St George Bloomsbury - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St George Bloomsbury

• St George Bloomsbury is a parish church in the London Borough of Camden.

• The Commissioners for the Fifty New Churches Act of 1711 realised that, due to rapid development in the Bloomsbury area during the latter part of the 17th and early part of the 18th centuries, the area (then part of the parish of St Giles in the Fields needed to be split off and given a parish church of its own. They appointed Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil and former assistant of Sir Christopher Wren, to design and build this church, which he then did between 1716 and 1731. This was the sixth and last, of his London churches. St George's was consecrated on 28 January 1730 by Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London.

• The Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope was baptised here in 1824. Richard Benson the founder of the first Anglican religious order for men, Society of St John the Evangelist, the "Cowley Fathers", was also baptised in the church. The funeral of Emily Davison, the suffragette who died when she was hit by the King's horse during the 1913 Derby, took place here that same year. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia attended a controversial requiem for the dead of the Abyssinian war in 1937.

• In 2006 the major conservation work led by the World Monuments Fund closed the church to visitors, the congregation continued its parish life by holding services in a nearby chapel. The building reopened in October 2006 and included a new exhibition on the church, Hawksmoor and Bloomsbury which was housed in its undercroft.

• The land on which the church is built (‘Ploughyard’) was bought for £1,000 from Lady Russell, widow of the Whig rebel Lord John Russell who had been executed in 1683. This was a substantial sum, which raises of the question why it was spent on a narrow, rectangular plot of land on a North-South axis that was hemmed in by buildings on all sides; a purchase which seemed to fly in the face of the Commissioners’ 1711 stipulation that “no site ought to be pitched upon for the erecting [of] a new church where the same will not admit the church to be placed East and West.” Perhaps the orientation of the site was deemed a surmountable obstacle, especially since the site met the needs of the commissioners in that it was situated “amongst the… better sort… [and on] the larger and more open streets, not in obscure lanes, nor where coaches will be much obstructed in the passage.”

• The land purchase was the work of one of the two surveyors appointed by the Commissioners of the 1711 Act. Unlike others appointed by the Commissioners, Hawksmoor continued to work as a surveyor of the 1711 Act churches until his death in 1736. Of the twelve churches completed, he would ultimately be responsible for designing six. His final designs for St George’s, however, were only commissioned and then adopted after earlier designs by James Gibbs and Sir John Vanbrugh (who proposed building a church with the altar in the north) were rejected by the Commissioners.

• The stepped tower is influenced by Pliny the Elder's description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and topped with a statue of King George I in Roman dress. Its statues of fighting lions and unicorns symbolise the recent end of the first Jacobite Rising. The Portico is based on that of the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, Lebanon.

• The tower is depicted in William Hogarth's well-known engraving "Gin Lane" (1751). Charles Dickens used St George's as the setting for "The Bloomsbury Christening" in Sketches by Boz.

• The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 24 October 1951.


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