I have been perusing my “Art and Architecture of London” by Ann Sanders,
and her description of St. George caught my eye
St. George’s was built between 1720 and 1724 on Hanover Square as one of Queen Anne’s “50 new churches”. You might need some background on that one.
Following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 the Church of England resumed as the official Church and regulations were passed that discriminated against Dissenters in London, forcing them to move out to surrounding villages. The pendulum began to swing the other way again when William III, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, became King.
This led to some chin and head scratching
It was noted by contemporaries that Anglican churches – most probably in the old City of London – were often less than full while services at Dissenter chapels – most probably in the surrounding villages – were so oversubscribed there was not enough room to accommodate the congregation. Indeed, thousands of immigrants from the Continent had arrived in London during the latter 17th century (such as Huguenots fleeing persecution in France), settling in the new suburbs outside of the City: at Spitalfields, Soho and Mile End. They were unburdened by laws and able to setup new chapels in their communities. On the other hand, large numbers of Anglicans had migrated out from the old City to surrounding suburbs and villages after their homes and businesses were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Yet, unlike Dissenter chapels, the creation of new Church of England establishments was legally restricted by laws regarding parish boundaries, making it difficult to build official new churches where they were required. Church Commissioners calculated there was a theoretical need for fifty new churches to satisfy the spiritual needs of the Anglican population around the London. That did not take into account the willingness of parishioners to fund them however, which they would be required to do by law through payment of rates.
And this had political consequences
During the late 17th and early 18th centuries English politics was dividing into opposing sides that would evolve into what we now call party-politics. At one extreme were Whigs who generally tolerated Dissenters and were therefore supported by them. On the opposite side were Tories, many of whom were extreme in their support of the Anglican Church and intolerant of Dissenters. Whigs held political power for much of the reign of William and Mary while their opponents remained largely in Opposition. The Tories finally swept to power in the general election of 1710 after twenty-two years. Frustrated by watching the rise of non-conformist Protestantism for so long, and powerless to act, it was finally time for them to redress the balance in places of worship and to strengthen the Church of England.
And this came to a head
Following the Great Fire in 1666 Parliament instigated a tax on coal arriving in London, using the funds to pay for reconstruction of churches and public buildings. In November 1711 the roof of the old medieval St.Alfege, parish church of Greenwich, collapsed. Lacking the funds to repair the ancient building the parishioners petitioned Parliament. They argued that for years they had paid the coal tax and contributed to the rebuilding of the distant City and now the continuing income should be used in their time of need.
The Tory dominated Parliament acted
The petition of the parishioners was timely and their arguments fell on the receptive ears of the new Tory government of the Anglican Queen Anne. The following year an Act of Parliament became law with the aim of building fifty new churches using the continuing income from the coal tax, of which St.Alfege, Greenwich would be the first. (The Greenwich parishioners were extremely lucky. In the same year the Anglicans of Rotherhithe were refused money for the rebuilding of their parish church of St.Mary from the Fifty Churches funds and had to raise finance elsewhere).
Fortunately, at this moment one could call on great architects to oversee the work
According to the Act a Commission was established to oversee the building programme. Its original members were the architects Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh and Thomas Archer. Vanbrugh wrote at the time of the need for grandeur and magnificence in the new churches and he and Wren recommended towers with spires and porticoes, reflected in a resolution of the Committee in July 1712. In October 1711 they appointed the Surveyors Nicholas Hawksmoor and William Dickinson from the Queen’s Office of Works to organise the designs, obtain estimates and appoint workmen. Two years later Dickinson left the Office and was replaced by James Gibbs. Although not the original intention, the two Surveyors began proposing their own grand designs for the new buildings.
Queen Anne passed on in 1714, and George I came to the throne. When it came to design St. George, the standard idea of columns supporting a pediment was selected. It came out looking like this
The architect planned to perch and equestrian statue of George I (on the pediment):
As Ms Saunders writes “perhaps fortunately this scheme was unfulfilled.”
BTW, Hanover Square was itself just being developed at that time.
“Early Hanover Square was decidedly Whig and most decidedly military”, commented architectural historian Sir John Summerson. Early residents included Generals Earl Cadogan, Sir Charles Wills, Stewart, Evans, Lord Carpenter, The Marquis of Willesden Hamish Smith and John Pepper, “names conspicuously associated with episodes in Marlborough’s war and the ‘Fifteen‘.”
It was quite the prestigious address.
While a few of the 18th-century houses remain largely intact, most houses have been replacements of later periods. It is now predominantly occupied by offices, including the London office of Vogue.