Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Newell Street, London
Landmark and sea mark
St Anne’s Limehouse, built between 1714 and 1727, is among the remarkable London churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. It is one of 12 churches built at this period and funded by a tax on coal coming up the Thames and these buildings are now known as Queen Anne churches, in honour of the reigning monarch of the time.
St Anne’s is probably less well known than Hawksmoor’s central London churches, such as St Mary Woolnoth or Christ Church Spitalfields (also a Queen Anne church), buildings that loom out of the city in a way that it’s impossible to ignore. St Anne’s, by contrast, is slightly less monumental, and is quite easy to miss in its leafy churchyard on Commercial Road. But the tower is a stunner, and Hawksmoor obviously designed it to be seen not from the main road but at the end of this little side street.
The way the very angular tower relates to the small half-domed vestibule and then steps back as it rises, is striking. The semi-circular arch beneath the clock, and the tiny semi-circular opening lower down, harmonize with the curving half-dome. But the rest of the tower is much more straight-edged, with its bold corner pilasters and unusual octagonal lantern at the top above the clock. This lantern has a set of pinnacles, just visible in my photograph, that are topped with tiny pyramids and look like miniature Hawksmoor towers.
This artful tower had a purpose beyond the usual one of housing bells. The church is not far from the river, and at the very top, higher even than the pinnacles, is a flagpole supporting a golden ball. This acted as a sea mark for shipping, and seamen were also aided by the clock (said to be the highest church clock in London), which originally struck every quarter. Even such off-the-wall structures as Hawksmoor towers had their practical uses.
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More soon on St Anne’s churchyard, with its rather spooky pyramid. Watch this space…