This is a circa 300-year old church built as part of a project to build fifty new churches around London but was built before the parish it would serve had been created.
The site for the church was donated by General William Steuart, who owned the land after he inherited it from his father, who had accepted the land from King Charles II in repayment of debts. The foundation stone was laid in June 1721, and the church was built to a design by the architect John James. However, due to complaints about the slow progress of the work, in January 1725, just a few weeks before the church was completed, the mason in charge, Joshuah Fletcher, was sacked.
The church was formally completed and consecrated as St George’s Hanover Square in March 1725.
While this was going on, they had to sort out a parish for the church. In the end, it was decided to carve out a chunk from the ancient parish of St Martin in the Field, and so the parish of St George Hanover Square was created and the first beating of the bounds around the parish boundaries took place in May 1725, just after the church had opened.
The church is built in a difficult site surrounded by houses and shops, and these days, offices. One of the awkward things about the church is the lack of pavement in front of the main entrance. The main body of the church was built flush with the houses to the south, but they also added a covered portico in front of it.
That was probably intended to be the pavement as well, but it gives the impression that somehow they built the church too far into the road and didn’t leave space for a conventional pavement.
Above the pediment is a clock tower, and it was supposed to have a statue of King George I on there as well, but budgets were cut so the king remains missing.
Inside, the church is typically Georgian in style, very plain and simple, with a lot of dark wood against plain walls and a simple decorative ceiling. The overall effect is of a light building though, unlike the later heavily decorated Victorian churches.
It’s had a few changes over the past 300 years but is not radically different from when it was built.
At the rear of the church altar is a painting of the Last Supper painted by William Kent, and above the entrance, a large organ thought to be the only American built organ in London. The unusual choice to purchase an organ from the USA instead of a local maker was due to two of the church’s worshipers, Handel and Bach, who wanted an organ ideal for playing their favoured Baroque music. To this day, the church is noted for its annual London Handel Festival.
Another American link is that the then-future US President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt married his second wife, Edith Carow at the church. In order to qualify as a parish resident, he took a room in a nearby hotel for the required period of time. He was very keen to use this particular church for his wedding.
Considering the location, it’s no surprise that the leaders of the new parish and its Select Vestry included seven dukes, fourteen earls, seven barons, and twenty-six other persons of title. As a Select Vestry it also had some local governence powers over the area, although those powers were taken over by Westminster City Council in 1900. It was finally abolished as a civil parish a century ago, in 1922.
If you visit the church go to the rear and stand quietly for a few minutes. Eventually, you’ll hear a deep rumbling sound from below. Not the restless dead, but the Victoria line running under the far corner of the church.
In fact, you won’t find any dead here, as the church was built without a graveyard of its own, and buried the parish dead in plots of land the church acquired elsewhere.
It does have an undercroft though, and in recent years this unused space was cleared out and revamped to act as a restaurant for concerts in the evenings and a school on Sundays.
The church is open for visitors during the week, but closed on Saturdays and open for worship on Sundays.
This article was published on ianVisits
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