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 A Ripperologist Article 
This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 31, October 2000. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article. Subscribe to Ripperologist.
The Eloquence of Stone - A Long Look at Christ Church
by Eduardo Zinna

You can’t miss it. Come from any direction you wish, North or South, East or West. As soon as you get within two miles of it, you’ll see it. Step out of Aldgate East tube station, turn left into Commercial Street and there it is, still taller than any other building near it, as splendid as it was when it was first completed, well over two hundred years ago. If you are coming from the City, take Brushfield Street and, as you walk alongside the old Market, look up and you will see it, standing out against the sky. Come from Shoreditch or Southwark, Mile End or Liverpool Street Station. Whichever road you take, you can’t miss it, Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, Christ Church at Spitalfields.

Early in the morning of Sunday, 2 September 1666 - the Year of the Beast - a fire began accidentally in the house of Thomas Farriner, baker, in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge. A strong wind blew it west. For three days the Great Fire raged. When it was over, London lay in ruins, plumes of smoke rising lazily from a blackened mass of burned-out husks. Most of the City proper, old St. Paul's, many civic buildings, eighty-seven of the 106 City parish churches and 13,000 houses were destroyed. Within a few days, King Charles II received three different plans for rebuilding the city. The most ambitious was by Christopher Wren, an astronomer turned architect. A journey to Paris had dazzled Wren with vistas of straight boulevards, squares, round-points and broad quays, and he was eager to incorporate these into his own projects. But no plan to redraw the streets was adopted and the old lines were in almost every case retained. An act passed in 1667 levied a tax on coal coming into London and provided for the reconstruction of a few essential buildings. In 1670 a second act raised the coal tax, creating a source of funds to rebuild St. Paul's Cathedral and a few other churches and to set up a column - the Monument - to commemorate the Great Fire. Fifty-two Wren churches were eventually built, of which twenty?one survive. Wren designed six of them himself. He entrusted the remainder to architects working under his direction. Among them was Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Some men are remembered for their life, some for their work. Much is known about Hawksmoor’s work, since he left a wealth of buildings, models, drawings, blueprints and sketches. But only the scantiest information has survived about Hawksmoor the man.

We know that he was born in 1661 or thereabouts at East Drayton, a small village by the River Trent, in Nottinghamshire. At the age of eighteen, the country boy entered Wren’s service. In time he became a brilliant draughtsman, producing innumerable architectural drawings and immersing himself in the classical works of Vitruvius and Andrea Palladio. He assisted Wren in rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral and another celebrated architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, in building Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. On Wren's death in 1723, Hawksmoor became chief architect of Westminster Abbey, the west towers of which were built to his design. We know that he was married, fathered children and, in the last years of his life, was afflicted with the gout that would kill him on 25 March 1736. The only known likeness of him is a plaster bust, painted black to simulate bronze, at the Buttery of All Souls’ College, Oxford.

In the year 1012 Alfege, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to pay the Danegeld. The enraged Danes bludgeoned him to death with the bones remaining from a banquet. A church was built in Greenwich to his memory where Henry VIII was baptised and Samuel Pepys worshipped. On 28 November 1710, the church’s roof collapsed. Its parishioners petitioned Parliament to grant them some money, if some was left from the reconstruction of the churches destroyed during the Great Fire, to rebuild their church. The ruling Tories saw this as an opportunity to enhance the image of their traditional ally, the Anglican Church. They would erect imposing places of worship, built of stone, so they would last for centuries, and with towers or steeples to stand proudly against London’s skyline. The following year Parliament adopted an Act designed to build fifty new churches in the cities of London and Westminster and their immediate environs. Priority was given to Stepney, Wapping and Bethnal Green, areas densely populated and short of parish churches. In return the Anglican Church was given the job of taming the anarchic East End, widely known as a centre of dissension where temples of other faiths proliferated.

But the Whigs were returned to power within a few years, the proceeds of the coal tax were lower than expected and enthusiasm for church building abated considerably. Of the fifty new churches originally envisaged, only twelve were eventually completed. And there is little evidence that Anglicanism ever trickled down to dissenting East Enders.

