It has taken nearly 250 years for Nicholas Hawksmoor to emerge from the shadows of his more famous collaborators, Christopher Wren and John Vanbrugh, and despite his ascent up the league of great British architects, there is still something of the night about him.Hawksmoor's churches, in particular, have always seemed better suited to funerals than weddings. In modern times, he has become a poster boy for occultists, studious goths and historical conspiracy theorists - he has even been labelled "the devil's architect".Through efforts of the imagination as much as through research, Hawksmoor's work has been woven into a parallel history of London'sunderworld, particularly his Christ Church Spitalfields, near which Jack the Ripper performed his grisly murders in the 1880s.
1975, Iain Sinclair's feverish poem Lud Heat suggests that the sites of
Hawksmoor's London churches form an invisible geometry of power lines
in the city, corresponding to an Egyptian hieroglyph.
built on this myth a decade later with his murder thriller Hawksmoor;
and more recently, graphic novelist Alan Moore threw his pointy hat
into the ring with the encyclopaedic From Hell, in which Hawksmoor, the
Ripper, freemasonry and the monarchy were conflated into a grand
To be fair, Christ Church
Spitalfields does fit the bill of a temple of dark forces rather
magnificently, particularly before its recent clean-up, when layers of
black soot accentuated its looming spire and darkrecesses like stage
make-up. His freemasonry, his fondness for "pagan" symbols such as
pyramids and obelisks, and the lack of solid biographical detail have
made Hawksmoor the ideal candidate for an 18th-century man of mystery.
It's a good job Dan Brown hasn't cottoned on to him yet.
But by the 1950s, many of
his key works were in a precarious state. Christ Church was close to
being demolished, before the Hawksmoor Committee was founded to save
it. The restoration job took longer than the original construction, but
a gleaming Christ Church reopened in 2004, and is up for this year's
Riba conservation award. Similarly, St Luke's Old Street (by Hawksmoor
and John James) was restored in the nick of time, reopening three years
ago as a rehearsal space for the London Symphony Orchestra. Now, the
restoration of another threatened Hawksmoor church, St George's
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