|Christ Church Spitalfields||Tower Hamlets|
Christ Church Spitalfields was built 1714-1729 following the 1711 Fifty New Churches Act with money raised by tax on coal. Its churchyard was much larger than the present garden, the original ground enlarged in the late C18th and mid C19th when it extended from Brick Lane to Commercial Road and used for some 67,000 burials.
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Christ Church Spitalfields, July 2009. Photo: S Williams
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Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christ Church Spitalfields was built 1714-1729 following the 1711 Fifty New Churches Act with money raised by tax on coal; it was the first of his three churches in the East End, the others being St Anne Limehouse and St George-in-the-East (q.q.v.). His original design for Christ Church was estimated at £9,129 16s but actually cost over £39,000. The foundations were laid in 1714 and the church was finally consecrated on 5 July 1714. Income for the upkeep of the church came from various sources including leasing box pews to wealthy local families, burials in the crypt paid for by those fearful of body-snatchers, which was designed to cater for 1,000 bodies, and in the mid C19th church elders decided to charge double fees for burials of non-parishioners. The congregation included Huguenot refugees who had fled to this country, many settling in Spitalfields; over half of the C18th gravestones showed French names as a result.
The present garden is a fragment of the original burial ground for Christ Church, which altogether saw 68,000 burials, 67,000 of which were outside the church. Until the latter part of the C19th the churchyard extended east to Brick Lane; it had been enlarged in 1791 and in 1859 it was extended to Commercial Street to the west. It was closed for burials and was converted into a public garden by the MPGA in 1892, the layout the work of Fanny Wilkinson, landscape gardener to the MPGA. It was later largely built over, partly by a children’s school/playgroup, and most of the monuments were removed in 1950. Harold Clunn remarked in 1945 that the 'churchyard [is] now a pleasant public garden'. Within the garden are notable London plane trees and it has C19th gates and piers, a drinking fountain and cattle trough installed by the Metropolitan Cattle Trough and Drinking Fountain Association.
By 1957 the church had fallen into disrepair and was closed as a dangerous structure but through the efforts of the active Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields, formed in the 1970s, the church has been brought back to use, both for worship as well as the venue for the Spitalfields Festival. The Friends Group has been involved in restoration of the church interior, and in 1999 reinstated the South Steps, which had been removed in the C19th, according to Nicholas Hawksmoor’s original plans. Outside the church on Commercial Street are former underground public toilets, long since disused, but which were the venue for artists’ installations in the 1980s/90s, after a proposal to open them as a restaurant was blocked.
Harold Clunn, the Face of London (c1950); Bancroft Library, Clippings; Friends of Christ Church leaflets; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Bridget Cherry, Charles O'Brien, Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England, London 5: East', Yale University Press, 2005; LB Tower Hamlets, 'Brick Lane and Fournier Street Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Guidelines', 2009