At the beginning, however, everything went according to plan. The Commissioners appointed to consider the design and construction of the new churches - whose number included both Wren and Vanbrugh - laid great emphasis on open sites, porticoes and steeples. The churches were to be monuments as well as places of worship, presenting, in Vanbrugh’s words, ‘the most Solemn & Awfull Appearance both within and without.’

On the first possible opportunity, in October 1711, the Commissioners named Hawksmoor as architect to the Commission. Over the years, Hawksmoor designed St George, Bloomsbury, St Mary Woolnoth, in the City - next to where Bank Underground Station is now - and in the East End, St Anne, Limehouse, St George-in-the-East, Wapping Stepney, and his masterpiece, Christ Church, Spitalfields. Hawksmoor believed that churches demanded open or detached sites to derive as much advantage as possible from their design. He was forced to build some of his churches in cramped, existing locations, confined by other buildings. In Spitalfields, he found an open site.

The East End has been associated with death since the earliest times and remains to this day dotted with secret and forgotten burying-places. The inhabitants of Roman London brought their dead outside the city walls to bury them by torch-light. In 1574, a Roman cemetery was found in Spitalfields, in the exact place where Hawksmoor would build Christ Church. As recently as 1999, Museum of London archaeologists excavating a 12?acre site adjoining the Spitalfields Market, across from the Church, found plague pits, the remains of a mediaeval priory and yet another Roman cemetery. They retrieved 8,500 skeletons from the mediaeval period and 80 from Roman times, mostly low?born Britons, buried in shrouds and wooden coffins. Among them was the skeleton of a fourth?century Roman noblewoman in an elaborate sarcophagus. Using forensic techniques, they put flesh on her bones and a face on her skull. Look at her now. She will look back at you across time.

There was no parish in or about London where the plague raged with such violence as in the two parishes of Aldgate and Whitechapel. Or so Daniel Defoe tells us. His journal entries describe the huge pits into which the victims of the pestilence were thrown and recount how some were continued as cemeteries and how others were converted into other uses or built upon(1). Starting in the 1990s, excavations carried out in the vaults of Christ Church uncovered one thousand of the dead who had lain there for so long in their lead-lined coffins. ‘As if the measuring and photographing of mummified remnants,’ observed Iain Sinclair, ‘could bring back those lives, powder the air with lost time’(2). Rachel Lichtenstein recalled, ‘When one of the coffins was opened the perfectly preserved body of a fourteen-year-old girl was discovered. She was dressed in her funeral clothes: a white linen dress, bonnet and gloves. As the body was exposed to the air it rapidly began to deteriorate and within twenty-four hours she had turned to black dust (3).

Hawksmoor must have picked up his surveyor’s tools of a sunny morning and walked across the site where his Church would stand. His view would have been unobstructed, the landscape extending in all directions in decreasing lines beyond the brick-fields. His thoughts must have flown to the Portland stone from which walls would be built, to the timber for the roof beams, to iron, to lead, to the workers who would spend themselves in long days of labour. In November 1713, the Fifty Churches Commissioners paid £1,260 for the bare land. Work started in earnest the following July. By November 1714, the bricklayers had laid down the foundations, a job for which they charged £800. One of the Commissioners, who resided in Spitalfields, laid the foundation stone in 1715. His name was Edward Peck and his Memorial can still be seen in the church. Soon afterwards, the masons started work on the walls, which were 14 feet high by the end of the year. But in 1719 funds ran out and all building stopped. For the next ten years the building of the church would progress unevenly, as funds were exhausted, became available again and were once more exhausted.

As the church rose slowly towards the sky, letters went back and forth between the community, the Commissioners, the architect and the contractors. On 28 April 1720, Hawksmoor wrote to the Commissioners asking for money to protect the carcass of the church from weather damage. He told them that the walls were to full height and the side aisles roofed, but the timbers of the nave roof were incomplete and the carpenter would not finish them unless he was paid the £2,000 he was owed. Once the commissioners found money and paid the contractors, work was resumed, though not at full speed. Three years later, in January 1723, it was the turn of the local residents to petition for the church to be completed.

