Markfield

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past. Some of the photographs will appear in my 2022 calendar which will shortly be on sale. Click here for more information and check back to see when the calendar is available.


Markfield Park is a former sewage and water treatment works. It is now a living work of art with a working beam engine.

The north London area of Tottenham, where it is located, was rapidly expanding in the first half of the nineteenth century and there was an urgent need to deal with human waste (most of it was running into the nearby River Lea). In 1849 work began on the sewage treatment site. It was a private venture and when the owner died in 1858 it was left to decay and sewage once more began running into the River Lea, the main source of water for the local population. It is suggested that up to 4000 people were killed as a result of the poor quality of the water.

A new sewage works was built in the 1880s and remained in use until the 1960s.

The site was taken over by the local council as a park. It includes the working beam engine that would have pumped the sewage and a legal graffiti site on the walls of the old channels and tanks where the water used to run.

Hill Garden

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past. Some of the photographs appear in my 2022 calendar. Click here for more information .


These steps are at Hill Garden, an almost secret park tucked away on the far western edge of Hampstead Heath, between Hampstead and Golders Green. What I like about it is the way it blurs into the edges of the heath with, at its heart, a dramatic pergola rising above the surrounding land.

The gardens were the idea of Lord Leverhulme whose house used to stand on this site. They were designed by Thomas Mawson in the early 1900s. One of the things Leverhulme wanted was raised gardens to afford a view over Hampstead Heath. Luckily the Northern Line was being extended nearby and was able to provide material dug out to build up the land. and the solution was to use the material removed for the building of the nearby extension to the Northern Line on the London Underground.

After Leverhulme’s death the gardens fell into some decay but in the 1990s they were restored by the Corporation of London.

Yew Tree

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past. Some of the photographs will appear in my 2022 calendar which will shortly be on sale. Click here for more information and check back to see when the calendar is available.


This ancient Yew Tree stands in the churchyard in the village of Totteridge on the very edges of London. It is reputedly 2000 years old.

If true, it would have seen the coming of the Romans and the growth of Londinium; its decline and regrowth as the City of London, and the emergence of Westminster as a political power base. Londoners fleeing the plague may have come past this way and a year later it would have seen the Great Fire of London. Gradually the metropolis would have crept towards it. Then, in the 20th Century, it would have heard bombers droning overhead, explosions as their load hit their mark, and the responding anti-aircraft fire.

After the war it would see the regrowth of London both outwards, spreading further into the surrounding areas; and upwards with new build reaching ever upwards.

Then, just before this photograph was taken, it would have heard silence as the world locked down in response to the global pandemic.

Whether the tree really is that old it is sobering to think that it has seen so much and looks as if it will continue to remain a witness to the future.

The People’s Stone

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past. Some of the photographs will appear in my 2022 calendar which will shortly be on sale. Click here for more information and check back to see when the calendar is available.


The People’s Stone or the Freedom of Speech Stone stands on Hampstead Heath on the climb towards Parliament Hill. I have been unable to find out much about it beyond the fact that it may have once been a place where people congregated to protest or to speak out on controversial matters, a little bit like Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park.

It looks a little like a trig point used to map the area but they would usually be found on higher ground.

Until recently it had “Truth, Love, Peace” painted on it. Not long ago, the word, “Truth” was removed.

Parliament Hill has its own political connections. Parliamentary forces may have grouped here during the Civil War, and it might also have been the spot Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators had intended to watch the Houses of Parliament explode.

Martyrs

This is one of a series of posts exploring some of the more obscure parts of London and their past. Some of the photographs will appear in my 2022 calendar which will shortly be on sale.


If you have arrived on this page from the 2022 calendar, welcome! Thank you very much for buying it (or having it bought for you). I do hope you like the photographs it contains.

If you have arrived here by other means, also welcome.

I hope that however you came upon this page, you find it interesting. If you have any comments, please let me know below.


