Hawksmoor was appointed one of the two Surveyors (the other was Gibbs) to the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches in London under the Act of 1711 and in that capacity he designed six of the most original churches in and near the capital: the body of St Alphege, Greenwich (1712–14), St Anne, Limehouse (1714–30), St George-in-the East, Wapping (1714–29), Christ Church, Spitalfields (1714–29), St Mary Woolnoth, City of London (1716–24), and St George, Bloomsbury (1716–31). St Alphege's is in the form of a temple, with a huge serliana at the east end; St Anne's has a powerful tower with a crowning lantern like a medieval element in Classical clothes; St George-in-the-East has four pepper-pot staircase-towers and a curious top to the western tower formed of altar-like drums; Christ Church, Spitalfields, has a broach spire set above a gigantic serliana porch; St Mary Woolnoth has powerful Baroque modelling; while St George Bloomsbury has an immense Roman temple portico and a tower crowned with a stepped pyramid derived from descriptions of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. From these buildings the interests of Hawksmoor may be deduced. He was bookish (he had a considerable library), steeped in a love of Antiquity, fascinated by English medieval architecture, and intrigued by the possibilities of freely interpreting the great buildings of the past from descriptions. Some of his work is derived from earlier French publications showing images of supposedly Antique buildings, which partially explains the element of fantasy in his designs.
Hawksmoor often introduced powerful emotional contents: at the Mausoleum, Castle Howard (1729–42), for example, the peristyle of his circular Roman-temple form is a Doric Order, but the unfluted columns have only one triglyph over each intercolumniation, giving a brooding solemnity to the architecture, influenced perhaps by Bramante's tempietto at San Pietro in Montorio, Rome. The Clarendon Building, Oxford (1712–65), also employs closely packed unfluted Roman Doric columns as well as inventively oversized keystones and oddly placed guttae. He also designed in the Gothic style, as at All Souls College, Oxford (1716–35), and the western towers at Westminster Abbey, London (designed 1734 and completed by J. James (c.1745)). Some of his inventions, such as the Carrmire Gate, Castle Howard (c.1730), with its steep pyramids, powerful modelling derived from Serlio, and emphatic qualities, combine the primitive, allusions to Antiquity, and a fascination with geometry, anticipating the most robust and stripped language of late-C18 Neo-Classicism. He also designed the Pyramid eyecatcher at Castle Howard (1728), the obelisk in the Market Place, Ripon, Yorks. (1702), and (with James) the Church of St Luke, Old Street, London (1727–33), with its obelisk-spire. In its essentials, Hawksmoor's architecture is primarily a demonstration that in geometry lies the key to all order, all creation. One of his last designs to be realized (with modifications by its builder, Townesend) was the screen-wall and entrance at Queen's College, Oxford (1733–6), on the High Street.
Country Life, cxcix/34 (25 Aug. 2005), 52–5;
Colvin (ed.) (1976);
Downes (1966, 1980);
V. Hart (2002);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Ruffinière du Prey (2000);
Summerson (ed.) (1993);
Jane Turner (1996)
Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) was a leading English architect. His very original church designs are baroque in their monumentality and sense of mass.
Nicholas Hawksmoor was born in Nottinghamshire, probably at Ragnall. He entered the service of Sir Christopher Wren at the age of 18 and was closely concerned with most of Wren's commissions from 1684 on, especially at Winchester Palace (begun 1683) and Chelsea Hospital (1687-1692). Hawksmoor also played an important part in the building of Wren's City of London churches during the 1680s and St. Paul's Cathedral between 1691 and 1712.
In 1689 Hawksmoor obtained through Wren the post of clerk of works at Kensington Palace and Greenwich Hospital, retaining the latter post until his death. From 1715 he was clerk of works at Whitehall Palace, Westminster Abbey, and St. James's Palace and secretary to the Board of Works. Dismissed from these posts in 1718, in 1726 he was restored as secretary, a post he held for the rest of his life.
As Wren's "supervisor, " "gentleman, " and "scholar, " Hawksmoor made a far greater contribution to his master's achievement than that of mere assistant or draftsman. In particular, he remedied Wren's deficiencies in the handling of the fundamental masses and proportions of a building. This feeling for mass and movement, which Hawksmoor derived from his studies of Roman and medieval architecture, was the basis of the baroque spirit in English architecture.
Hawksmoor was employed by Sir John Vanbrugh at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, from 1699 on and at Blenheim Palace from 1705, taking entire charge of the work there after Vanbrugh's final rupture with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, until its completion in 1725. Their partnership was extremely close and successful: both understood the importance of mass, stability, and the element of movement in the relative advance and recession of the various planes of a building. Of Castle Howard and Blenheim it might truly be said that, while the total dramatic conception in each case was Vanbrugh's, many of the decorative features and details were due to Hawksmoor. The Long Library and Triumphal Arch Gateway at Blenheim were built entirely to his designs; so also was his masterpiece, the great Mausoleum at Castle Howard.
At Easton Neston, Northamptonshire (1702), entirely designed by Hawksmoor, he introduced elements that were of critical importance in the development of the English country house. He is famous chiefly for his London churches, especially St. George's, Bloomsbury (1720-1730); Christchurch, Spitalfields (1723-1729); and St. Alphege, Greenwich (1712-1714).
Hawksmoor was of lowly station in life, dourly reserved and self-effacing, and somewhat embittered by his failure to achieve worldly success. He died in his house at Millbank, Westminster, on March 25, 1736.
The only full-length comprehensive monograph on Hawksmoor is Kerry Downes, Hawksmoor (1959), a well-documented and well-illustrated study of his life and career, incorporating the results of recent researches. A valuable short essay on Hawksmoor's achievement is H. S. Goodhart-Rendel, Nicholas Hawksmoor (1924), which contains excellent photographs, especially of his churches. His relations with Wren and Vanbrugh and his significance in the development of the English baroque movement are considered in Sir John Summerson, Architecture in Britain, 1530-1830 (1954; rev. ed. 1963). See also Laurence Whistler, Sir John Vanbrugh (1938), and The Imagination of Vanbrugh and His Fellow Artists (1954).
Colvin, Howard Montagu, Unbuilt Oxford, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.
Downes, Kerry, Hawksmoor, New York: Praeger, 1970, 1969; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1980, 1979; London: Thames & Hudson, 1969; London: A. Zwemmer, 1979.
Downes, Kerry, Hawksmoor: an exhibition selected by Kerry Downes, held at Whitechapel Art Gallery, 23 March-1 May 1977, London: The Gallery, 1977.
Kaiser, Wolfgang, Castle Howard: ein englischer Landsitz des fruhen 18. Jahrhunderts: Studien zu Architektur und Landschaftspark, Freiburg im Breisgau: Gaggstatter, 1984.
Saumarez Smith, Charles, The building of Castle Howard, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. □
David Denis Aldridge