During the years it took to build the church, Hawksmoor, the compulsive draughtsman, had many opportunities to change his mind about its original design. For the east face of the church he had used a Venetian window motif - consisting of an arched opening between two rectangular ones. Then, in 1724, after most of the walls had been finished, he envisioned the magnificent portico surmounted by the steeple that comprises the greater part of the western face today, and repeated the Venetian window motif at the belfry stage. Christ Church ‘is full of surprises,’ wrote Professor Downes, ‘no less when one passes the west front and finds the great cavities hollowed out of the massive front of the belfry stage (4)’.

The majestic church was completed in 1729 at a total cost of over £40,000, four times the original estimates. In May an Act created a new parish and on 5th July the Bishop of London consecrated the new church.

‘Mighty’ is the word that Ian Nairn had for Christ Church, although he only saw it centuries later when it had been remodelled and rebuilt. In his telegraphic, impressionistic style, Nairn added: ‘But not "composed"; transmuted somewhere right down in the blood so that the whole building becomes a living idea...Centre and wings in the huge porch, in the relation of belfry to steeple; and overwhelmingly, inside: aisles to central space, division of the chancel screen, divisions of the huge flat ceiling, the actual Venetian window at the east end: everything offered up: to God be the praise’(5).

Yet Christ Church’s Baroque grandeur was not without critics. Writing in 1734, James Ralph derided Hawksmoor's just completed churches as ‘mere Gothique heaps of stone without form or order’, described Christ Church as ‘one of the most absurd piles in Europe’ and called for its ‘severest condemnation.’ But then Ralph also advocated pulling down St Margaret's, Westminster, and London Bridge(6). Hawksmoor did not take kindly to Ralph’s outburst. He scorned ‘Mr Rafe the Critick’, as he called him, for using ‘the word Gothick to signifye every thing that displeases him, as the Greeks and Romans call’d every Nation Barbarous that were not in their way of Police and Education’.

The organ built for the Church in 1735 by Richard Bridge was the largest in Georgian England, with over one thousand pipes. Some say that Handel played in it. But its best known executant was Peter Prelleur. An East-Ender of Huguenot descent, Prelleur led a bit of a double life. Not only did he play the organ in church and write religious music, but he also played a lively harpsichord at the local theatres and composed incidental music and light operas for them.

Bells were hung at various times under the Church’s tower until a peal of eight was completed. The local residents regulated their lives by the sound of the bells. In the eighteenth century James Rogers, the Church’s ‘Steeple-Keeper and Bell-Ringer of the 6 & 8 O’Clock Bell’, printed a broadsheet in the hope of getting Christmas boxes from his parishioners:

A Quarter before six I ring my Bell,
As every honest labouring Hand can tell:
The Porters, Joiners, Bricklayers, Market Folks,
Are all in Arms, and crack their harmless Jokes:
The jolly Dyers, now, whose gaudy Trade,
Decks both the Duchess and the Chambermaid;
Wak?d by my Bell they straitway quit their Room,
And then prepare their colours for the Loom.
The Weavers, Draw-Boys, Throwsters now arise,
Jump up in bed and rub their sleepy Eyes,
Slip on their cloaths and then to work they hie,
Nor think it time to lay their Labour by,
Till Eight at Night, I give them their Dismission
And then they homeward go by my permission.(7)

Accidents and good intentions alike contributed to change the appearance of Christ Church, often for the worse. Plaques on its walls tell the story of these efforts. In 1822, restorers radically altered the spire. They removed the flame-like crockets running up the corner, the spire lights, the three dormer windows on each face and the large stone finial Hawksmoor had placed at the top and smoothed down the faces. At the same time they refurnished the interior at great expense, much to the consternation of the money-conscious parishioners.

On Ash Wednesday 1836 fire ravaged Christ Church, destroying the tower, a peal of twelve bells, a clock with chimes and parts of the roof. In 1851 restorers sold the original altarpiece and the communion table. In 1866 they eliminated the side galleries, altered the side-windows, removed the old box-pews and the windows and replaced the pulpit by the old reading desk. And they were still at it in 1880. ‘The worst thing,’ wrote Gordon Barnes, ‘was to chamfer the corners of the high bases to the nave arcade which gave them an insubstantial appearance. After all this the interior looked much higher and Hawksmoor’s original proportion had been destroyed (8)’. Professor Downes says that ‘the loss of the galleries, the side entrances and the steeple ornaments and the lowering of the side windows have damaged Christ Church irreparably; nevertheless, it remains as compelling a masterpiece as any of the churches (9)’.

