Two Steeples in London

                                                                        ©Edward Burman

                                                                        ©Edward Burman

St Clement Danes, 10 May 1941 ( photo in the public domain )

St Clement Danes, 10 May 1941 (photo in the public domain)

The present church of St Clement Danes, in the foreground of this photograph, was completed in 1682 by the great architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), with a steeple added to its square tower nearly forty years later by the equally great Scottish architect James Gibbs (1682-1754). Miraculously, the tower and steeple survived the fire which gutted the church during a bombing raid on the night of 10 May 1941.

Behind it is the imposing complex of the Royal Courts of Justice, designed by George Edmund Street (1824-1881) and completed a year after his death. The photo is taken from the same spot as that seen here to the right taken after the 1941 attack, with the steeple of the Courts of Law forming a backdrop to St Clement Danes although the rest of the buildings are invisible.

San Francesco, Pavia, from  Brick and Marble in the Middle Ages,  London: John Murray, 1874.

San Francesco, Pavia, from Brick and Marble in the Middle Ages, London: John Murray, 1874.

It’s an unusual view, and fascinating because these two towers with their steeples form the basis of an intriguing contrast between classical and gothic styles in London in a single shot. 

On St Clement Danes, Gibbs was clearly influenced by Borromini and the towers of St Agnese in Rome amongst others, from the time he studied there under Carlo Fontana (who had himself worked with Borromini); the Courts of Law tower was equally influenced by the Gothic-style pinnacles which Street sketched during a tour of northern Italy, used as illustrations for his fascinating and detailed study Brick and Marble in the Middle Ages (1874), from which the illustration on the right is taken. In many of the other architectural sketches in the book he focuses on pinnacles and steeples.