a Hawksmoor beauty

But today there are numerous beautiful churches still packed into the City. And for this we have to give a lot of thanks, – those of us who cherish London’s eclectic built environment anyway – for the genius of two men (amongst others): St Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor.

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St Paul’s understandably dominates the debate about churches; on a  sunny day head for New Change and stand with your back to St Paul’s – this view – and see how architect Jean Nouvel has created an extraordinary reflection inside the One New Change development

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Wren it was who ran the show, post 1666, on this rebuild. He did the bulk of the work on St Paul’s and, especially, that pot bellied dome though Hawksmoor finished it off.

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The Abbey

The Abbey (which is not an Abbey but a Royal Peculiar, controlled by the Monarch and thus the usual venue for Royal weddings and funerals) was mostly built in the 13th Century on the orders of Henry III, and, as it was outside the range of the fire, it survived;

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Its entrance

but its splendid towers were a later addition, based on Hawksmoor designs.

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St Mary Woolnoth, another Hawksmoor – outside Bank tube station

Subsequent damage has been done down the years, by crass developers, and, most notably some mid 20th century Teutonic bombing

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St Vedast alias Foster: a Wren

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but many of the gems these men helped create still stand, tucked away in passages and down the bye-ways of the City of London.

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St James Garlickhythe – Wren’s lantern given its profusion of windows


You’ll spot a spire or a tower and wonder where it is. You’ll walk towards it and find you’ve been taken away in a different direction.

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This is a Wren rebuild that was re rebuilt following damage by bombing; Dick Whittington, the fabled lord mayor who came with his cat to London is buried in its precincts. Today it is known as the Seafarers Church


As you hunt out yet another oddly named Church – St Olave’s in the Wardrobe, St Nicholas the Distressed or St Colin the Bewildered (I may have made that up), bear in mind what Wren and Hawksmoor had to do.

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A Wren now an office

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St Lawrence Jewry – another Wren, another post war rebuild; this Church backs onto the Guildhall and is the Church to the Corporation of London. The ‘Jewry’ comes from when the original Church was built in the 12th century in what was the eastern area of the City and the Jewish quarter

Not only did they have to rebuild a major city but all around them the ferment of revolution hung like a shroud. England had its civil war in the 1640s and its King, assured of his Divine right to rule was beheaded in 1648, only a handful of years before.

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The remains of Christchurch Greyfriars, rebuilt by Wren and mostly destroyed in 1940. Being within 100 yards of St Paul’s it wasn’t rebuilt


Later with the work just underway they faced the replacement of one new King, James II with another, the double act of  William  and Mary following the Glorious Revolution in the 168os. They were genius architects but just as canny political animals, maintaining their funding and patronage as power shifted here and there they were supreme.

For all Hawksmoor’s skills and I do love the baroque feel to his churches my favourite is a Wren Gem

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St Bride’s

It is just off Fleet Street and has long been associated with the press and journalists. But the tiered wedding cake magnificence of its spire leaves me breathless.

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And if you’re there and have a moment wander along Fleet Street towards the Strand and hunt out St Dunstan’s In the West.

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ST Dunstan’s in the West – the one that got away. The original medieval church was threatened by the Great Fire but the Dean of Westminster woke the pupils of the school who acted as a fire briagde dowsing the flames and saving the building. However many alterations later the church had to be demolished in the nineteenth century and was rebuilt in the 1830s

The bell, struck by giants every 15 minutes, is a thing of beauty.

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This then summarises the glories of London’s built environment; whatever one’s religious bent or with no bent at all, one can admire the fervour and dedication that went into these extraordinary constructions that happily still stand.

One final word on another influence on City life of St Paul’s Cathedral.

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They stand apart…

I was a real estate lawyer in a former life; I spent 30 some years helping clients build in and around the City, some great buildings and many that should be towed out to sea and used as target practice for the Navy. But very often I needed to try and fight St Paul’s. The reason? The protected views from various places in and around the City. These views are corridors and have statutory force. London is not unique in this – San Francisco and Portland in the US, Vancouver in Canada have similar restrictions.

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Or the architect has to be clever, hence the sloping side of the Cheese-grater to avoid offending the St Paul’s Protected views

What it means is that when seeking permission to build a tower these views ensure a limited clustering and create gaps. Which has the advantage that you can usually see the newer buildings. For once the planners are on the side of the angels.


This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in A to Z blogging challenge, Blogging, buildings, challenge, London, miscellany and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to H is for Hawksmoor and his boss; a homage to the builders of London’s churches #atozchallenge

  1. Ritu says:

    This was fascinating Geoffles! !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Vincent says:

    Great wander, Geoff 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. gordon759 says:

    The city churches are a wonderful treasure, but here is a story of the lost St Dunstan’s, the one in the east. Mid Victorian planners, despite many protests demolished it. However one man liked the projecting clock from the church so much he bought it, and attached it to his house by Hyde Park, as a result the house gained the name, ‘St Dunstan’.
    Move forward to exactly one hundred years ago, many servicemen were coming back from the trenches blinded by gas or shell splinters, the War office would see their wounds cured and give them a pension, but there was no other training available. A blind business man and a blind journalist got together to found a charity to help blinded soldiers, they were wonderfully aggressive in their fund raising and the owner of the house ‘St Dunstan’, offered them the house as a base.
    Realising that a saintly title was a good pull for a charity, the blind soldiers charity was renamed St Dunstan’s, it was only after the second world war that the name of the charity was altered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      And Caravan had a prog rock album called Blind dogs at St Dunstans which was almost as popular as their iconic Cunning Stunts – which two stories explain in two paragraphs the difference between us! Many thanks bro, you are a gem!


  4. I love churches and the story was a great read too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. AJ.Dixon says:

    I completely forgot that Monument was built in remembrance of the Great Fire! Strange the things you forget…irritating, too! Before you mentioned it I was thinking of your Nano story about Wren. I thought that one was excellent and the implication at the end made my mouth drop open when I first read it. Great stuff!
    But I digress! Another fascinating post about London, with your infectious sense of humour rife within it! 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jan says:

    Your knowledge of your city never ceases to amaze me. Love that Wren poems. Especially now that I have some background.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. calensariel says:

    What an interesting post. And such beautiful pictures. I loved Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” in which he describes building cathedrals. It was great to see some of that kind of architecture.
    Impromptu Promptlings

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Impressive knowledge, Geoff

    Liked by 1 person

  9. trifflepudling says:

    When I first knew your then-to-be Mrs and you I worked on the south side of St Paul’s, and just below my building was St Nicholas Cole Abbey by Wren, though it isn’t an abbey but ‘cold harbour ‘ (shelter from the cold). The bells used to sound the midday Angelus and the evening Benediction, and I was captivated. I didn’t realise at the time it was a restored church (bombed 1941). If you walk in the City, though, as you know, you’re constantly aware of what has gone before and somehow it doesn’t matter not everything is original. Thanks for this churchy post and for the others in this series.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. noelleg44 says:

    Lovely, lovely. How many of these churches had to be restored/rebuilt after the WWII bombing?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. restlessjo says:

    I enjoyed your post Geoff. I love London’s historic and magnificent architecture. There are always nooks and crannies for a return visit.


  12. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Meeting Meg | restlessjo

  13. Heyjude says:

    Fascinating post Geoff. Love seeing all the different architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

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