As immigrants from many nations, few of whom answered to the Church of England, came to the East End, the temples of the Huguenots, the Roman Catholic churches of the Irish, the synagogues of the Jews and the Protestant churches of the Danes, the Germans and the Swedes flourished next to Hawksmoor’s church. As time went by others also came who sought not spiritual refuge but entertainment, instruction or nourishment. All this could be found in the church. For they walked in the shadow of Christ Church who walked the narrow streets of Spitalfields.

In neighbouring Hanbury Street, Christ Church Hall provided a platform for all those who needed one, radicals and freethinkers included. During her long and active life Annie Besant was an Anglican clergyman’s wife, an atheist’s companion, a journalist, a birth-control advocate, a Fabian socialist, a theosophist and an Indian independence leader. In the summer of 1888, she often took the floor at the Hall in support of the match-girls. Workers at Bryant and May’s match factory in Bow were exposed to yellow phosphorous, a substance widely known to cause the deterioration of the jawbone. Besant wrote in her newspaper about their health hazards, their long hours and their scanty pay. The company threatened a libel action. Besant distributed pamphlets to the factory workers. The company countered by firing three workers. On 5 July one thousand match-girls downed their tools. Within two weeks they had won their strike and Besant became head of the executive committee of the Match-Makers’ Union.

No sooner was the match-girls’ strike over than the attention of the world was drawn again to the dark alleys criss-crossing Spitalfields. During the autumn of terror, the unfortunate ladies of the evening, the terrified inhabitants of the parish, the policemen in pursuit and the Ripper himself, had but to raise their eyes to see Christ Church’s steeple above. That is perhaps the last thing Martha Tabram saw, as she walked to her death in George’s Yard.

Since 1867, the Church had offered to would-be timekeepers its illuminated clock besides the peal of its bells. When witnesses came forward to talk to the police or the press or to testify at the inquests of the Ripper’s victims, they often established the time of events in their narratives by the Church clock. Thus, Albert Cadosch. Early in the morning of 8 September, he overheard Annie Chapman talking to the Ripper in the backyard of the house next door, 29 Hanbury Street. As he passed the Church on his way to work, he looked up at the clock. It was 5:32. At 5:45, the clock woke up John Davis, the carman who would find Annie’s body a few minutes later.

Sarah Lewis knew that she had turned into Dorset Street at exactly 2:30 in the morning of 9 November because she had looked at the Church clock as she walked past. At that time, George Hutchinson was waiting at the corner of Miller’s Court for Mary Kelly’s visitor to come out. As he finally gave up and left, the clock struck three. Within half an hour, the clock woke up Sarah Lewis, who remained awake in the dark long enough to hear a faint cry of ‘Murder!’ coming from somewhere outside.

Before we leave behind the season of the Ripper, let us evoke yet another image of those troubled times. On 8th October they put poor Kate Eddowes, arguable the Ripper’s penultimate victim, in her handsome elm coffin and took her on her final journey. Four black horses pulled her open glass hearse. Behind came the chief mourners, all in black, in a mourning coach, and the representatives of the press in a brougham. The funeral cortège left the Golden Lane mortuary at 1:30 in the afternoon. It wound its way slowly along Old, Great Eastern and Commercial Streets before turning into Whitechapel High Street to continue towards its destination, the City of London Cemetery at Ilford. Spectators thronged along the route, uncovering their heads as the hearse went by.

As the cortège reached Christ Church, was Mary Kelly in the crowd? Was she standing, pint in hand, by the door of the Ten Bells or the Britannia, watching Kate proceed unhurriedly towards her resting place. Mary laughed often, but not, I think, that day. No doubt she felt compassion for the dead woman. Perhaps a premonition clouded her brow. Yet she could not know, could she, that a role awaited her as the last act of the tragedy.

In 1902, when the twentieth century was young, American writer Jack London disguised himself as a pauper and went, as if into another world, among the ‘people of the abyss’. In the shadow of Christ Church, at three o'clock in the afternoon, he saw a sight he never wished to see again. An improvised guide led him into one of London's lungs: Spitalfields Garden. But this was a garden surrounded by sharp?spiked iron fencing, where there were no flowers, but grass only grew. Jack London and his guide went up the garden’s narrow gravelled walk, surrounded, on the benches on either side, by a mass of miserable and distorted humanity.

