One of the capital’s most wonderful buildings  The Guardian
Tour When Henry the Eighth left the Pope in the lurch The Protestants made him the head of the Church; But George’s good subjects, the Bloomsbury people, Instead of the Church, made him head of the steeple
Interior: alterations to Hawksmoor’s original design St George’s Bloomsbury was designed by Hawksmoor as an‘auditory’ church, following guidelines written by ChristopherWren. The space was designed specifically for the liturgy ofthe Book of Common Prayer; it was of paramount importancethat the service be heard (even if it wasn’t clearly seen) by allmembers of the congregation. Following the Commissioners’stipulation, the altar was to be sited in the traditionalposition in the east. Hawksmoor’s original designs for the site show a church built in the shape of an oval, however these were rejected by the Commissioners. Others, includingJames Gibbs (also responsible for designing St Martin in theFields) and Sir John Vanbrugh submitted unsuccessfuldesigns before Hawksmoor was persuaded to revisit theproject with the results you see today. As soon as the church opened in 1730, however, the parishVestrymen were up in arms at what they perceived as a lackof accommodation: 447 seats compared with the 2,000 whocould be accommodated inside Wren’s St James Piccadilly.Disputes and a lack of certainty over whether the vestry hadthe authority to make decisions on temporal as well asecclesiastical issues to do with the church meant that nothingwas done until 1781, when the addition of 337 new seatsrequired a complete re-orientation of the church interior withthe altar and reredos being moved to the north. This was justthe beginning of the alterations that would be made toHawksmoor’s original design during the late-18th and 19thcenturies; further work included the erection of galleries onthe west and east walls, making St George’s perhaps theonly church in London which has had galleries on all foursides during its history. In 1870, under the eye of G.E. Street,the east and west galleries were taken down leaving thechurch in the state it would remain until 2003.  Nave The nave of St George’s Bloomsbury is a cube, lit by raised clerestory windows. The plasterwork flower the centre of the ceiling is the work of Isaac Mansfield who, like many of the craftsmen working for Hawksmoor at St George’s, regularly worked for the Office of Works. At the centre of all but one of the proscenium arches is a keystone embellished by a tongue of flame; this represents the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. There are seven such keystones in total; as a group, these probably represent the gifts of the Holy Spirit received at Confirmation. The keystone above the east apse is different however; it is inscribed with the Tetragrammaton (the name of God in Hebrew). This can also be found inscribed towards the top of the reredos.    In the 1730s, the nave would have been filled with box pews, positioned so that the congregation would face inwards (north/south), as in choir stalls or in the collegiate manner. These were mostly replaced in the 19th century with pews; some of these have been placed in the north gallery. As part of the recent restoration, the Victorian pews were replaced with new bespoke oak benches designed specifically for the space by Luke Hughes & Co. of Drury Lane. These benches were built in a way that enables us to use the space as flexibly as possible.       Chandelier World Monuments Fund Britain helped to fund the Ł9 million restoration of St George’s Bloomsbury.  The finishing touch was the installation, in November 2009, of this 17th century Dutch chandelier, kindly loaned from the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it formerly graced the Grand Entrance for much of the 20th Century.    Weighing 740kg and over two metres wide at its core, with thirty-six scrolling branches, it once hung in the  Catholic church of Kaatsheuval, The Netherlands, and is a rare and very fine example of the flamboyant style of north-west European chandeliers that were made between 1680-1730.    We would like to thank the Victoria and Albert Museum for loaning the chandelier to St George’s Bloomsbury and for all their support during the installation.        Galleries and organ Perhaps the most important aspect of the recent restorationhas been the return of the church to its original East-Westorientation. Crucial to Hawksmoor’s original design was theprovision of two galleries; one on the south and one on thenorth. Not only did these galleries serve as visual blinkers forvisitors arriving via the west tower entrance, (thus countering the north-south orientation of the site by discouraging visitors from facing anywhere but east), but they also satisfied the Vestry’s need for two separate, yet equally visible, seating positions for its most important parishioners; the Dukes of Bedford and Montague. A new North Gallery has been reinstalled, as the original was removed during the 1780s re-orientation of the church;whilst the South Gallery has been conserved and restored toits original condition, as the middle section of this gallery had been moved forwards in 1952 to accommodate an organ, itselfremoved during the recent restoration.  St George’s Bloomsbury did not have an organ until 1788. In1792, the church organ was moved to the south gallerybefore being moved to the north-west in 1871 on Street’sinstructions. In 1900, the organ was enlarged and divided intotwo sections placed on either side of the altar (in the north).This organ was eventually dismantled in advance of a neworgan’s arrival in 1952 - however this instrument proved unsuitable for the space and was subsequently also removed.     