Architectural photographer’s book shows the city’s transformation after the Great Fire of London

PUBLISHED: 15:00 17 August 2016

St George's Bloomsbury, London. One of the 'Fifty New Churches' by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Picture: Angelo Hornak

St George's Bloomsbury, London. One of the 'Fifty New Churches' by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Picture: Angelo Hornak

© Angelo Hornak, London

Photogapher Angelo Hornak documents the Baroque rebuild of London following the destruction left by the Great Fire in 1666

Angelo Hornak’s book After the Fire is an entertaining and erudite photographic survey of the Baroque ecclesiastical architecture which transformed London after the Great Fire in 1666.

It destroyed St Paul’s, 87 churches and 13,000 houses though fewer than ten deaths were recorded.

Quotes from contemporary accounts and a relish for telling details make an enthralling narrative out of the consequences of a fire in a bakery in the City in the early hours of September 2nd: “

When the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Bludworth, was roused to deal with the fire he dismissed it with the contemptuous phrase ‘a woman might piss it out!’ and went back to bed.”

The inferno that followed was so intense that stones exploded, molten lead ran in streams down the streets and even King Charles and his brother the future King James I pitched in with the fire-fighting.

Within days of it subsiding, the architect Christopher Wren presented the King with his ambitious regeneration scheme.

Although this plan came to nothing, over the next 50 years Wren rebuilt 52 churches including St Paul’s in a dramatic new style inspired by the European Baroque.

One of the book’s many intriguing illustrations is an engraving, made in 1724, which shows the skyline of the City bristling with bell-towers and steeples, dominated by the cathedral dome.

Other architects involved included the natural scientist Robert Hooke, famous from his drawing of the anatomy of a flea, and Nicholas Hawksmoor.

He designed a group of powerfully idiosyncratic churches which use classical elements to achieve an essentially Gothic form, according to Hornak.

Hawksmoor was trained by Wren and shared his passionate interest in buildings of the ancient world such as the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.

The stepped pyramid of the steeple of St George’s Bloomsbury (pictured) is his reinterpretation of this tomb, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The heraldic beasts at the bottom of the spire represent the lion of England and the unicorn of Scotland and celebrate the defeat of the First Jacobite Rebellion in 1715, as in the nursery rhyme: The lion and the unicorn/ Were fighting for the crown/ The lion beat the unicorn/ All around the town.

The original sculptures were removed in 1871 as “very doubtful ornaments” but replaced when the church was restored in 2006 with lively reincarnations by the stone carver Tim Crawley.

Hornak, who lives in Canonbury, used an astronomical telescope for his close-ups of such elevated features - weathervanes, finials and inscriptions.

He has worked as an architectural photographer for over 40 years, a profession which combines his enthusiasms for photography and old buildings.

He first took an interest in London’s Baroque churches in the late 1960s and specialised in English Architecture in the Age of Wren 1660 – 1720 when studying history at Oxford.

He has written and illustrated two previous photographic surveys: one on earthworks, castles, houses and ruins seen from a hot-air balloon, the other on London’s riverside buildings as seen from a speedboat.

His transport when taking photographs for After the Fire, which is published by Maida Vale-based Pimpernel Press (£50), was rather more prosaic: a fold-up Brompton bicycle.

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