A month ago in the heart of British summertime I went to see the free Nicholas Hawksmoor photography exhibition at Somerset House. Nicholas Hawksmoor was an English architect who is best known today as the man behind a number of London’s churches.
I rather like churches. I find many quite scary inside, especially when there are few people around and an echo is rumbling around the large open spaces, but that’s my imagination running away with me. From the outside I marvel at the architecture and if there is a bell tower I’m always enticed to step inside.
‘The spiritual flame burned brightly in the Church of England at the opening of the eighteenth century‘ and the commission for building fifty new churches was created. Nicholas Hawksmoor was appointed one of the surveyors and the Methodical Imaginings exhibition at Somerset House looks at the seven remaining London churches still standing today.
Hélène Binet is an architectural photographer who according to Daniel Libeskind ‘exposes architecture’s achievements, strength, pathos and fragility’ every time she takes a photograph. Once again my knowledge of photography is minimal but I must admit this statement rings true – the fragility of the churches certainly came through in the photographs.
I walked around the exhibition with a sense of amazement although I can’t articulate why. One question I asked myself was what does their London location add? Even to an uneducated eye these churches are magnificent in their own right, but what they add to the history and architecture of London increases their importance. Knowing that these churches influenced other architects and their future London masterpieces as well as realising that his work has appeared in the literature of T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens and Alan Bennett (amongst others) elevates their standing in contemporary London further.
Only 12 of the 50 churches were ever completed, eight of which were designed by Hawksmoor. The exhibition might have come to an end but seven of the buildings are still standing today:
- St George-in-the-East
- St Anne’s Limehouse
- St George’s Bloomsbury
- Christ Church Spitalfields
- St Luke, Old Street in Finsbury
- St Mary Woolnoth in the City
- St Alfege in Greenwich
I quickly created a Google Map to give you an idea of the distance between each Church. If you fancy a walk that takes you to the London Wall, lets you stop for beigels at the Brick Lane bakery and really stretches your legs this could be quite a nice one. Perhaps leave St Alfege in Greenwich for another day and take the time to hike up Greenwich Park too to get a great view over the city of London while you are in the area.
All images: Hélène Binet