Nicholas Hawksmoor, protégé of Sir Christopher Wren, built six churches resulting from the 1711 Act of Parliament, which demanded 50 new churches in London. St. George’s Bloomsbury is his most idiosyncratic work, marrying baroque splendour with classical references, and topped by the most eccentric spire in London – an architectural gem and celebrated London landmark since its consecration in 1731, certainly one of the country’s most important churches.
By the end of 20th century the church was in an advanced state of disrepair with a thick, black, soot crust on the exterior masonry, water literally flowing into the building from defective drains, and many associated structural problems. It was also much altered from its original condition; the Victorians had relocated the reredos and altar, and a 1970s decorative scheme had all but obliterated the original treatment of the interior.
How we helped
With a diminishing congregation unable to fund its repair the building was successfully nominated to the 2002 WMF Watch. Subsequently, generous donations from the estate of Paul Mellon, The Heritage Lottery Fund, and many others enabled World Monuments Fund to restore the building, enhancing its architectural significance and enabling greatly enhanced use by both the local community and many others. Today the building is a vibrant religious space and community facility with many different user groups and a growing congregation.
The vestry has been transformed into a centre providing adult education, fitness classes, and spaces for hire by social groups. The church regularly hosts evening concerts, lectures and other events. In the undercroft, an exhibition has been installed which illustrates the history of the building and Bloomsbury, which is also used by local schools as part of their educational curriculum.
Why it matters
With its genesis in the political and social upheavals of the early 18th century, St. George’s represents much more than just a fine church by one of Britain’s most brilliant architects. Unique treatments of architecture and space were employed to fit a church with a traditional eastern alter onto a site surrounded by domestic dwellings and, with much more space north-south, never large enough for the church. For the design of the exterior, Hawksmoor borrowed from classical sources to create one of the most grandiose facades in London.