Nicholas Hawksmoor (1662–1736) is considered one of Britain’s greatest architects. He was involved in the grandest architectural projects of his age and today is best known for his London churches – six idiosyncratic edifices of white Portland stone that remain standing today, proud and tall in the otherwise radically changed cityscape. Until comparatively recently, however, Hawksmoor was thought to be, at best, a second-rate talent: merely Sir Christopher Wren’s slightly odd apprentice, or the practically minded assistant to Sir John Vanbrugh. This book brings to life the dramatic story of Hawksmoor’s resurrection from the margins of history.
Charting Hawksmoor’s career and the decline of his reputation, Owen Hopkins offers fresh interpretations of many of his famous works – notably his three East End churches – and shows how over their history Hawksmoor’s buildings have been ignored, abused, altered, recovered and celebrated. Hopkins also charts how, as Hawksmoor returned to prominence during the twentieth century, his work caught the eye of observers as diverse as T. S. Eliot, James Stirling, Robert Venturi and, most famously, Peter Ackroyd, whose novel Hawksmoor (1985) popularized the mythical association of his work with the occult. Meanwhile, passionate campaigns were mounted to save and restore Hawksmoor’s churches, reflecting the strange hold his architecture can have over observers. There is surely no other body of work in British architectural history with the same capacity to intrigue and inspire, perplex and provoke as Hawksmoor’s has done for nearly three centuries.
‘Owen Hopkins’s From the Shadows is the liveliest account yet of Nicholas Hawksmoor, the amazing baroque architect of the early 18th century. Had he but known it, Hawksmoor was a proto-brutalist, his un-pretty and confronting forms being an inspiration to British architects in the mid-20th century.’ – Rowan Moore, The Observer, ‘Best Architecture Books of 2015’
‘In the conclusion to his very substantial study of England’s least known and most misunderstood Baroque architect, Owen Hopkins discusses some of the modern folklore that has developed around Nicholas Hawksmoor over the past 40 years, showing how swiftly a myth can capture the public imagination . . . From the Shadows dispels those myths while taking admirable pains to describe the reality of its subject’s rich and idiosyncratic career . . . Hopkins rescues Hawksmoor from the shadows of Wren and Vanburgh and gives him the prominence he deserves.’ – Michael Moorcock, The Spectator
‘Owen Hopkins’s From the Shadows puts the Hawksmoor myth into proper historical perspective . . . This is a biography that goes beyond the usual limits – it is really, and sensibly, a biography of Hawksmoor’s reputation . . . The architectural message this book conveys is that perfection is boring: well-behaved buildings are rarely memorable. Artists must break the bonds of taste to be in with a shot at eternity. Hawksmoor’s trajectory was never straight, but he got there all the same.’ – The Guardian
‘Hopkins’s book is fascinating in this reconstruction of Hawksmoor’s reputational afterlife . . . It confirms the verdict that while Wren incised a bright, intellectual stateliness on London’s skyline, Hawksmoor – a great architectural tragedian – gave it its mood music, its architectural emotion.’ – Evening Standard
‘Owen Hopkins deftly explores how Hawksmoor’s work has been understood in his lifetime and since then . . . Hopkins has a vast knowledge of his subject. He is an excellent communicator, sharing the technical detail of Hawksmoor’s buildings in a way that is accessible to the lay person. His love for Hawksmoor’s work makes From the Shadows a pleasure to read . . . This is a significant book.’ – Fortean Times
‘In just over 300 pages, Hopkins combines an engaging survey of Hawksmoor’s buildings with a thoughtful assessment of his critical fortunes . . . Hopkins ably conveys Hawksmoor’s genius while explaining how preservation battles over the churches, literary homages to Hawksmoor, careful research, and changing tastes all conspired to push Hawksmoor into the first rank of British architects.’ – Architect Magazine
‘The book’s exploration of the “afterlife” of the architect, and how this was influenced by changing attitudes in society, is a strong and fruitful angle . . . Despite Hopkins’ detailed explanation of changing tastes and perceptions, it still seems amazing that Hawksmoor had to wait so long for afterlife recognition. This book can’t help but make one wonder how history will judge the top architects of today, and whose reputations will thrive while others’ suffer.’ – RIBA Journal
‘Hopkins’ study certainly has value in being the first text to put a study of Hawksmoor’s work side-by-side with one of his myths and reputation. But more importantly, they begin new lines of questioning that could help jolt the Hawksmoor historiography out of the rut it has been in for decades.’ – Architectural Review
‘The 20th century saw the revival of Hawksmoor’s reputation after he was championed by the likes of T.S. Eliot and Peter Ackroyd. This timely reappraisal explores the architect’s achievement and his emergence from the margins of history.’ – Apollo
‘[Hawksmoor] has had a crucial role as cultural catalyst, of which this book is a fine celebration.’
– C20 Magazine
‘A valuable new chart of Hawksmoor’s potent and mysterious creations. Its originality lies in the way Owen Hopkins traces the influence of the great Baroque architect on our present moment. Written with the verve of an enthusiast and the rigour of a scholar.’ – Iain Sinclair, author of London Orbital, Lights Out for the Territory, American Smoke and Lud Heat.
Owen Hopkins is a writer, historian and Architecture Programme Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts. He is the author of Reading Architecture: A Visual Lexicon (2012) and Architectural Styles: A Visual Guide (2014) and regularly leads a variety of walking tours of London architecture.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Man and the Myth
3 Falling into Shadow
4 Neglect and Rehabilitation
5 Into the Light
7 Hawksmoor Today