In 1833 six farm workers in the village of Tolpuddle, Dorset – James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, James Loveless, John Standfield and Thomas Standfield – seeing their wages plummet, formed a friendly society (a precursor to a trades union) so that they could combine together to protect their wages. Unions were no longer illegal at that date, although barely tolerated. The workers had sworn a secret oath and it was this that in 1834 was used to prosecute them under an obscure 18th century law, the Unlawful Oaths Act. They were sentenced to transportation.

We raise the watch-word liberty;
We will, we will, we will be free!

A petition was raised to protest against the sentences and very soon it had 800,000 signatures. Tens of thousands set off from Copenhagen Fields near Kings Cross to present the petition to Parliament.

A little under twenty years later the sounds of Copenhagen Fields changes from the chants of protestors to that of the cries of livestock brought to the Metropolitan Cattle Market. The new market built as a supplement to the existing Smithfield Market further south was opened by Prince Albert in 1855. It included the clocktower and no fewer than five public houses, four of them on each corner of the site. Trade diminished and eventually the market closed in 1863. The space is now a public park with the clock tower taking pride of place.

A mural depicting the Tolpuddle Martyrs Rally is painted on a wall in a small park off Copenhagen Street, south of the Caledonian Park.

Each year a rally takes place in the village of Tolpuddle to celebrate the memory of the martyrs and trades unionism. It includes a procession through the village with trades union banners and marching bands. Wreaths are laid at the grave of the only martyr who returned to the village after their sentences were overturned. At the centre there is an old sycamore tree under which the farm workers are said to have met to discuss their plight. It still boasts new growth each year.

The Hardy Tree

This is one of a series of occasional essays on places in London where significant events occurred in the past. To find out more about the project check out my earlier blog posting.


If you have arrived on this page from the 2022 calendar, welcome! Thank you very much for buying it (or having it bought for you). I do hope you like the photographs it contains.

If you have arrived here by other means, also welcome.

I hope that however you came upon this page, you find it interesting. If you have any comments, please let me know below.


“I believe these people are all ground up!”

Arthur Bloomfield

From St Pancras International trains run to places as diverse as Luton, Sheffield and Paris. Just after they have left the station they will pass a small church standing in an old churchyard. There has been a place of worship on this site possibly since Roman times.

The churchyard itself contains graves of a number of a notable people including John Polidori, the author of the very first vampire story; and Sir John Soane, the architect. Soane designed the memorial for his wife and himself and it is said to have inspired Gilbert Scott when he came to design the first public telephone boxes.

The early woman’s rights campaigner, Mary Wolstonecraft, was also buried there along with her husband, William Godwin, but their daughter, Mary Shelley had them removed to Bournemouth, although the tomb is still there along with Godwin’s second wife.

Shelley had her parents’ remains removed because there were plans to build a new railway which would tear through a part of the old churchyard.

In the mid-Victorian era Britain was at the height of railway mania. New lines were snaking out over the country, many of them from London. The first of these opened n 1836 running out into Kent and Sussex from London Bridge. It was quickly followed by lines running to the north and west from Euston and Paddington respectively. St Pancras was one of the later stations to be built, providing services to the Midlands and East Yorkshire.

It was this line that would run through St Pancras Old Churchyard and it is here that a young architectural student who would later find fame as an author and poet enters the picture. The name of the student was Thomas Hardy, later to become famous as the author of The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, and other novels depicting rural life, as well as a vast body of poetry.

Statue of Thomas Hardy in Dorchester (Casterbridge)

Hardy had come to London from his home in Dorset in 1862, seemingly on an impulse. He had no work and no place to stay. He did have two recommendations, one of which found him an internship at an architectural practice (his first profession) and he very quickly found paid work with the architect, Arthur Blomfield, and stayed in London for the next five years.

The young man from the countryside (he was in his early twenties) threw himself into London life. He walked its streets, exploring “every street and alley west of St Paul’s like a born Londoner”, as he put it; he visited art galleries and museums, heard Charles Dickens read his works and went to numerous dance halls. He even became an extra in a play at the Haymarket!

Above all, he observed the people around him; the commuters on Oxford Street and the prostitutes in the dance halls. Some of these observations would later find their way into his poetry. Because Hardy also used his time in London to recognise what he really wanted to do with his life; and that was to become a poet. To that end he put in as much reading as he could. He never went to university but he often described these years in London as his student years.