‘It was a welter of rags and filth,’ Jack London tells us, ‘of all manner of loathsome skin diseases, open sores, bruises, grossness, indecency, leering monstrosities, and bestial faces’. He went on his way among men, women and children of all ages, huddled in their rags against a chill, raw wind, sleeping for the most part, or trying to sleep. ‘It was this sleeping that puzzled me,’ he recalls. ‘Why were nine out of ten of them asleep or trying to sleep?’ Only afterwards he learned why: ‘It is a law of the powers that be that the homeless shall not sleep by night’.

Jack London's graphic description of Christ Church 'Gardens' in 1902

'An' now,' said the sweated one, the 'earty man who worked so fast as to dazzle one's eyes, 'I'll show you one of London's lungs. This is Spitalfields Garden.' And he mouthed the word 'garden' with scorn.

The shadow of Christ's Church falls across Spitalfields Garden, and in the shadow of Christ's Church, at three o'clock in the afternoon, I saw a sight I never wish to see again. There are no flowers in this garden, which is smaller than my own rose garden at home. Grass only grows here, and it is surrounded by sharp-spiked iron fencing, as are all the parks of London Town, so that homeless men and women may not come in at night and sleep upon it.

As we entered the garden, an old woman, between fifty and sixty, passed us, striding with sturdy intention if somewhat rickety action, with two bulky bundles, covered with sacking, slung fore and aft upon her. She was a woman tramp, a houseless soul, too independent to drag her failing carcass through the workhouse door. Like the snail, she carried her home with her. In the two sacking-covered bundles were her household goods, her wardrobe, linen, and dear feminine possessions.

We went up the narrow gravelled walk. On the benches on either side was arrayed a mass of miserable and distorted humanity, the sight of which would have impelled Dore to more diabolical flights of fancy than he ever succeeded in achieving. It was a welter of rags and filth, of all manner of loathsome skin diseases, open sores, bruises, grossness, indecency, leering monstrosities, and bestial faces. A chill, raw wind was blowing, and these creatures huddled there in their rags, sleeping for the most part, or trying to sleep.

Here were a dozen women, ranging in age from twenty years to seventy. Next a babe, possibly of nine months, lying asleep, flat on the hard bench, with neither pillow nor covering, nor with any one looking after it. Next, half a dozen men, sleeping bolt upright or leaning against one another in their sleep. In one place a family group, a child asleep in its sleeping mother's arms, and the husband (or male mate) clumsily mending a dilapidated shoe. On another bench a woman trimming the frayed strips of her rags with a knife, and another woman, with thread and needle, sewing up rents. Adjoining, a man holding a sleeping woman in his arms. Farther on, a man, his clothing caked with gutter mud, asleep with head in the lap of a woman, not more than twenty-five years old, and also asleep.

It was this sleeping that puzzled me. Why were nine out of ten of them asleep or trying to sleep' But it was not till afterward that I learned. It is a law of the powers that be that the homeless shall not sleep by night. On the pavement, by the portico of Christ's Church, where the stone pillars rise toward the sky in a stately row, were whole rows of men lying asleep or drowsing, and all too deep sunk in torpor to rouse or be made curious by our intrusion.

'A lung of London,' I said; 'nay, an abscess, a great putrescent sore.'

'Oh, why did you bring me here?' demanded the burning young socialist, his delicate face white with sickness of soul and stomach sickness.

'Those women there,' said our guide, 'will sell themselves for thru'pence, or tu'pence, or a loaf of stale bread.'

He said it with a cheerful sneer.

But what more he might have said I do not know, for the sick man cried, 'For heaven's sake, let us get out of this.'

‘On the pavement, by the portico of Christ Church, where the stone pillars rise toward the sky in a stately row,’ noted Jack London as he continued his slow progress along this barren garden, ‘were whole rows of men lying asleep or drowsing, and all too deep sunk in torpor to rouse or be made curious by our intrusion’. No, he did not love that garden, that glimpse of hell. ‘A lung of London,’ he exclaimed, ‘nay, an abscess, a great putrescent sore!’ Yet the measure of his revulsion was still not full. ‘Those women there,' sneered his guide cheerfully, ‘will sell themselves for thru'pence, or tu'pence, or a loaf of stale bread’ (10)’.

