St. George, Bloomsbury, London

St George Bloomsbury is the last of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s six London churches built under the Commissioners Act of 1711. It was consecrated in 1730.

The land was purchased in from the widow of executed Whig Lord, John Russell. The land is a small north-south oriented patch squashed between other buildings and cost £1,000 – a fairly large amount in those days.

Both John Vanbrugh and James Gibbs were approached for building the church and both their designs were turned down. Eventually the Commission came back to Hawksmoor and work began on his last London church.

For this church Hawksmoor seems to have tired of his usual porticoed and steepled style (see Christchurch, Spitalfields and All Saints’, Poplar) and has been inspired by antiquity. The stepped tower is said to be based on Pliny the Elder’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Portico is based on the Temple of Bacchus in the Lebanon.

At the top of the tower is a statue of George I in full Roman costume and all over are lions and unicorns fighting as a symbol of the recently finished First Jacobite Rebellion.

A new church in the area did not improve the moral standing of the Seven Dials and it was still a den of gambling, crime and prostitution. Barely 20 years after the church was consecrated, William Hogarth depicts it in the background of his notorious “Gin Lane” engraving (1751). Charles Dickens also uses St. George’s in “Sketches by Boz” (1836).

A few years before Anthony Trollope was baptised at the church and Emily Davison, the suffragette killed by the King’s horse in the 1913 Derby had her funeral here. Emperor Haile Selassie was a high profile attendee when a requiem for the dead of the Abyssinian War took place in 1937.

For many years St. George’s was in a terrible state, but interest began to build in Hawksmoor and his churches and finally in 2006 major conservation work came to an end and the church reopened, including an exhibit on the architect in the undercroft.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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