Wednesday, August 31, 2016

More London Churches

Here are a few more of the unusual, beautiful and sometimes lesser known churches of London, to accompany my earlier post on London churches.

All Hallows on the Wall
This simple and elegant little church, built on the site of a medieval church which was itself built on top of the ancient Roman wall that once surrounded London, holds a special meaning for me. It was here, in its medieval incarnation, that my 17th century ancestors were married before they set forth on the long and dangerous voyage to the New World.

Saint Botolph's Aldgate was designed by George Dance the Elder, father of the designer of the church above. Now dwarfed by the orgy of glass-box construction currently in progress in London, it occupies part of the site of the main Roman gateway into the ancient city.

All Souls Church, by John Nash, boasts a highly original design for an entrance and spire. This grew out of a particular difficulty of the site. Nash's design demonstrates clearly how classical architecture is a flexible idiom that can result in very location-specific designs. The challenge of this site is that it sits at a very obvious and prominent bend in Regent Street, which could have resulted in awkward side views of the church's main elevation. Nash turned this to his advantage by designing a powerful circular composition that has no obvious front. The tower ends up anchoring the street view, becoming an important landmark and orientation point for the entire district.

Music lovers will no doubt have heard of Saint Martin in the Fields, a church which boasts acoustics finer than most concert halls and hosts impressive gatherings of the finest classical musicians in the world, while still being a church with an active congregation.  Saint Martin was designed by James Gibbs in the 1720s. Recent archeological evidence suggests it may occupy the site of a pagan temple. Incidentally, if you are visiting London, it is right on Trafalgar square and has a great restaurant in its crypt. So if you're looking for a spot of nosh while traipsing through the London throngs, this is a convenient place to dine close to the ancestors.


Saint James Church in Muswell Hill is a fine example of late Victorian Gothic. It is typical of churches of the period, demonstrating a high level of skill in its application of the Gothic structural and decorative idioms. The complexity, and yet perfect coordination of elements of the design far exceed the complexity of similar-sized buildings typical of our time. The craftsmanship in stone, wood and glass shows how the Victorians were able to foster high levels of craftsmanship at costs affordable enough to be available to a typical London suburban community.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Decorative Genius of Robert Adam - Kenwood House

Kenwood House stands on an eminence overlooking the gentle slopes of Hampstead Heath and surveys the distant skyline of central London. Designed by Robert Adam at the height of his powers, it embodies an atmosphere of serenity and peace only achievable through perfect proportion and an expert handling of natural light.
The main social spaces occupy the ground floor, allowing them to have french doors that open directly out to the gardens. This was an unusual arrangement at the time. Typically the ground floor rooms were devoted to servants and service spaces such as the kitchen, with the main social spaces on the next floor up, the "piano nobile". Adam's alternative arrangement brought the Italian/Palladian inspired arrangement into line with the more landscape oriented English country lifestyle.
The Library is the heart of Kenwood House, a room that perfectly balances space, light, color, form, sound and function.

The Antechamber to the Library

The Stair Hall

Skylight in the Stair Hall
An antechamber with an oculus allowing light in from a skylight in the floor above.

Details from various rooms

Kenwood House was Robert Adam's third country house in the London area, with work performed from 1764-1779. His other London country houses are Osterley Park and Syon House.