I was back in London for a day last week with work. As I had an early start, I went down the evening before and not being one for sitting around in a hotel room, I decided to get out for a wander. I was staying near Tower Bridge, but rather than stick to the more touristy areas nearby (especially busy at this time of the year) I wandered over to Whitechapel and then over to Spitalfields.


The district was created in the 17th century and became populated with Irish and Huguenot silk weavers. The industry prospered for a while but went into decline, as did the area which became something of a notorious slum. Over time other immigrants moved in, Jewish and then later in the 20th Century there was an influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, who also worked in the local textile industry and made Brick Lane the curry capital of London.


Today, like much of the East End, the area has been gentrified with the old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped. It’s quite a “buzzing” area at night, centred on the curry houses on Brick Lane, although they seem to be more up-market these days.

I had a good mooch around and took a few photos before heading back to my hotel.

A favourite building of mine is Hawksmoor’s Christ Church. One of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known. I’ll get a look inside one of these days (it’s never open when I’ve been there!)


There’s quite a few streets where the 17th century buildings are still standing, with many having been renovated


Street art too, especially around Brick Lane


After had a good mooch, it was a short walk back to my hotel which was opposite this well known landmark


Street Haunting in Spitalfields


Last Tuesday I was working in the east of London, in Aldgate. After work, I still had 2 and 1/2 hours to kill before my train so, as it was a pleasant afternoon, I decided to have a wander around Spitalfields, a short walk away.

In the 17th and 18th century the area was associated with silk weaving after Huguenots fleeing from persecution in France settled here and brought their skills with them. Later, Irish linen workers settled here. In the Victorian period, following the decline of the silk and linen industries it became something of a notorious slum. There were further waves of Jewish and then Bangladeshi immigrants bringing new cultures and energy to the area. Today, like much of the East End it’s become somewhat gentrified. The old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped.

It’s an interesting place to walk around, with some historic buildings and modern street art to look at.

For me, the star of the show is Hawksmoor’s magnificent gleaming white Christ Church



one of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known.

There’s an interesting war memorial in the church yard.


Close by, on Commercial Street,  the Fruit and Wool exchange building has been controversially redeveloped against local opposition, over-ruled by the former Mayor of London and current “Clown Secretary”. The white neo-Classical façade has, fortunately, been preserved.


A number of old commercial buildings nearby  have also been preserved




I quite liked this building with it’s neo-Gothic features


and these more modern flats with an Art Deco look


There’s street art dotted around the redeveloped market. Here’s a selection I spotted.

The Spitalfields Goat by Kenny Hunter



A pear and a fig by Ali Grant


Dogman and Rabbitgirl with coffee by Gillie and Marc


Wooden Boat with Seven People by Kalliopi Lemos, features an authentic boat that was used to transport refugees from Turkey to the shores of the Greek islands. The installation aims to reflect Spitalfields’ rich history of providing shelter for successive waves of migrants across the centuries.


I couldn’t find out who had created this “steampunk” motorbike



St Anne’s Limehouse


A few miles further east from St George’s in the East is another Hawksmoor church, St Anne’s Limehouse which was built between 1714 and1727 and consecrated in 1730. It’s next door to Limehouse town hall, which we visited over 20 years ago when it housed the Labour History Museum (since relocated to Manchester and re-invented as the People’s History Museum). at that time I wasn’t particularly interested in architecture so never paid any notice to the church next door. The Dockland’s Light Railway runs right past the churche’s southern boundary and I couldn’t help but notice it when returning from Greenwich after visiting the Cutty Sark last August.

It many ways St Anne’s is quite similar to St George’s with a distinctive octagonal tower


Although the corner towers are more conventional than those on St George’s.


Other than the tower, which has some Corinthian columns and pilasters the exterior of the church isn’t particularly heavily ornamented. The walls at the side and back are relatively plain.

We would have liked to get a closer view and look around the grounds. But all the gates to the churchyard were firmly padlocked and there didn’t seem to be any way to gain access. Which was a real pity and we were rather disappointed.


The church is not far from the Thames and the tower can be seen from the river so it became a landmark for every ship entering the Pool of London. The clock, which is the highest church clock in London, was intended to be seen by the seafarers. There’s a connection with the Royal Navy and flies the White Ensign at the top of the tower and above that there’s a golden ball, which until recently was a Trinity House sea mark for navigating the Thames.


The clockface itself is quite distinctive and, I thought, attractive.

There’s a lithograph by John Piper of St Annes from 1964 from his ‘A Retrospective of Churches’ of which the Tate have a copy.

John Piper, ‘20. St Anne's, Limehouse, London: by Nicholas Hawksmoor’ 1964

St George in the East


This distinctive building is one of the six remaining Hawksmoor churches in London. Located in Stepney in the East End it was built between 1714 and 1729.


It’s most distinctive feature id the hexagonal “pepperpot” tower. There is a rectangular column at each corner of the uppermost section of the  tower and these are topped with an unusual feature – a circular Roman sacrificial altar. An eccentric touch very typical of Hawksmoor.


There are also four large ‘pepperpot’ turrets on the main body of the building.


The church was badly damaged by an incendiary bomb during the Blitz, leaving only the outer walls, vestry, Lady Chapel, the  tower and turrets intact. The interior was remodelled to a modern design by Arthur Bailey, creating a new church within the shell of the old. It was reconsecrated in 1964.


Some of the original features remain such as the apse at the east end and I think that this is probably the original font.


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.


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.