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Nicholas Hawksmoor: Wikis


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Nicholas Hawksmoor (probably 1661 - 25 March 1736) was a British architect born to a humble family in Nottinghamshire.

His career formed the brilliant middle link in Britain's trio of great baroque architects. Hawksmoor was characterised by Howard Colvin as "more assured in his command of the classical vocabulary than the untrained Vanbrugh, more imaginative in his vision than the intellectual Wren." From about 1684 to about 1700 Hawksmoor worked with his teacher, Christopher Wren, on projects including Chelsea Hospital, St. Paul's Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Greenwich Hospital. Thanks to Wren's influence as Surveyor-General, the modest and diffident Hawksmoor was named Clerk of the Works at Kensington Palace (1689) and Deputy Surveyor of Works at Greenwich (1705). In 1718, when Wren was superseded by the new, amateur Surveyor, William Benson, Hawksmoor was deprived of his double post to provide places for Benson's brother, a bitter blow. "Poor Hawksmoor," wrote Vanbrugh in 1721. "What a Barbarous Age... What wou'd Monsr. Colbert in France have given for such a man?"

He then worked for a time with Sir John Vanbrugh, helping him build Blenheim Palace for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, where he took charge after Vanbrugh's final break with the demanding Duchess of Marlborough, and Castle Howard for Charles Howard, later the 3rd Earl of Carlisle. There is no doubt that Hawksmoor brought to the brilliant amateur the professional grounding he had received from Wren, and in Colvin's words, "enabled Vanbrugh's heroic designs to be translated into actuality."

In 1702, Hawksmoor designed the baroque country house of Easton Neston in Northamptonshire for Sir William Fermor. This is the only country house for which he was the sole architect, though he extensively remodelled Ockham House for the Lord Chief Justice King (now mostly destroyed). Perhaps fortunately, Easton Neston was not completed as he intended, for the symmetrical unexecuted flanking wings and entrance colonnade were very much in the style of John Vanbrugh; whereas the house as it stands is pure innovative Hawksmoor at his finest.

The West Towers, Westminster Abbey

Hawksmoor conceived grand rebuilding schemes for central Oxford, most of which were not realised. The idea was for a round library for the Radcliffe Camera but that commission went to James Gibbs. He did design the Clarendon Building at Oxford; the Codrington Library and new buildings at All Souls College, Oxford; parts of Worcester College, Oxford with Sir George Clarke; the High Street screen at The Queen's College, Oxford and six new churches in London. Although he did not live to see them built, Hawksmoor also designed the West Towers of Westminster Abbey. In addition, he superimposed on the medieval portal, and became Surveyor of the Abbey when Wren died in 1723.

Unlike many of his wealthier contemporaries, Hawksmoor never travelled to Italy on a Grand Tour, where he might have been influenced by the style of architecture there. His ideas seem to derive from engravings, especially monuments of ancient Rome and reconstructions of the Temple of Solomon. But he was versatile in his work, and all the buildings he designed are distinctly different from each other. The influence of Italian Baroque architect Borromini can be detected in some.


Hawksmoor's six London churches

These churches were built in accordance with a Parliamentary Act of 1711 providing tax money for the building of fifty new London churches, only a dozen of which were actually built, six of them to Hawksmoor's design. He also designed towers for two more, designed by others: St John Horsleydown and St Luke Old Street. The six churches wholly designed by Hawksmoor are his best-known independent works of architecture. They compare in their complexity of interpenetrating internal spaces with contemporaneous work in Italy by Francesco Borromini. Their spires, essentially Gothic outlines executed in innovative and imaginative Classical detail, dominated the London skyline as a counterpoint to St. Paul's dome deep into the 20th century.

Hawksmoor in recent literature

Hawksmoor's architecture has influenced several poets and authors of the twentieth century. His church St Mary Woolnoth is mentioned in T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land (1922).

Algernon Stitch lived in a "superb creation by Nicholas Hawksmoor" in London in the novel Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938).

Hawksmoor is the subject of a poem by Iain Sinclair called 'Nicholas Hawksmoor: His Churches' which appeared in Sinclair's collection of poems Lud Heat (1975). Sinclair argued that Hawksmoor's churches formed a pattern consistent with the forms of Theistic Satanism.

This idea was developed by Peter Ackroyd in his novel Hawksmoor (1985). In this, the historical Hawksmoor is refigured as the fictional Devil-worshiper Nicholas Dyer, while the eponymous Hawksmoor is cast as a twentieth-century detective charged with investigating a series of murders perpertrated on Dyer's (Hawksmoor's) churches. The novel is arguably a good example of magic realism.

Both Sinclair and Ackroyd's ideas in turn were further developed by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell in their graphic novel, From Hell, which speculated that Jack the Ripper used Hawksmoor's buildings as part of ritual magic, with his victims as human sacrifice. In the appendix, Moore revealed that he had met and spoke with Sinclair on numerous occasions while developing the core ideas of the book. The authors also brought notoriety to Hawksmoor's famous London churches. The argument includes the idea that, when dotted up on a map, the churches produce an Eye of Horus, and that this has some ritual significance.

In 2002 Hawksmoor was the subject of an award-winning monograph by the architectural historian Vaughan Hart, which redefined Hawksmoor with new insights and discoveries. There is a school named after him called Nicholas Hawksmoor Primary School in Towcester Northamptonshire with over 500 pupils.

Hawksmoor is mentioned in "The History Boys" by Alan Bennett, p82, where Akthar is questioned by Mrs Lintott about his interest in architecture.



  • Colvin, Howard, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600–1840, 3rd ed.
  • Downes, Kerry, Nicholas Hawksmoor
  • De la Ruffiniere du Prey, Pierre. Hawksmoor's London Churches: Architecture and Theology. London and Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
  • Vaughan Hart, Nicholas Hawksmoor: Rebuilding Ancient Wonders (2002)

See also

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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