St Luke’s Old Street


My first meeting during my visit to London last Wednesday was in Finsbury Square in South Islington, just outside the northern boundary of the City of London. I was done by 5 o’clock and needed to make my way over to St Pancras for a meeting at 6:30 so had a little time to spare as it’s only a short hop on the tube. So I decided to take a slightly longer route back to Old Street tube station via the Barbican and then along Whitecross Street as I’d never been in that part of London before.

Walking up Whitecross Street the view along the road was dominated by an unusual church spire. “There’s only one architect who could have designed that” I thought. “Nicholas Hawksmoor”. I was right. The church in question was Saint Luke’s Old Street. It was designed by John James, but Hawksmoor was responsible for the spire, the west tower and the flanking staircase wings. So now I can say I’ve seen all 6 1/2 of Hawksmoor’s London churches!

The spire is particularly distinctive, a fluted obelisk. Probably unique for an Anglican church, but that’s Hawksmoor for you!


There’s a nice sketch of the spire here.

Originally there was a brass weather vane on top of the spire that local people thought looked like a louse, earning the church the name “Lousy St Luke’s”

The church was consecrated in 1733, but suffered from subsidence due to being built on marshy ground and repairs were already being undertaken in 1734,  Damaged during the London Blitz and suffering badly from subsidence the building was declared unsafe in 1959. The roof was removed and the church abandoned. It was derelict for many years but it was restored at the beginning of the 21st Century so today the church building is a music centre operated by the London Symphony Orchestra and known as LSO St Luke’s. It is the home of the LSO’s community and music education programme, LSO Discovery.

The BBC have also filmed some concerts there, including this one by P J Harvey from 2004, not long after it reopened


St Mary Woolnoth


I finally managed to complete my collection of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s London churches this week. During a business trip down to the Smoke when I was staying overnight near Blackfriars, as it was a pleasant evening I went out for a stroll and ended up wandering over past St Paul’s and towards Bank Underground station. and here it was – St Mary’s Woolnoth.

It’s the smallest of Hawksmoor’s churches and built in 1716-1727 on a “closed” site, which means the sides and rear are obscured. Hawksmoor used Classical features, but in an unusual way , and that’s certainly the case with St Mary’s. It’s not his prettiest building. I think it has a somewhat harsh appearance. It’s built of Portland stone but it’s rather grubby which contributes to this.

The lower half of the front (west) facade is heavily rusticated and punctured by a large door with a semi-circular window about half way up. But the dominant feature is the unusual double tower with Corinthian columns and two small turrets


So now I’ve managed to see all six of Hawksmoor’s churches. But I’ve now found out that he also designed the tower to St Luke’s on Old Street. So I guess I’ll have to go and take a look the next time I’m down there!

The north side of the church has five “blind” apertures surrounded by rusticated stonework


Bank Underground station, built in 1897-8, is directly underneath the church.

St Alfege’s church, Greenwich


St Alfege’s church stands in the centre of Greenwich, not far from the Cutty Sark and the old Naval College. It was the first of the six London churches designed by the English Baroque architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor, who had worked with Christopher Wren and John Vanbrugh. His churches generally combine Gothic and Classical features, usually with an eccentric twist.

The current church is the third on this site. The second collapsed in 1710. The current building was begun in 1712, and consecrated in1718. It’s essentially neo-Classical with rounded windows, Doric columns and pilasters, architrave with a frieze decorated with triglyphs and a triangular pediment (look at me trying to use architectural terms!).


One departure from Classical orthodoxy is the round arch that penetrates the architrave and the pediment on the front of the building.


The tower wasn’t designed by Hawksmoor. The medieval tower from the previous church was retained to save money. However it was modified in 1730 by another architect, John James who had it refaced  and added the spire.


Hawksmoor’s design, published in an engraving in 1714 had an octagonal lantern at the top, a design he used on a later church, St George in the East, over the river in Wapping.

There’s a nice sketch of the spire of St Alfege’s here on a blog that also has some sketches of other Hawksmoor churches.

Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get a look inside as the church was closed. But here’s a picture from Wikipedia.


On our way back on the Docklands Light Railway, changing lines at Westferry I spotted the tower of another Hawksmoor church, St Anne’s, Limehouse.


If we’d have had time, I would have wandered over to take a proper look, but that will have to wait until another occasion. Visiting Hawksmoor’s churches is one of the items on my “bucket list”.

When I was over in London earlier in the year, I had a look at an exhibition of photographs and models of the Hawksmoor churches, “Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings” showing at Somerset House. It closes on 1 September, but there are reviews of the exhibition here and here.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow


While we were in Glasgow last week, we visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum over in the west side of the city, near the University of Glasgow. Opened in 1901, when it formed a major p​art of the Glasgow International Exhibition, it’s the main municipal museum and gallery in the city.

The building is very striking and very different those designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh during the same period that we’d been visiting during our day trips up to Glasgow. It’s design was the result of a competition that was launched in 1891 and which was won by John W Simpson and E J Milner Allen.

According to the Museum’s website

The architects described their design as ‘an astylar composition on severely ​Classic lines, but with free Renaissance treatment in detail’.

and that

the best description of the Kelvingrove building is Spanish Baroque.


I’d certainly agree that it has a lot of over the top Baroque ornamentation and from a distance it does have a resemblance to the cathedral at Santiago de la Compostela (I’ve never been there, but have seen plenty of photographs of the cathedral).


The entrance to the building led into a massive hall, that reminded me a little of the main hall inside St George’s Hall in Liverpool.  Everywhere you looked there were heavily decorated classical style features. There wasn’t a plain piece of stone any where in sight. I found it all too much to take in.

The gallery is well designed as a space to display artefacts and art works. There are two main wings off the central hall which, in turn, have smaller galleries off them. The rooms are light and airy. So it performs it’s intended function. However, for me it’s an ugly building with excessive ornamentation which can detract from the displays.

The exterior is decorated with an excess of superfluous towers, pinnacles, carvings and sculptures and lots of other “twiddly bits” (a good architectural term, that!). It’s all rather over the top.


Its architecture is typical of municipal buildings of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods – big and brassy. It’s meant to make a statement about the city’s wealth and status. The industrial and commercial elite in the at this time tended to look backwards to older architectural forms for their inspiration. So the majority of the new buildings tended to be constructed in revivalist styles. More forward looking architects, such as Rennie Mackintosh found it difficult to find commissions. Ironically, it’s his work that is now used to promote Glasgow as a tourist destination.