Cambridge University

Ax:son Johnson Centre for the Study of Classical Architecture

How a classically trained Nicholas Hawksmoor applied the English Gothic


Elizabeth Deans sets out to explore Nicholas Hawksmoor's experience and interpretation of the English Gothic church

Nicholas Hawksmoor was trained as a classical architect and was a devoted advocate of Vitruvian principles. Much of his practice was indebted to decades of training under Sir Christopher Wren who aimed to design (and redesign) buildings in the ‘trew Roman manner’. Yet, both architects were actively involved on the sites of England’s great Gothic structures. These included the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Lincoln Cathedral, Ely Cathedral, St Alban’s, and, of course, those City churches that were rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666. Wren’s relationship with the ‘Gothick manner’, or the gothic style as we would now call it, was complicated and his interpretation and attitudes towards the Gothic changed over the course of his career. How his best pupil, Nicholas Hawksmoor, went on to conceive of the Gothic is much different from that of his master.

In an upcoming seminar presented for the Society of Architectural of Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB) at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), CSCA Assistant Director, Elizabeth Deans will come to grips with a perennial question in architectural history: What was Nicholas Hawksmoor’s relationship with the Gothic church? Her seminar will illuminate a new source of Hawksmoor’s experience surveying, repairing, and rebuilding England’s Gothic churches, including Beverley, St Albans, and Westminster Abbey. It will uncover Hawksmoor’s little-known involvement in surveying England’s great religious compounds – the largest building types he likely ever saw – and preparing extensive historical surveys, prints, and designs for them. It will argue that Hawksmoor’s approach to interpreting and inventing architecture within the style of the ‘Gothick manner’ was fundamentally (and intellectually) linked to his experience training in Sir Christopher Wren’s Office.

More information on Elizabeth’s seminar at Senate House in London can be found on the SAHGB’s website, here and on the IHR’s website, here.