Saturday, 11 April 2009

St Mary, Woolnoth, City of London

This is one of City churches rebuilt by Hawksmoor, rather than Sir Christopher Wren, and provides an interesting contrast in styles.

The first church here was established on the site of a Roman temple to Concord by a Saxon noble called Woolnoth, which has since given the site its name. The mediaeval church was rebuilt and consecrated in 1438, only to succumb in the Great Fire of London in 1666. However, it was not completely destroyed, and was patched up and reopened by Wren in 1674, having also absorbed the neighbouring parish of St Margaret Haw in 1670. By 1711 however, the building was felt to be unsafe, and Hawksmoor, a pupil of Wren's, was commissioned to rebuild it, in 1617-1627. It is his only church in the City.

Although the site is very restricted, Hawksmoor delivered classical grandeur by building upwards. The tower over the west front is broad and square, rising in stages from a grand, rusticated entrance portal through a Corinthian pediment to two smaller towers. Many architectural commentators regard this Hawksmoor original in high esteem, but I must confess that I personally find the composition of the tower rather unsatisfying, though there's no denying that it is unique and dominates the streetscape.

Inside, however, is another story: here, an inner square is surmounted by a clerestory of great arched windows, itself surrounded by aisles on all sides, with groups of three Corinthian columns at each corner. The effect is dramatic and floods the interior with light, although the chancel is correspondingly reduced in depth to that of the aisles. Overall, however, the effect is for the church to feel larger inside than out. The interior has its original furnishings, including a fine baroque reredos, and a rather fancy, partly-gilded pulpit, and a fine 17th-century Schmidt organ, as well as some fine ceiling plasterwork.

The walls are relatively bereft of monuments, but one Edward Lloyd, whose coffee shop gave rise to the insurance company Lloyds of London, was buried here in 1713.

Lombard Street, London EC3V 9AN

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