East Apse and furnishings As part of the recent restoration of St George’s, the reredosand altar have been restored to their original position in theeast apse. The reredos is made from ‘Cuban’ mahogany(from the West Indies, but not necessarily from Cuba itself)and inlaid with numerous other woods. It was made byThomas Phillip, John How and John Mead. When the churchwas re-orientated in the 1780s, the reredos was moved to thenorth, and the east apse became a baptismal area containingthe original 1730s font, carved by the mason Edward Strong.The apse remained a baptismal area during the Victorianperiod, hence the stained glass in this part of the church shows baptismal themes (much of St George’s original clear glass was replaced with stained glass made by Clayton & Bell as part of the late-nineteenth century restoration supervised by Street). Famous people baptised here include the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope (1815), and Richard Benson (1824), founder of the ‘Cowley Fathers’ (an Anglican religious order). Above the reredos, the ceiling decoration by Isaac Mansfielddepicts winged cherubs above mitres and crosiers, thepastoral staffs carried by the bishops shaped like a shepherd’scrook. In the centre, you can see a pelican situated above abaptismal shell. According to popular tradition, the pelicanpierces its own breast and feeds its young with its own blood;so that together with the sheaves of corn also depicted, the pelican represents the bread and wine of the Holy Communion. The pulpit is original to Hawksmoor’s design and was madeby Thomas Phillips. It was moved from its original positiontowards the centre of the north apse where, mounted on abar of iron cased in wood, it apparently ‘swayed like anenormous tulip’ when a preacher climbed its steps.    Undercroft The undercroft (or vaults) beneath the church were largelyunused until 1803, when the Vestry decided to allow bodiesto be buried there. This decision was made in an attempt toreduce the number of burials taking place in St George’sburial ground (now St George’s Gardens, close to Coram Fields), which the Vestry feared would soon be full. By 1844, many coffins deposited in the undercroft were so decayed that they had to be bricked up in a side vault, and after 1856, no further bodies were buried beneath the church.    The funeral monuments inside the church all relate to individuals buried in the undercroft. The most ornatememorial, located by the west tower entrance, is that ofCharles Grant, Chairman of the East India Company andfriend of abolitionist William Wilberforce, with whom Grant created the free colony of Sierra Leone. During the restoration of St George’s, an initial survey of theundercroft suggested that it contained approximately 300coffins. In fact, the final total was closer to 900. Each wasreverently disinterred and their contents reburied in a markedplot in St Pancras and Islington cemetery.    South front and steeple The south front, described by Pevsner as “the most grandioseof London’s 18th century church fronts,” is dominated by alarge Corinthian portico. Near-contemporaries of Hawksmoor(particularly the antiquarian William Stukeley, Rector ofnearby St George’s, Queen’s Square), believed that theinspiration behind the portico was the Roman Temple ofBacchus at Baalbek in the Lebanon. This view is supportedby the fact that, in 1703, Hawksmoor was commissioned toprovide illustrations for a book about the Baalbek templeswritten by Henry Maundrell; did these drawings serve as amodel for the south front of St George’s?  Looking up at the tower, you can see recessed arches; atypical feature of Hawksmoor’s work, however, the steeple is completely unique. The statue of George I at its pinnacle was paid for by William Hucks; parishioner, MP for Abingdon and royal brewer, whose motives for doing so must remain a matter for debate. The statue sits proudly on top of a stepped pyramid whose design was based upon Pliny’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Turkey. Architects of this period would often include full or partial reconstructions of classical structures in their designs; a similar stepped pyramid can be seen on top the west dome of Wren’s 1673 design for St Paul’s Cathedral; however, St George’s was the first time such a pyramid had been built as part of a final design.  The lions and unicorns clambering around the base of thesteeple are reconstructions, created by the sculptor TimCrawley and installed on the tower in 2006. The original lionsand unicorns were commissioned by Hawksmoor without thepermission of the Commissioners, who initially refused to pay for them. They were removed in the 1870s for reasons that remain unclear; with the steeple as a whole recorded in the parish minutes as being “a dangerous state”, were the costs of repairing/preserving them too high or had years of derision made them unwanted? They were certainly held in affection by some as they can be clearly seen in replica on top of the two 20th Century lamps located at the portico steps.     North front The site of St George’s Bloomsbury has always beensurrounded by tall buildings on all sides. Hawksmoor took fulladvantage of this fact and designed a north front completelydifferent to the south. This design resembles an Italian palace along the lines of those illustrated in the many books of Italian architecture owned by Wren and subsequently byHawksmoor. The use of large keystones is a typical feature ofHawksmoor’s work and can also be seen, for example, at StMary Woolnoth, another of his six 1711 Act churches.
 Anon
 The lion and the unicorn Were fighting for the crown The lion beat the unicorn All around the town Traditional rhyme, early 18th C
Guided tours of St George’s Bloomsbury  St George's Bloomsbury, the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor, is one of the finest Baroque churches in London.  It has been described as “one of the capital’s most wonderful buildings”. Guided tours of the church are available by arrangement.  We ask for a donation of £5 per person. Please email us at info@stgb.org.uk to enquire, or call us on (020) 7242 1979.
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