Unlike her sister churches, Christ Church was not damaged by the machines of destruction of the two world wars. But with peace would come a subtler enemy. It has been said that in the fifties London was at its lowest ebb. There seemed to be almost no street life, the river was dying, London had ceased to be a night city. The weight of indifference and neglect almost brought down Hawksmoor’s great churches. St George-in-the-East and St Luke, Old Street, Finsbury, gutted during the war, were never fully restored. St George, Bloomsbury, was almost pulled down, together with several streets of Georgian housing, to make room for a new national research library. As for Christ Church, it was adjudged as unsafe and closed in 1957 as the frantic clicking of death-watch beetles echoed hollowly throughout the deserted nave. ‘Suddenly one week we were in the church,’ recalled Fay Cattini, who has lived in Spitalfields since 1950, ‘and the next we were out and the church locked’ (11). The congregation moved to the parish hall. They launched an appeal to allow an extensive restoration to be undertaken. ‘Locked up whilst money is being collected for a restoration,’ commented Ian Nairn. ‘If the Church lets it fall down it might as well present a banker’s order for thirty pieces of silver. For here is the faith, manifest’ (12).

What Jack London had done at the beginning of the century, writer and artist Geoffrey Fletcher did as the century turned the bend of middle age. In the mid-sixties, Fletcher went among the meths men, the drinkers of methylated spirits who milled about the East End. For weeks he followed those bleary-eyed, ragged ghosts, as they ambled aimlessly round the heart of Skid Row, breath stinking, limbs twitching nervously, bodies shaking with a tubercular cough. Fletcher met Liverpool Jack and Belfast Johnnie, Glasgow Jock and Geordie the Pill, Sidney the Sod and Billy the Puff, Hat, Pee, Itchy Bill, Syphilis Joe, Peeky Blinder and Harry the Ram. He sat among them as they smoked cigarette ends, popped pills and drank blue meths, metal polish, cleaning fluid or gas milk - a beverage made through passing coal gas through a carton of milk. It rots your brain and drives you mad. Fletcher stood by as the meths men prepared stews out of chicken bones, orange rinds and cabbage stalks, and as they sunned themselves in the barren park that was no longer known as Spitalfields Garden. The locals now called it, more accurately and perhaps less ironically, Itchy Park (13). Amidst all this misery, all this horror, Chaim Bermant found a glimpse, not of hell, but of hope. He noticed that most meths men were not Londoners, that their accents gave them away as strangers. ‘They are not the products of East End life,’ he wrote, ‘but are drawn to the East End because there alone can they be sure of sympathy and help’ (14).

Some saw beyond aesthetics in the unconventional dimensions of Hawksmoor's haunting churches. Professor Downes had already observed that ‘the strangeness - even when analysed - of Hawksmoor's formal devices found recognition only in the present century’s exploration of the unconscious’. In 1975, Iain Sinclair considered the occult pattern formed by the siting of the churches, whose oddities he had first noticed while working as a gardener in their grounds. ‘A triangle is formed,’ he wrote, ‘between Christ Church, St George-in-the-East and St Anne, Limehouse’. The churches, he underlined, were centres of power for those territories; sentinel, sphinx form, dynamos abandoned as the culture they supported went into retreat. The power remained latent, the frustration mounted on a current of animal magnetism. Sinclair went still further. He added St George, Bloomsbury and St Alfege to make the major pentacle-star and then drew lines through Hawksmoor churches and obelisks, plague pits and Ripper and Ratcliffe Highway murder sites to form distorted geometrical figures. He did not neglect the curious detail of Christ Church’s windows; ‘the pull that is set up by the sequence of small portholes above tall narrow lower windows’, a symbol relating to ‘a whole chain of meaning and resonances: the grail cup above the lance...the cauldron and the sword...female and male...the setting sun and the molten light over the waters...the pill about to be dropped into the test tube...stylisation of the phallus and generative spurt.’ (15)

