… was the creed of Nicholas Hawksmoor. With the restoration of Christ Church these emotions can be experienced first hand.
Last November Building featured Julian Anderson’s photographic chronicle of the restoration of Christ Church, Spitalfields. Last month the imposing east London church finally reopened its doors to reveal a magnificently restored interior, allowing Anderson to complete his photographic diary.
Christ Church, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, is one of the finest examples of English ecclesiastical baroque. It was built in 1729 to carry the Church of England’s authority into this disorderly part of London. However, the interior was unsympathetically altered in 1822 and, by 1957, had become derelict.
Once the building’s exterior had been restored, including repairs to its portico, work began on returning the interior to the Hawksmoor original. This was quite a task as there were no drawings of the original interior. Instead, project architect Andrew “Red” Mason from conservation architect Purcell Miller Tritton used scraps of evidence such as holes in columns, bits of varnish on the walls and paint on the stonework to piece together the original form. He also gleaned evidence from the archbishop’s library at Lambeth Palace, which listed many of the components used in the church’s construction.
In 1999, project manager Malcolm Reading & Associates came on board to advise on funding the restoration and managing the process. Since then, the building’s roof trusses have been strengthened and the nave floor has been relaid with slabs of Purbeck stone cut from St Aldheim’s quarry in Dorset. These have been laid over heating pipes to warm the building’s 21st-century congregation.
Another key task for the restorers was to reinstate the church’s original window configuration in the aisle. These had been blocked up in the 19th century. New windows supplied by Wallis Joinery now flood the interior with light. “People cannot believe how light the church is now,” says Malcolm Reading, managing director of Malcolm Reading Associates.
Hawksmoor’s original galleries along both aisles have been reconstructed. These are supported on 11 oak brackets, carved by timber sculptor Gonzalez and Harms, and the 27 surviving brackets have been repaired. Other additions include panelling to the rear walls of the new galleries and the column bases, repair of the aisle ceilings beneath the galleries and the reemergence of the wooden staircases at the east end of the church.
Visitors can now see Hawksmoor’s impressive vaulted interior much as it would have looked more than a quarter-of-a-millennium earlier. As Reading says: “It has brought something back to life that nobody alive has actually witnessed.”