The Most Unusual Steeple in London
Built in 1730, and the last church to be designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, St George’s Bloomsbury probably has the most unusual steeple in London.
Ever taken a close look at it?
In 1714 Queen Anne was dead and the succession passed with a hop, skip and a jump over to George I, the first of the Hanoverians.
He didn’t have much going for him, couldn’t speak any English and wasn’t particularly interested in his new Kingdom. However he clearly had one fan in Bloomsbury because a parishioner and the MP for Abingdon; William Hucks paid for the statue of him on top.
The weirdness continues with the unique pyramid design, supposedly based on Pliny’s description of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Turkey.
Then, as a final flourish, there’s a lion and a unicorn locked in an eternal chase around the pyramid.
The originals were commissioned by Hawksmoor but according to the church website he didn’t get the required approval from the commissioning team and they refused to pay. The animals were installed but then removed in the 1870s for reasons that aren’t too clear, but the current ones are by Tim Crawley and went up in 2006.
However there’s a deeper symbolism with the choice of mammals, the lion representing England and the unicorn; Scotland. These symbols would’ve been well known at the time because of the popular nursery rhyme;
“The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown, the lion beat the unicorn all around the town”.
It’s a reference from 1603 when the unicorn was first introduced into the English monarch’s coat of arms by James I of England and VI of Scotland.
You might recognise this steeple as it’s other claim to fame is its appearance in the background of Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751), a reminder that this area was once one of the worst slums in London.
Can you see it in the background?
I thoroughly recommend a pause and look up when you’re next in Holborn, it’s well worth it!
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