The London Thomas Hardy arrived in was a dark and grim place. It was a polluted and smelly place. Shortly after his arrival he wrote to his sister, Mary:

“To-day has been wretched. It was almost pitch dark in the middle of the day, and everything visible appeared of the colour of brown paper or pea-soup.”

Thomas Hardy in letter to his sister Mary, 19th February 1863

It was a city in transition. The mainline termini were being built and the new Underground line between Farringdon and Paddington opened in Janauary 1863 (Hardy was amongst his earliest passengers). Some construction work had not begun yet, most notably the sewers under the Embankment that would ultimately divert the human waste from the River Thames. The famed “Great Stink” which forced MPs from the riverside Houses of Parliament had taken place just four years before Hardy arrived.

It was also an era of political change. The Second Reform Act which enfranchised many working class men (no women!) was passed in 1867. Hardy’s own political inclinations were to the more radical end; he went to hear John Stewart Mill speak and he may have attended (at a little distance) the rally that took place in Hyde Park in 1865 in support of the Reform Act. Until the Act came into force it is worth noting that he himself would not have had the vote.

It was in this world that Hardy found himself presented with a very grim task.

Blomfield, as the son of a bishop, was considered a “right and proper” person to oversee the removal of human bodies where new railway lines would slice through old churchyards. An earlier project had not gone well. There were suggestions the railway company had simply carted away the corpses.

The work at St Pancras Old Church would be carried out with greater supervision: A clerk of works was appointed to be on site at all hours, and Hardy was given the task of dropping in unexpectedly at different times of the day to ensure the work was being carried out correctly. He attended the churchyard between 5 and 6 (and at other hours). In his autobiography (ghost written in the third person by his wife, Florence Dugdale) he described the scene:

“There, after nightfall, within a high hoarding that could not be overlooked, and by the light of flare lamps, the exhumation went on continuously of the coffins that had been uncovered during the day, new coffins being provided for those that came about in lifting, and for loose skeletons; and those that held together being carried to the new ground on a board merely; Hardy supervising these mournful processions when present, with what thoughts may be imagined, and Blomfield sometimes meeting him there.”

The Life of Thomas Hardy, Florence Hardy, pp44-5

Sometimes some of the exhumed coffins would break open and their grim contents spill out. One of the coffins contained a skeleton with two skulls!

This was to be one of Hardy’s last projects in Arthur Blomfield’s employment. Shortly afterwards he became ill. He felt he could hardly hold his pencil and square to draw and when he visited his family in Dorset they were appalled at his ghastly pale complexion. Blomfield suggested he spend some time in the countryside and held his job open for him. In the event though, Hardy stayed in Dorset initially returning to the architectural practice in Dorchester where he had previously worked.

The title page of Thomas Hardy’s early novel, “Under the Greenwood Tree”

Hardy’s first visit to London had found him moving in very different circles to those he had grown up in. His boss, Blomfield, was the son of a bishop whilst Hardy was the son of a bricklayer and most of his colleagues were privately educated, “Tory and High Churchy” as he described them. The Reform League set up to campaign for the Second Reform Act had its premises on the floor below the architectural offices much to the delight of some of the trainee architects who occasionally attempted to disrupt its visitors.

Hardy was to return to London a number of times throughout his life, especially under the influence of his first wife, Emma Gifford, who was keen to see him advance his career as a writer. He was always, however, something of an outsider. A visitor to a lively party in London described him as “a little, quiet grey old man wearing a red tie” who seemed a set apart from the “brilliant and very ‘literary'” conversation going on about him. Hardy’s ambivalence to London life extended to his death; his body is buried in Westminster Abbey but his heart remains in another churchyard, this time in Dorset.

Space

A photograph is an artefact – it is a flat piece of paper (or an image on a computer screen). It typically has four sides although who’s to say you can’t make it a heptagon or a dodecagon? However many sides you give your image, they will remain its edges. Everything you want to say with your photograph has to be said within that area. So how do you create images that can show three dimensional space within those constraints?

