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London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part three)
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London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part three)

Victorian redevelopment and the Second World War have reduced Wren's legacy, but the City still possesses much that is of the first importance in church fabric from Wren's time.

St Paul's Cathedral and the City churches were rebuilt from the proceeds of a tax on coal brought into London. By the early 1700s, when the rebuilding after the Great Fire was coming to an end, parishes outside the City looked to the coal tax as a benevolence that might be extended to them. St Mary's at Rotherhithe, for instance, whose parish was known for its maritime connections, had an attractive argument: as the parish's many mariners were prominent in bringing the coal to London and so in providing the income, would it not be fair to use some of the money to rebuild St Mary's? Parliament decided against Rotherhithe, but another petition in 1711 from St Alfege's, Greenwich, had a more favourable and quite remarkable response. The government was prompted to pass into law the Fifty New Churches Act.

London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part three)

The lavish apsidal sanctuary of St. James the Less, Pimlico, by G.E. Street, built in 1860-1.


This extraordinary event was prompted, of course, by more than St Alfege's petition. The government wished to strengthen the Anglican Church in London and to give prominence to its religious preferences in what it saw as a rising tide of Non-conformity. New churches were essential if the Church of England was to keep up with London's expansion. The Act specified that St Alfege's was to be rebuilt, and also reserved some money for Westminster Abbey and Greenwich Hospital, but further decisions were left to the newly appointed Commissioners. Among them was the elderly Sir Christopher Wren. He made recommendations for the proposed churches, which are often quoted but are naturally thought to be connected to his own City churches in an earlier generation. In fact, they were prompted by the Act of 1711. The Commissioners initially decided that all the new churches were to be built of stone in prominent positions, and that they would possess steeples and porticoes. More remarkably, given that the Act produced such varied churches, the Commissioners determined at the beginning to build all their churches to the same design. It was not long before this decision was forgotten (to London's great benefit). The discussions over the sites for the new churches and their designs were often protracted.

London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part three)


Designs came in from the Commissioners' surveyors (Hawksmoor and William Dickinson at the beginning, then James Gibbs, and afterwards John James), and from some of the Commissioners themselves. As it was, the churches that were built were monumental Baroque works. Twelve complete churches were built, of which six were by Hawksmoor alone and two more were by Hawksmoor in collaboration with John James. Hawksmoor's Christ Church at Spitalfields, St George's in Bloomsbury and St Anne's at Limehouse are all among London's most important churches. These and the other 1711 Act churches show a marked concern with centralizing plans, but as in Wren's buildings, the altar at the east end still imposed an east-west emphasis. The exteriors of the churches of 1711 are more exuberant than Wren's, however, with porticoes and doorways far more dramatic than Wren provided, other than at St Paul's Cathedral. Hawksmoor's distinctive spirit was matched by Thomas Archer at St John's, Smith Square, and at St Paul's, Deptford. Gibbs and James were more subdued in their designs, making themselves heirs of the Wren tradition.

London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part three)



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