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London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part five)
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London`s churches & cathedrals. Introduction. (part five)By 1850, practically no Classical churches were being built for the Church of England. Georgian ashlar in Classical dress had given way to Victorian ragstone in Gothic guise. By then, parliamentary grants for church-building were a thing of the past. The Church of England set up its own funds, masterminded by energetic bishops and drawing on the wealth and religious feeling of Victorian England. Bishop Blomfield set up the Metropolis New Churches Fund; his successor as Bishop of London, A. C. Tait, founded the Bishop of London's Fund. South of the river, in the ancient Diocese of Winchester, there was founded the Southwark Fund for Schools and Churches. There were also local building plans such as the Haggerston Church Scheme. At the lowest level, there were innumerable projects to build new churches, sometimes because of a fire (St Giles, Camberwell), or because an old church was considered too small or unfashionable (St Mary Abbots at Kensington and St Matthew's at Bayswater), or because of a memorial gift (St James the Less, Pimlico), or finally because a priest had carved out a mission district for himself to set up a new parish (St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate). In many cases of rebuilding, there was a sense of producing a church better suited for a prosperous new suburb, in contrast to the small and rustic church it was replacing. St Mary's New Church at Stoke Newington (by Sir Gilbert Scott in 1855-8), which stands opposite the old church it superseded, perfectly illustrates this process. Many Victorian churches in London are unexceptional, but some were markedly important: models for their age. This was intended from the beginning at All Saints, Margaret Street (1850-9), but it was also true in varying ways for Sir Gilbert Scott's churches at Camberwell and Kensington, and for Comper's St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate (1902-3).

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

The population increases in central London and the nearest suburbs, which prompted the Victorians to build so substantially, were followed by equally drastic decreases in the 20th century. The old Borough of Finsbury, for example, had 153,000 people in 1861, but only 35,000 by 1951. The Second World War brought a huge decrease. Churches began to be demolished because of lack of need. Bombs destroyed many more, and in the less generous post-war years, the Victorian legacy has been greatly reduced. Most of the older churches that were bombed were restored by the 1960s, albeit on new lines in many cases: Most Holy Trinity Church at Dockhead, Bermondsey, was built anew by H. S. Goodhart-Rendel in striking neo-Norman form.

Our inheritance of churches cannot be taken for granted. In 1988, the Wren church of St Mary-at-Hill was burnt, and in 1993 the mediaeval St Ethelburga's in Bishopsgate was largely destroyed by an IRA bomb. Restorations are under way in both cases, but much will still have been lost. A completely new church was built for the parish of St Barnabas, Dulwich, after a fire in 1992: a very rare example of a wholly new church built so near the centre of London in the last quarter of a century.

Much was made in the 1950s and 1960s of new ground-plans for churches, to accommodate changing liturgical trends. In fact, almost all the plans had been tried somewhere before, often many centuries earlier, but what was new was the gauntness and starkness of the outer shell. No previous generation had built so meanly and so bereft of decoration. The tide has now turned, and more traditional ideas have resurfaced. The rebuilding of St. Ethelburga's in the City will possibly be a reflection of these changes. Mediaeval London will still be pointing the way for church-builders today.

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