From Cairo to Clapton: Hawksmoor’s London

There may be well-known pyramids in Egypt, Mexico and even Bosnia – and ancient wonders across the globe – but not many know about the ancient architecture located right on their doorstep in London. Step forward Nicholas Hawksmoor: architect, freemason and all-round ancient religion nut. Born to a poor family in the British Midlands, Hawksmoor became one of the most revered architects of his time. And his London churches are some of the capital’s strangest landmarks, stepping wildly away from the Baroque time in which they were conceived.

Hawksmoor had already built, and helped build with his mentor Sir Christopher Wren, several prominent buildings by the time the 1711 Parliamentary Act demanded he construct six churches in London. Fascinated by the occult and the ancient world, Hawksmoor set about defying the design world with his strange, awkward concepts which bear no resemblance to their contemporaries. The two most intriguing of these are St. Anne’s, Limehouse, and St. George’s. Bloomsbury. St. Anne’s may seem clunky and masonic, but look in the graveyard and you’ll find a large Egyptian-styled pyramid, reportedly meant for the corners of the church but never allowed, which shows Hawksmoor’s dedication to the ancient Egyptians he so adored.

St. George’s in Bloomsbury, the other hand, takes its lines from Pliny the Elder’s depiction of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus; the ancient temple built by the Persian king Mausolus‘ family to protect his posterity. However Hawksmoor put George I on the top of his monument – strange for a religious place of worship. Other churches nod to Egyptian architecture and the fabled Temple of Solomon – and, as told in fictional form by Peter Ackroyd’s 1985 novel Hawksmoor, the churches appear to co-ordinate on a London map to form the Eye of Horus: an ancient Egyptian symbol for protection from deities. Next time you take a look around London, see if you can find a Hawksmoor masterpiece: you could be stepping thousands of years back in time.

Images by Matt Brown and Barbara Rich.