I am going to share a few of my photographs to show how I try to do it and how I attempt to use space when I am composing images. These are just my own views and, as with many things in art, there is not a right or wrong answer. I would love to hear your own views. Please share them in the comments below.

So let’s begin by thinking about empty space. This is the negative space in your photograph – the opposite is positive space which is the subject of your photograph. You will want to consider how the two interact. Begin by checking if there is anything you can see through your viewfinder that might distract from your subject – pay particular attention to the edges of the frame! Be aware that it might not be something behind your subject – check for any out of focus objects in the foreground butting in.

If you want your subject to stand out you may want to minimise anything in the background.  One option is to photograph your subject from low down against the sky, as in this example of St. John of Nepomuk on Charles Bridge, Prague. I was only interested in getting a picture of him and it was an overcast day so I had a uniform and neutral coloured sky as the background. I wanted the subject to be isolated so the negative space is completely uniform with no detail in it.

On other occasions  you might want the negative space to play a part in the photograph, as in this case. The subject is the flint lying in the grass in the foreground. In the background, though there is an old earthwork, a Bronze Age burial mound; the background therefore provides extra information about the subject and adds context.

The burial mound is out of focus. Whilst your photograph is a flat plane, careful use of focus can create a sense of depth in your picture. Here’s another example – a line of barbed wire with an out of focus field and woodland in the background.

Close-up of a length of barbed wire in front of track leading across a field to a line of trees on the horizon

These two photographs could also be considered as layering, where objects are placed in front of another, to create a sense of depth.

The track in the second photograph is another way of creating depth in a flat photograph. Your eye follows the track to the back of the picture. Here are two more photographs of another track but in each of them the effect is slightly different. In the first photograph there are some people walking away from us into the distance which emphasises the sense of depth even more. As a viewer you follow them and are drawn deeper into the back of the image. In the second picture, taken at the same places the people are coming towards the viewer out of the woods; the track leads us into the background but now we are being brought back to the front of the picture.

Photographs of subjects moving help create a sense of space. For example in this photograph of a person cycling across the image; there is space in front of them to ride their bike. There is an viewpoint that moving objects should always have that space to move into otherwise the picture may not work as well.

Here’s another cyclist with the space behind them. What do you think? Do you react differently to this picture?

This photograph does give the viewer a hint that there might be something beyond the edges of the photograph. Other ways of doing this is to have objects intentionally butting into the image, leaving the viewer with the idea that there is more outside the viewpoint.

Here is a close-up of a sunflower; it shows the detail but hints at the whole.

Another way of doing that is to have your subject look out of the frame. The viewer gets the idea that there is something beyond the edges of the photograph. It also, as in this example, creates a sense of distance; space beyond the photograph.

That’s a few of the ways that I try to use space in my photographs. I’d love to hear your own thoughts on the subject. Please add them in the comments section below.

Time

A photograph is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional world squashed within its four edges. It can also be a single moment trying to represent a four dimensional world.

There was time before the shutter fired and there will be time afterwards. In an earlier post I looked at the difference between instantaneous time and long time in photographs. In this post I would like to explore this idea a little bit further by sharing a few of my photographs which represent time in different ways.

You can leave the shutter open and let time pass in front of the camera.

Time blurs

Time blurs and you can end up with some surprising and slightly spooky images as in this photograph taken outside York Minster. The young man was fixated on his phone and stood stock still but other people milled around him in the time the shutter was open and in the final result have turned into apparitions. Rather appropriately this photograph was taken at Halloween! The camera was stood still for the photograph (on a bin as I didn’t have a tripod!) and the world and time moved around it.

Or you can use a very fast shutter speed and stop time in its tracks

Time stops

The water dropping from this tap is frozen forever in a single instance, such as these drops suspended from a dripping tap. Our own eyes would be unlikely to catch this moment, but a camera and a flash gun can capture it and hold it for us to observe at our leisure.

Time itself could be the subject of the photograph

Old time

Your choice of subject matter can help create a sense of time. Perhaps it is something very old such as this ancient yew tree, allegedly 2000 years old.