‘From what is known of Hawksmoor,’ wrote Sinclair, ‘it is possible to imagine that he did work a code into the buildings, knowingly or unknowingly, templates of meaning, bands of continuing ritual’. Following into his steps came a biographer and novelist who is on record as considering his work as a lifelong investigation of the Cockney experience. Peter Ackroyd has remarked how certain parts of London still breathe with past lives and says that what he likes to do is to go to a particular part of the city and parley with its ghosts. His 1985 novel Hawksmoor combines fiction and history, the present and the past. The real Nicholas Hawksmoor is replaced by the imaginary Nicholas Dyer, an architect and disciple of Christopher Wren. A child of London whose parents, lost to the plague, lie buried in an unmarked pit in Spitalfields, Dyer is also a Satanist who incorporates human sacrifices into the design of his churches. When, centuries later, a series of crimes is committed in the churches, present-day Detective Hawksmoor is charged with the investigation. The Spitalfields Church is the scene of the death of a child who, pursued by a menacing stranger, seeks shelter in its grounds. (16)

Alan Moore dipped into every well in his search for information on the Ripper for his epic comic strip From Hell. He took Iain Sinclair’s work as the main inspiration for some speeches he wrote for his semi-fictional Sir William Gull. According to Gull - or Moore’s Gull - Hawksmoor was a follower of the ‘ancient Dionysiac architects’.

Dionysus, called Bacchus by the Romans, was a bit of a gatecrasher, only admitted into Olympus when his cult became too important to be ignored. He was the god of vegetation and wine, worshipped in festivals devoted to dancing, drinking and sex. Choruses and incantations performed in his honour are said to lie at the origins of Greek tragedy. A tolerant god, Dionysus was, nevertheless, not to be denied. And there was a darker side to him. He was a flesh-eater - one who did not kill the animals on which he fed but tore their living limbs from them. Some believe that Satanism derived from the Dionysian rites and that the horned, masked Devil at the centre of the Black Mass was none other than Dionysus himself.

Moore traces Dionysus’s cult far beyond the Greeks and describes the Dionysiac architects as a ‘secret fraternity of Dionysus cultists originating in 1,000 BC who worked in Solomon’s Temple, eventually becoming the Middle Ages’ Travelling Masonic Guilds. Their ingenious constructions merely symbolised their greater work: the Temple of Civilisation, chiselling human history into an edifice worthy of God, its Great Architect.’ According to Moore, Vitruvius, a classic architect of antiquity much revered by Hawksmoor, was a Dionysian. And Hawksmoor’s churches were designed ‘following the Pagan traditions of the ancient Dionysiac architects’. (17)

In the nineties the exterior of Christ Church looked its usual splendid self, but the building remained condemned and the crypt was used as a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics. To the dismay of many admirers of the elegant church, Lord Templeman's City Churches Commission: Report to the Bishop, commissioned by the Bishop of London in 1992, and published in 1994, recommended that many churches ‘be declared redundant or otherwise deconsecrated,’ and even ‘locked up and maintained wind and water tight’ (18).

Yet, on the brink of disaster, Christ Church was given a new lease of life. In 1996 English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund launched a scheme to finance the renovation of churches. Christ Church, the first to benefit, was granted £2.9 million. The scheme covers repairs to the fabric, churchyards, tombstones, walls and gates, archaeology as well as organs, fonts, stained glass, bells and furnishings and restoration.

Within the following few years the tower and spire were repaired. In 1999 the south facade was restored and cleaned to uncover the blinding whiteness of its stone and the double flight of steps on the south side was reinstalled. By early 2000, the floor structure of the aisle galleries had been reinstated according to original designs. For the first time in 140 years Hawksmoor’s vision for Christ Church’s interior has been revealed. Its full restoration was scheduled to start in July using, whenever possible, surviving eighteenth-century timber from the church itself.

On 2 April 2000, Mother’s Day, I entered Christ Church for the first time. The walls were covered with scaffolding and the floor with rubbish. But renovation was visibly in progress and the parishioners looked confidently to the future. The ghost of the wrecker;s ball has been exorcised, one hopes, permanently; and Hawksmoor’s great church shall soon rise again in all its glory.


The main source of information on Nicholas Hawksmoor’s life and work is Hawksmoor, by Kerry Downes. I have drawn extensively upon Professor Downes’s book and used its last line as the title for this article. For all Ripper-related matters, I have relied, as usual, on the works of Begg, Fido, Rumbelow, Skinner, Sugden et al. and my collections of Ripperana and Ripperologist.

The sources consulted for this article include: Ackroyd, Peter, Hawksmoor; Barnes, Gordon, Stepney Churches: An Historical Account; Bermant, Chaim, East End: Point of Arrival; Bradbury, Malcolm, The Modern British Novel; Carter, Angela, Shaking a Leg; Cavendish, Richard, The Black Arts; Cox, Jane, London’s East End: Life and Traditions; Defoe, Daniel, A Journal of the Plague Year; Downes, Kerry, Hawksmoor; Fletcher, Geoffrey, Down among the Meths Men; Glinert, Ed, A Literary Guide to London; Jenkins, Simon, England’s Thousand Best Churches; Liechtenstein, Rachel, Rodinsky’s Whitechapel; and, with Iain Sinclair, Rodinsky’s Room; Marsh, James, The Funeral of Catherine Eddowes, Ripperologist No. 13, October 1997; Moore, Alan and Eddie Campbell (Illustrator), From Hell; Nairn, Ian, Nairn’s London; Palmer, Alan, The East End; London, Jack, The People of the Abyss; Rose, Millicent, The East End of London; Sinclair, Iain, Dark Lanthorns: Rodinsky’s A to Z; Lights Out for the Territory; Lud Heat: A Book of Dead Hamlets; and, with Rachel Liechtenstein, Rodinsky’s Room; Summerson, John, The Classical Language of Architecture; Sturtevant, Katherine, Our Sisters’ London; Wilson, Colin, The Occult; Columns; The Daily Telegraph; Ripperana; Ripperologist; The Times; The Times Literary Supplement, 17 January 1997.


1. Defoe, Daniel, A Journal of the Plague Year
2. Sinclair, Iain, (with Rachel Liechtenstein) Rodinsky’s Room
3. Liechtenstein, Rachel: Rodinsky’s Whitechapel
4. Downes, Kerry, Hawksmoor.
5. Nairn, Ian, Nairn’s London.
6. Downes, Kerry, op. cit.
7. Cited in Rose, Millicent, The East End of London
8. Barnes, Gordon, Stepney Churches: An Historical Account
9. Downes, Kerry, op. cit.
10. London, Jack, The People of the Abyss
11. Cattini, Fay, Spitalfields: a recollection, in Columns, Number 12, Summer 1999.
12. Nairn, Ian, op. cit.
13. Fletcher, Geoffrey, Down among the Meths Men
14. Bermant, Chaim, East End: Point of Arrival
15. Sinclair, Iain, Lud Heat : A Book of Dead Hamlets
16. In their recent book on Inspector Reid, The man who hunted Jack the Ripper, Nicholas Connell and Stewart P. Evans mention a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Dier, whose name resulted from inverting the letters in Reid’s name. One wonders whether Detective Dyer’s name in Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor is purely a coincidence.
17. Apart from Iain Sinclair, Moore cites as his sources The Secret Teachings of All Ages, by Manly P. Hall, and The Dionysian Artificers, by Hall and Hippolyto Joseph Da Costa,.
18. Cited in Watkin, David, Paris in the City, (Review of The City Churches of Sir Christopher Wren, by Paul Jeffery), The Times Literary Supplement, 17 January 1997.

The undisturbed grave of an important Roman citizen of the 4th Century unearthed during the 1999 archaeological excavations of a large redevelopment site lying between Bisopsgate and Spitalfields Market was one of the most important and exciting discoveries of recent years. The archaeological work was undertaken by the Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS) for the Spitalfields Development Group (SDG). You can read about the excavation work in a booklet The Spitalfields Roman (ISBN: 0-904818-95-0), published by the Museum of London in 1999 and available from the Museum, where there is also an exhibition of artefacts from the site. You can also find a wealth of information about the excavation and the Museum itself on its Web site Or contact the Museum:

Museum of London
London Wall
London EC2Y 5HN
Telephone: 020 7600 3699
Fax: 020 7600 1058
Automated information line: 020 7600 0807

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  Christ Church
       Victorian London: Christ Church 
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