The Bells of Shoreditch
SATURDAY MAR 27TH
Church bell-ringing is not as easy it looks. First of all, there is the danger of being pulled up in the air if you forgot to let go of the rope. And actually getting the bells to play a meaningful tune requires a lot of teamwork, co-ordination and practice. Today, competing bands of bellringers were at St. Leonards Church in Shoreditch testing their skills against each other.
The present Church was designed by George Dance the Elder, the favourite pupil of Christopher Wren and is a successful declaration of the pupil’s ability. It opened in August 1740.
The first part of the building seen by the public is the tower.
The plain Tuscan portico is surmounted by a square clock-tower and belfry. These then support the stone octagon of the gallery with its fluted cupola. This is raised on Corinthian columns topped by a gallery reflective of the lower one. Above them rises the elegant obelisk. It is one of the most important architectural structures in England.
However, this new church caused a scandal when first opened. It was very unlike the chunky and ornate Hawksmoor style so popular in the late Baroque period. The slender columns and subtle colonnades, and bright windows were an innovation that was hard to accept as a church. One of the worst insults received was that it is a ‘feminine’ church.
The Roman dimensions of the East window and its gentle Tuscan arcades show an Italian influence. Luckily tastes have changed and now it is seen as a national treasure. It is, with its Clerk’s House, the oldest building in Shoreditch.
In 1870, the Victorians led by Butterfield damaged it, stripping out the galleries and bricking up the ground floor windows. The faculty of that year has Butterfield stating that the galleries are “inconvenient and little used”
He built a raised chancel for a robed choir and moved the central pulpit to a side position. Then he rebuilt the sanctuary table to make a large altar.
He had changed a Georgian preaching church into a Victorian sacramental church. He did not realise ,though, that they had dangerously compromised the structural integrity of the building. Twentieth century war damage hastened its problems. It was apparent by 1990 that the building was becoming unsafe, so eventually it was closed for nearly two years to be rebuilt nearer to its original form.
The crypt is accessible only with our guidance and is a prime example of use and layout. Click here to see BBC item on the crypt.
We are happy to arrange tours of the church, tower or crypt. Please be aware of the risks involved, vertigo and claustrophobia.
The Tower and Portico 1740