Weathered time

Or something that shows the decay of time as in the rust on this old railway carriage. 

Or perhaps your subject matter has deep historical resonance and a strong link with the past.

Time resonates

This photograph shows the jetty at Cobh in County Cork where the last few passengers for the Titanic set off to join the vessel on its ill-fated trip.  In another example I recently shared some photographs and wrote about the sense of another place where momentous events happened (again of a maritime nature). This was the launch ramp of the Great Eastern steam.

In both cases when standing at such places photographing them I have a sense of the events that took place there resonating down through the years.

Take time to record time.

There are other ways that time can be recorded by photography. It’s just that you may have to go the long way round to do it.           

One method is to revisit a subject over time, record it as it changes, perhaps with the seasons. You could either set your camera in one place on each occasion to record exactly the same scene or you could move around to get a broader picture of space as well as time. In a rather informal way I did this when I took a series of photographs from September to May in a small park near where I live. You can view some of the photographs here.

In that case the images were a series of photograph but it is possible with software such as Adobe Photoshop to layer multiple images taken over a period of time into one photograph. To see some more extreme examples take a look at this Ted Talk by a photographer who spends his time doing just that.          

Capturing our own memories.

Great times

And finally there are other more subtle ways to show time. This is likely to be incidental but can also be very personal. After all, photographs are memories. Looking at an old photograph of an incident in your own life can highlight the sense of time having passed.

Here are two which mean very much to me. The first shows a table laid for dinner taken on a holiday with some very special friends a few years ago – it reminds me of that particular warm evening as the sun was setting and we were just beginning to gather to eat.

Personal time

The second photograph is layered with memories – it is a copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse and it was bought by my father in Lucknow, India (as the stamp on the fly leaf shows) whilst he was serving there during the second world war. He had brought it home and kept it all his life so the book itself had become a memory for him of his war service and his experiences in India. For me, the photograph represents the memory of my father.  


So time can be captured within the camera, leaving the shutter open and letting time run by, or using a very fast shutter speed to stop time in its tracks. Or it can be recorded in a series of photographs of a place, object or person over time. Or it could be captured by the subjects we choose to photograph of places and objects imbued with great significance in the past that still ring through the ages. Or, on a more personal level by the memories that photographs can hold have of own lives.

What other ways can you capture time in photographs? Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

The Familiar

For the past year the places I have been able to visit and photograph have been limited, so very often I have fallen back on subjects closer to home, returning to the same place many times. There is one particular place I have visited regularly since last September. It’s a small park near my home where I would meet with one or more friends depending upon the rules at the time. I always took my camera with me and over the last few months I have photographed almost every aspect of the place; its trees, the benches, the little café (sadly closed for much of the time) and the community garden. And I watched them through the different seasons from leaf fall into deep snow and back into bloom again.

As a photographer the familiar can offer a way of exploring something in depth. If you are not in an area for very long, for example visiting somewhere new for holiday, you won’t have time to explore so some of your photographs might be more of the postcard variety. If you are going to take meaningful photographs you need to understand the place more.

Some photographers specialised in one particular subject for all or part of their career. Eugene Atget, for example, photographed the streets and buildings of Paris, giving us a detailed view of how it looked in his day.

Photographing the familiar can also act as a way of recording time. Nicholas Nixon photographed his wife and her three sisters once a year for forty years, always standing in the same order so you could see how they changed over time.

If you photograph something regularly your relationship to the subject will also change over time. Perhaps you will begin to see it in a different light, literally if you visit it at different times of the day or the year as I was with the little park.

“The most solemn and awfull appearance”

This is the latest in an occasional series of photo essays on the events that happened at places I have photographed. I am always struck by the sense of time that has passed and the momentous events that have occurred at the place I have chosen to photograph. This series explores some of those moments from some of my favourite places. This one looks at a number of different places across London that have fascinated me since I came here thirty years ago.


If you have arrived on this page from the 2022 calendar, welcome! Thank you very much for buying it (or having it bought for you). I do hope you like the photographs it contains.

