St. George's, Bloomsbury
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|St. George's, Bloomsbury|
Tower of St. George's, with a lion and unicorn and George I on the steeple
|Diocese||Diocese of London|
The Commissioners for the Fifty New Churches Act of 1711 realised that, due to rapid development in the Bloomsbury area during the latter part of the 17th and early part of the 18th centuries, the area (then part of the parish of St Giles in the Fields) needed to be split off and given a parish church of its own. They appointed Nicholas Hawksmoor, a pupil and former assistant of Sir Christopher Wren, to design and build this church, which he then did between 1716 and 1731. This was the sixth and last, of his London churches. St George's was consecrated on 28 January 1730 by Edmund Gibson, Bishop of London.
The Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope was baptised here in 1824. Richard Meux Benson, founder of the first Anglican religious order for men, Society of St John the Evangelist, the "Cowley Fathers", was also baptised in the church. The funeral of Emily Davison, the suffragette who died when she was hit by the King's horse during the 1913 Derby, took place here that same year. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia attended a controversial requiem for the dead of the Abyssinian war in 1937.
It was until 2006 the subject of major conservation work led by the World Monuments Fund and closed to visitors, with the congregation continuing as normal in its parish life, holding services in a nearby chapel. The building reopened fully from October 2006, including a new exhibition on the church, Hawksmoor and Bloomsbury housed in its undercroft.
The land on which the church is built (‘Ploughyard’) was bought for £1,000 from Lady Russell, widow of the Whig rebel Lord John Russell who had been executed in 1683. This was a substantial sum, which raises of the question why it was spent on a narrow, rectangular plot of land on a North-South axis that was hemmed in by buildings on all sides; a purchase which seemed to fly in the face of the Commissioners’ 1711 stipulation that “no site ought to be pitched upon for the erecting [of] a new church where the same will not admit the church to be placed East and West.” Perhaps the orientation of the site was deemed a surmountable obstacle, especially since the site met the needs of the commissioners in that it was situated “amongst the… better sort… [and on] the larger and more open streets, not in obscure lanes, nor where coaches will be much obstructed in the passage.”
The land purchase was the work of one of the two surveyors appointed by the Commissioners of the 1711 Act: Nicholas Hawksmoor. Unlike others appointed by the Commissioners, Hawksmoor continued to work as a surveyor of the 1711 Act churches until his death in 1736. Of the twelve churches completed, he would ultimately be responsible for designing six, of which St George’s Bloomsbury was the last. His final designs for St George’s, however, were only commissioned and then adopted after earlier designs by James Gibbs and Sir John Vanbrugh (who proposed building a church with the altar in the north) were rejected by the Commissioners.
The stepped tower is influenced by Pliny the Elder's description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and topped with a statue of King George I in Roman dress. Its statues of fighting lions and unicorns symbolise the recent end of the First Jacobite Rising. The Portico is based on that of the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbek, Lebanon.
Opening times and services
Services are held on Monday & Wednesday at 1:10pm and Sunday mornings at 10:30 am. The church is usually open to visitors from 1:00pm – 4:00pm every day of the week. (If it is not open, please visit the church office at the back of the site (entrance via Little Russell Street gate): a staff member can open it for you).
St. George's runs educational workshops and lectures for schools, families and adults. It also hosts events and classes for the local community events (flower festivals, dance, choir classes).
St George's Bloomsbury is located on Bloomsbury Way next door to the Bloomsbury Thistle Hotel. (WC1A 2HR), two minutes walk from the British Museum
A hymn used on St George's Day (written by Ursula Roberts) begins: A maid in fetters wailing / Her sore and sorry plight / A foul and slimy dragon / A brave and glorious knight! / (chorus) Let lusty voices sing! / "St George for Merry England" / Triumphant echoes ring.
Spiral staircase within St George's, Bloomsbury
- Meller, Hugh (1975) St. George's Bloomsbury: an illustrated guide to the church. London: St George's Church ISBN 0-9504224-0-1
- Roberts, Ursula (1955) Portrait of a Parson; by Susan Miles [pseud.] London: Allen & Unwin (William Corbett Roberts, 1873–1953, rector of St George's)
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