St John the Baptist, Aldenham

Nobody can be quite certain of the date of Aldenham’s first church. However, the presence of large quantities of Hertfordshire Puddingstone in the present building may indicate that it rests on the site of some kind of pre-Christian worship. Christopher Webb’s wonderfully designed east window (replacing the window destroyed by enemy action in 1940) includes a panel showing the 8th century King Offa holding a Saxon Church, and an 11th century Norman window, probably from an earlier building, can be seen at the west end of the south aisle.The earliest available document to mention the present church relates to the appointment of a Vicar and is dated 1267, so it would seem fair to assess the origins of this building as the mid-13th century. The lower part of the tower, the font and a large part of the Lady Chapel date from this period, while the south and north aisles date from the 14th and 15th centuries respectively. To the 15th century too belong the wonderfully decorated oak roof timbers in the nave, the painted oak Lady Chapel screen and the upper tower, diagonal buttresses and stair turret.

In the16th century the chancel was widened and a vestry added. These additions and improvements seem to have been made without regard to the overall symmetry of the building, which remains quaintly asymmetrical to this day.

Coordinates: 51°40′20″N 0°21′17″W / 51.6723°N 0.3546°W / 51.6723; – 0.3546 .

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St Albans Abbey (exterior)

St Albans Cathedral is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain. It stands over the place where Alban, the first martyr, was buried after giving his life for his faith over 1700 years ago.

The building’s amazing mixture of architectural styles bears witness to the many centuries of its life, first as a monastic Abbey and now as a Cathedral. Down all those centuries countless pilgrims have come to honour Saint Alban’s sacrifice and offer their prayers at his shrine.

The present Cathedral was begun in 1077, using Roman bricks and flint from the ruined city of Verulamium. Its massive 11th century bell tower is the only remaining example of its type. It has the longest nave in England where you can see outstanding 13th and 14th century wall paintings. 

Visitors continue to flock to the shrine of Saint Alban. The shrine was rebuilt in the early 14th century. It was destroyed at the reformation, but rediscovered and rebuilt in the 19th century, and restored in 1993. A rare survival, it remains a centre of ecumenical worship. Pictures by Daniel and Thelma.

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St Giles Cheddington



The earliest church of which there is any trace appears to have been built during the reign of Henry I or Stephen (i.e. between 1100 and 1135). This church must have been built in the Norman style and its outline is now marked by the present chancel and nave. Fragments of this old church are to be found decorating the walls of the porch. Two centuries later (in 1340) the chancel arch was widened and probably replaced a round headed Norman arch, but the greatest changes came in the 15th century. First the windows of the nave and the chancel were put in (but not the large east window which is modern). Later the north aisle and west tower were added thus completing the general outline as it is at present. All these alterations and additions were built in the Perpendicular style and so radical were these changes that the church has the general appearance of a 15th century church.

The Saxon name Cheddington and the fact that the church is built on a wooded hill give ground for believing that the first Christian church here was built on the site of an old pagan temple. It was a frequent practise of the heathen Saxons to build their temples among the trees on hilltops. St Augustine, who came to convert England in 579 A.D. was advised by Pope Gregory the Great ‘that heathen temples were not to be destroyed but turned, whenever possible, into Christian churches and that the huts which they used to make of boughs of trees round the temples were still to be used for amusements on Christian festivals’. If this happened at Cheddington, then the church built in the 12th century replaced a much older building. Pictures taken by Daniel and Thelma 14 May 2016, followed by a refreshing pint in the next village: at The Stag, Mentmore.


St Giles Cheddington

St Giles Cheddington


Welcome to Hawksmoor, Wren & All That Jazz – Info & Pics


Drawing together material from the 2012 Venice Biennale, a new study of Hawksmoor’s churches examines their compelling individuality

It is rumoured that there are satanic and pagan symbols embedded within the architecture of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s many London churches – and that far from being in praise of God, their foundations are built over child sacrifices and their placement around the city draws together powerful forces into the shape of a pentagram.

These apocryphal tales are of course the stuff of fiction, whipped up for Peter Ackroyd’s dark and masterful narration in Hawksmoor, ‘a book that did‘much to help articulate the architectural qualities and enhance the reputation of the real Hawksmoor’, as Mohsen Mostafavi notes in his introduction. The fictional, occultist Hawksmoor describes his intent as being to inspire ‘Terror’ and ‘Magnificence’ in the beholder, which is nonetheless an accurate description of the Baroque architecture itself. Hawksmoor’s churches, with their strangely scaled elements, monumental spires and funereal ornaments, impress upon the viewer ‘awe and bewilderment’.


Hélène Binet’s black and white photography captures the sombre nature of Hawksmoor’s London churches

Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, Christopher Wren (then just 34) had been charged with the reconstruction of St Paul’s Cathedral and more than 50 parish churches. Meanwhile, Wren’s rival Robert Hooke was working on a Building Act intended to develop a new typology of housing to replace the flammable thatch and wood Jacobean dwellings. What Hooke proposed was the brick terrace row typology, standardised and homogenised into four ‘classes’ to suit different sites and social standings. The model was so successful that even today more than 93 per cent of London’s plots still conform to its rules.

By 1711, Wren, now aged 79, was concerned that the rapid urban expansion facilitated by Hooke’s Act had made the city conceptually illegible. To rectify this, he enlisted Baroque architect John Vanbrugh (perhaps best known for Blenheim Palace) to develop a strategy for monumentalising London’s new urban wastelands. What they proposed was a colossal church-building scheme, to give a coherent form to the city and unite it under one architectural style. Carefully sited, and intended to be seen from a great distance, it was Nicholas Hawksmoor who was then commissioned to survey and design these religious structures, of which about a dozen were executed.


The book’s uniform presentation of each church is key to understanding them as a totality, as well as individual elements in a larger, city-wide plan

A key aspect to understanding Hawksmoor’s work is therefore the task of comparing and contrasting the whole and the part – determining the interrelationship, as well as the uniqueness of each church. For this, the book’s uniform presentation of each case study is helpful. Hawksmoor seems to have treated his interiors rather consistently, in a reduced, almost puritanical way. There is often just a single interior room, modestly arranged and uncontroversial in its form. By contrast, he used the plan and the subtle conditions of each site to compose architectural elements into quite astonishing variations. A critical design feature was the spire, as an urban marker in some ways the whole reason for the project, and Hawksmoor is extremely inventive in its articulation. At times incorporated into the plan, at times almost freestanding structures in their own right, the spires range from delicate fluted obelisks (St John Horsleydown) to squat, sturdy reproductions of the Mausoleum at Rhodes (St George’s).

Much of the material was first exhibited at the 2012 Venice Biennale, where I thought at the time it would make an excellent book. This is indeed the case – each of the eight churches is presented in the same way, with finely drawn plans and elevations, counterpoised by the stark and compelling monochrome photographs of Hélène Binet. This establishes a powerful relationship between on the one hand architectural precision and, on the other, the sober, sombre reality of the churches. Mostafavi’s introduction is engaging and accessible, revealing both the modus operandi of an astonishing architect as well as contextualising that work within the history of the invention of the city.