The Restoration of the Lion and Unicorn Sculptures of St George’s, Bloomsbury
Nicholas Hawksmoor was born at East Drayton, Nottinghamshire in 1661. We know little of his early life or education but at the age of eighteen he left home to work in London as a clerk for Sir Christopher Wren, the Surveyor General.
From about 1684 to 1700, Hawksmoor worked with Wren on all his major architectural projects, including Chelsea Hospital, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, Greenwich Hospital and the rebuilding of the Churches damaged in the great Fire of London.
Hawksmoor learned the various aspects of a surveyor’s craft, and acquired a number of posts along the way. In 1689 he was named Clerk of the Works at Kensington Palace and in 1705 Deputy Surveyor of Works at Greenwich.
In about 1700, Hawksmoor began to help one of the other fashionable architects of the day, John Vanbrugh (1664-1726).
With Vanbrugh they worked together in the building of Castle Howard for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle and Blenheim Palace for John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough.
In the 1710s, Hawksmoor became associated with work for the Universities of both Oxford and Cambridge. His style differed from both the prominent men he had worked with. It was neither so gracefully classical as Wren, nor as enthusiastically ornate as Vanbrugh’s Baroque excesses.
An Act of Parliament of 1711 required the building of fifty new churches to serve the new populations on the fringes of London. When the programme expired in 1731 only twelve had been built – six of these were designed by Hawksmoor, providing an excellent compendium of his architectural ideas and vision.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, such as James Gibbs and Thomas Archer, Hawksmoor had never travelled abroad to be influenced by Italianate fashion. Instead, much of his Roman classical style was gained through close study of books.
Hawksmoor was responsible for the rebuilding of All Souls College, Oxford (1716-35) where he developed his own version of a gothic style. There he built the exterior of a new Hall and Library in Gothic style to blend harmoniously with the surviving medieval buildings, but the interiors were pure classical form.
Showing his versatility, Hawksmoor designed the Clarendon Building in Roman classical style, and the wall screening Queen’s College from High Street in exuberant Baroque.
One of Hawksmoor’s final great works was on another church, Westminster Abbey, re-casing its west towers. When Christopher Wren died in 1723, Hawksmoor became Surveyor of the Abbey in Wren’s place.
Nicholas Hawksmoor died in 1736.