If you have arrived here by other means, also welcome.

I hope that however you came upon this page, you find it interesting. If you have any comments, please let me know below.


A bad tempered and bitterly fought general election which resulted in a trouncing for the losing party and the winning party in hoc to some of its more extreme elements.

Sounds familiar?

This was actually the election of 1710 when the Tories stormed to power over the Whigs (the precursors of today’s Liberal Democrat party) with a 150 seat majority. In an age when England was largely a theocracy they won on the back of a fear that the Church of England, the established church, was losing its power. The Whigs had introduced policies which gave freedom of worship to dissenting Protestants such as Methodists and Baptists. This was seen as too much for the extreme elements of the Tory Party who rallied under a three word slogan, “Church in Danger”.

Following their success and after many years in the wilderness the Tories were quick to act. In 1711 they passed the Act of Occasional Conformity which made it harder for dissenters to qualify for public office, and in 1714 the Schism Act made Dissenting Academies illegal. But they wanted to do more to assert the authority of the state and in a theocracy what better way than building a lot of religious buildings?

St Anne’s Church, Limehouse, was one of the churches built in the rapidly expanding eastern suburbs of London
as a part of the Fifty New Churches Act

The established Church of England, through its network of parishes and churches, played its part in bolstering the authority of the state and maintaining social order. Trouble was there weren’t enough churches to go around especially in London which had experienced rapid population growth over the last two hundred years. This was keenly felt to the east of the city where once rural districts were quickly turning into extraordinarily large and densely populated parishes, the most notable being Stepney.

It was in areas such as this that the  priest  of one overgrown parish, writing early in the reign of George I, put it:

“… the Vilest People, Highwaymen, Housebreakers, felons of all degrees. Impudent Women and Persons disaffected to His Majesty’s Government, take Harbour and fly to their haunts therein as Vermin to their Kennels, after they have taken their Prey: and this, as the Case stands at present, with too much security.”

The Fifty New Churches Act

To counter the joint threats of the non-conformists and the growing population of the East End, and to provide a fitting symbol of the power of the state, the Fifty New Churches Act was passed. Its purpose was to build

“…fifty new churches of Stone and other proper Materials with towers or Steeples to each of them … in or near the Cities of London and Westminster, or the suburbs thereof.”

Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect and one of the commissioners appointed to oversee the implementation of the Act (and, notwithstanding his fervour for this piece of legislation, a Whig) wrote:

“The fifty new Churches the Queen has gloriously promoted the building of in London and Westminster should not only serve for ye accommodation of ye inhabitants …, but at ye same time remain monuments to posterity of her piety and grandure, & by consequence become ornaments to ye Town & a credit to ye Nation.”

 Vanbrugh felt that in order to assert their authority the new churches had to be of “the most Solemn and Awfull Appearance both within and without.” The sheer grandeur of the project can be seen in the cost of some of the churches, of which only one was to cost less than £10,000 (a rebuild) and at least two of which were to cost four times that amount each. St Johns, Westminster was one of the more elaborate; it and St. Pauls, Deptford, both designed by Thomas Archer, were built in a highly baroque style, a very theatrical form of architecture which  had originated in Rome in the seventeenth century. It made extensive use of ornate detailing internally and externally.

The architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, and a student of Christopher Wren’s, is perhaps the most famous name associated with the Fifty Churches. He made use of baroque elements but his churches were of a more austere nature, coming closest to Vanbrugh’s “Solemn and Awfull Appearance.” He had been appointed surveyor to the Commissioners of the Act in 1711 and held the post until his death in 1736.

The most uncompromising of his churches is perhaps Christ Church, Spitalfields, an aggressive, monumental church. Its portico has massive pillars with a central arch breaking through the horizontal on its way to the steeple, serving to emphasise its stature.

Hawksmoor was also the architect of the only church to be built in the City: St Mary Wolnoth, a small yet monumental church looking like a stocky pugilist muscling its way through the buildings that surround it. Within, it belies its small exterior with a disproportionately high roof supported in each corner by three massive columns.

