St George’s Bloomsbury

Standing just a block south of the British Museum, the church of St George's, Bloomsbury, consecrated on 28 January 1730, is the sixth and final church designed by the English Baroque architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor. The church fell into disrepair over the years, but has recently undergone a major renovation which reinstated a number of major features.

As it's hemmed in by buildings on two sides, and the streets at the front and back are quite narrow, it's not so easy to get a good view of the whole church. But from the front It's two most notable features from the front are the large neo-Classical portico with it's Corinthian columns, and the tower, can be seen from across the road.

The tower is particularly distinctive. It's stepped pyramid design being based on descriptions of the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus. The figure on the top is a statue of George I dressed as a Roman Emperor. The four beasts at the bottom of the pyramid, two lions and two unicorns, were part of the original design and were meant to symbolise the Hanoverian succession, with the lions of England and the unicorns representing Scotland fighting for the crown of England. The ‘beasts’ were removed from the tower in the 1870s and lost but were replaced by replicas during the recent renovation.

The tower can be clearly seen in the background of Hogarth's well known etching of “Gin Lane” and features in one of Dickens' works.

Originally the nave was oriented east to west with the alter in the east. But this was changed to a north-south orientation in 1780. This was reversed during the restoration so the alter stands in it's original position in the Eastern apse with it's decorated plaster ceiling.

The large chandelier is 17th Century Dutch and has been loaned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it used to be hung in the entrance hall.

The north balcony was also reinstated during the restoration. The wooden columns look rather slender but the wood is actually cladding around an iron interior which provides the structural support.

The decorated plasterwork has been left plain, as it would have appeared shortly after the church was constructed. Until the recent restoration the details were picked out and highlighted with gold leaf and other bright colours.

With it's eccentric exterior features, particularly the tower, St George's Bloomsbury is unmistakeably a Hawksmoor church. It's restoration has been sympathetic to the original design and has been very succesful in returning it to how it would have appeared when first constructed. A real gem, tucked away in a busy part of London and probably unoticed by most of the people rushing past, going about their daily business.

 

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