At Christ Church, Spitalfields, architect Nicholas Hawksmoor cleverly combined ancient Roman forms with an English steeple, making it one of the finest London churches of the eighteenth century and a high point of English baroque architecture. The church remained largely unaltered for almost a century, until 1822, when the interior of the church was renovated and embellished with additional decorations and furnishings. In 1866, major alterations were made: the galleries in the aisles were removed, two levels of new galleries were erected at the west end, and doors and arches were altered and old ones bricked up. The box pews were also removed and replaced with open pew benches.
In 1966, the roof was rebuilt through aid from the Church of England. However, insufficient funds were available at that time for the full restoration of the church. During the following decades, some stabilization and conservation work occurred, including cleaning of the exterior, which had been darkened by decades of soot accumulation, but a necessary full restoration was not undertaken.
How We Helped
In 2003 WMF supported restoration activities at Christ Church, Spitalfields through the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage. Based on available historical records, the interior was restored to its appearance during the eighteenth century. Throughout the process of reversing nineteenth- and twentieth-century alterations, preservationists considered the structure’s current use to provide modern utilities that would be sympathetic to the historic fabric of the church.
An under-floor heating system was added below new stone floors in the vestibule, nave, aisles, and sanctuary. The surviving oak-paneled gallery fronts, balustrade galleries, organ, and wrought-iron altar rails were restored. The original arrangement of windows and glass was investigated and reinstated. Plaster and paint were repaired and minor work was done on the church exterior.
Why It Matters
Christ Church, Spitalfields can be ranked with the most important eighteenth-century churches in Europe and is widely considered to be one of the finest baroque churches in England. It is a major landmark of East London that serves both as a church and as a home to the internationally acclaimed Spitalfields Festival. It is one of only 12 churches completed under the Act of Parliament of 1710 which required the building of 50 new churches to serve the new populations on what were then the fringes of London.
The architect, Nicholas Hawksmoor, was a key figure of the English baroque, with such illustrious companions as John Vanbrugh and Christopher Wren. One of his more familiar works is the western towers of the Westminster Abbey.