St Mary, Wolnoth, small but monumental; the only church built under the Fifty New Churches Act in the City of London

Baroque architecture was perfectly suited to the aspirations of the High Church Tories. It had arisen in a city where state and church were inextricably linked and presented in solid form the evidence of that connection. In England, however, it was to last only a brief time as an interlude between Inigo Jones’ cool classicism of the mid-seventeenth century and neo-Palladianism (in many ways a revival of Jones) in the later eighteenth century. It was during this interlude that the last fling of High Church Toryism occurred before its subsidence in the face of Whig ascendancy.

By 1714 the Tory dominance was over; in that year they fell from power and the following year a further Act was passed setting up a new Commission. Whereas the previous one had included such architects as Wren, Vanbrugh and Archer, the new Commission contained none. Indeed thee was a feeling of embarrassment at having to carry through the Act.

This may have been to do with the expense of the project. In 1717 the Commission protested at having to rebuild old churches, pleading that building should be done in “Rubble, Brick [and] Brick coin’d with stone,” instead of just Stone and finally decided to build no more churches “till we find ourselves in a condition to discharge the Contracts that are made or shall be made for finishing the Churches now in building.”

With the Whigs back in power and a more favourable view of dissenters, the baroque style of High Toryism fell out of favour.  The Scottish architect, Colen Campbell, in his work Vitruvius Britannicus, published in 1715, was scathing of the baroque style calling it “affected and licentious” and endeavouring “to debauch Mankind”. He praised the earlier Italian architects such as Palladio alongside Inigo Jones for their cool classical style of architecture.

In 1715, following a putsch at the Royal Works, the office which undertook the building and repair of the monarch’s property, Campbell became the chief clerk. Out went Wren to be replaced by an amateur architect, William Benson (another Whig). His brother, “lately come from a merchant in Ireland” replaced Hawksmoor as the Clerk of Works.

Within a short time there had been a backlash against those who had been involved with the earlier churches and their design began to change. This can particularly be seen in the case of St Giles-in-the-Fields. Hawskmoor was amongst those who put forward a design but the tender went to Henry Flitcroft, “Burlington Harry”, a one-time joiner on the estate of Lord Burlington, a champion of the neo-Palladian movement. James Ralph commended Flitcroft’s church as being “the most simple and elegant of the modern structures: it is rais’d at very little expence, has very few ornaments, and little beside the propriety of its parts, and the harmony of the whole to excite attention, and challenge applause.” Ralph, “Mr Rafe the Critick” as Hawksmoor called him, thought much of the other churches built under the Act “mere Gothique heaps of stone, without form or order.”

Flitcroft ultimately presented a bill of £8,436 19s and 6d (£8,436/19/6d). Cost had become a very important factor and in 1719 work came to a halt in order to pay off outstanding debts. Five years later the Commission was obliged to admit:

“… that ye Expence of building with stones. Purchasing Scites for Churches, Church yards and Ministers’ Houses, is so very great and does so far exceed the Calculations formerly made, that ye Committee conceive it will be utterly impracticable to build one half of the Churches first proposed.”

As a cost-cutting exercise the Commission in 1727 asked Hawksmoor and his then colleague, John James to build two new churches and rectories on a £10,000 budget for each. The results, St John, Horsleydown and St Luke Old Street, are more straightforward (bar their idiosyncratic steeples – Hawksmoor’s influence).

The spire of St Luke’s, Old Street, Hawksmoor’s contribution to the one of the last churches built under the terms of the Fifty New Churches Act

So the venture petered out. Cost cutting, political changes and a change in architectural tastes brought it to an end. Of the Fifty New Churches only ten were built (and two of those rebuilds).  Efforts to assert the authority of the Church and the State through the building of grandiose churches had failed. It would become the last major church building exercise until the Victorian era when a similar panic about the threat to the Church of England’s authority broke out. It was part of the long retreat of England as a theocracy.

However it has produced some of the most dramatic buildings in London. I first became aware of them when I was doing my history degree and ever since I have been drawn back to them, especially to the strangely unnerving designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor.