Spitalfields tends to be known nowadays for its hyper-trendy shopping and dining area surrounding the old market place. Yet close by stands a building which has withstood the depredations of time and which is now seen as an English architectural masterpiece, deserving of attention in its own right.
This church is one of six in the capital designed by Wren’s pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor and is judged to be his masterpiece. A fine example of the English Baroque style, it was constructed between 1714 and 1729 as one of 50 planned “Commissioner” churches for Anglican worship (only 12 were finally built) which were established by an act of Parliament in 1711. There were fears that too many non-conformists were beginning to take over the established church, especially in areas such as Spitalfields where Protestant Huguenots, fleeing Catholic persecution in their native France, had settled and resumed their profession of weavers. Although the Huguenots had their own, much plainer chapels in the surrounding area, they were nonetheless involved in the commissioning, building and activities of Christ Church. A Huguenot, Peter Prelleur, was the church’s first organist and many of his co-religionists were buried in the crypt.
However, by 1960 Christ Church was virtually derelict and on the point of being condemned. Ironically, the congregation then had to use the Church Hall, a former Huguenot chapel, for their services. But the church was saved thanks to a major campaign and today thrives as a place of worship and centre of activities with a wide-ranging programme of events. Nevertheless, it is always in need of funds – its magnificent organ is currently the subject of a major restoration – and you can help by taking a special tour with the Rector, Andy Rider, an expert on the building and its history on November 12th. Tickets are £20 and advance booking is necessary.
Go to http://www.huguenotsofspitalfields.org/ to reserve a place on the tour and see how you can assist in maintaining this ‘jewel in the crown of London’ at http://www.christchurchspitalfields.org/ .
TRAVEL IN STYLE
The London Design Festival began in 2003 and is now holding its eleventh celebration of innovative design, including furniture, fashion, stationery and even cutting-edge tea trays. Its aim is to promote London as the design capital of the world and this year there are more than 300 different events and exhibitions.
I visited just one of them, designjunction at the former Royal Mail sorting office on New Oxford Street. If you look up you can still see the old area sorting signs but there’s nothing quaint about the designs and products on show.
I found myself strangely drawn to the stationery stands and special mention here goes to Israeli firm Pulp for stylish and practical desk-top tools (that’s literally pens, paper and pencils) and Italian Azzura Visaggio’s eye-catching notebooks from her company Wino.
The key point is that even if the firm is foreign-based, they are here to try and get into the London and UK market as it is so important internationally.
And while you’re there pay a visit to a pub designed to look like an underground station with distinctive tube tiling setting off the beer pumps very nicely.
The company behind the ceramics is Fired Earth and if you have a hankering to decorate your front room as if it were an art deco Piccadilly line station c. 1910 then these are the people to go to. TFL are the prime movers behind the project as you’d expect in conjunction with designer Michael Sodeau. Also involved were Kirkby Design, the Nud Collection and Camden Town Brewery, who respectively provided the moquette-covered benches, lighting and all-important alcohol. Takes me back to Sloane Square and Liverpool Street tube stations which actually had platform bars.
And as my love of London’s transport system knows no bounds, a visit to the Clippings pop-up shop on the ground floor is a must. For some time now, Transport for London has commissioned designers in conjunction with the London Design Festival to create new styles of Oyster travel wallets. This year being the150th anniversary of the London Underground there are ten different styles from which to choose. They are selling for £6.99 each from the Clippings shop at designjunction until it closes on Sunday 22 September and can also be bought online from the London Transport Museum shop. So not much time left to visit but it will be worth it. Book through Eventbrite, £5 in advance, £10 on the door.