The Rebuilding of St George-in-the-East
from The Story of St George-in-the-East, The Rev A.M. Solomon (1965)
[see also his 1986 retrospect here, and a 1959 press report about the project here]
On the eve of the
Second World War a bird's-eye view of the surrounding parishes from the
top of the tower of St. George's would have revealed narrow, dirty
streets; unventilated courtyards; houses huddled together in unplanned
chaos, most without proper sanitary conditions, many in bad repair;
factories; warehouses; workshops scattered indiscriminately; very few
open spaces. Children's playgrounds were the streets. Towards Aldgate
lived people of many races, colours and religions. Down by the river
were the docks where there was much wealth and, until the war, so much
casual labour. To the east stood houses, blocks of flats, cinemas,
markets, tiny roofs and chimneys fading into the distance. To this part
of London, as to many others, came the blitz. The crypt of St. George's
became a shelter.
seventeen years St.
George-in-the-Ruins performed the function of a parish church while the
re-marking of parochial boundaries established the present grouping of
the three parishes under one - "St. George-in-the-East with Christ
Church and St. John".
August 1960 the ingenious
plan of Arthur Bailey began to take shape. To have restored the
interior, with its vast spaces, in the shape of a Greek cross, would
have been impractical because war damage payments would not have
allowed the reinstatement of the 18th Century galleries. The London
County Council plans for development in the area involved the
demolition of the Mission and Parish Hall. Accordingly it was decided
to remove the coffins in the fifty-nine vaults to Brookwood Cemetery,
take down the prefabricated Chapel and break down the vaults, leaving
the tower and the original walls of the gutted Church. Within this
shell was planned the construction of an adequate parish hall under a
smaller Church with a clear west window of full length, separated from
the tower by a courtyard. In the four corners of the building the extra
space, provided by the arms of the Greek-cross pattern, envisaged
comfortable flats for the staff of the Church, one five-roomed, one
three-roomed and two two-roomed. In January 1960 the congregation had
moved into the upper room on the first floor of the Mission. A Chapel,
which was to bring blessings of all descriptions to many who gathered
round the altar, became our spiritual home for nearly four
"the tea-house of
the August moon" was first erected by the builders; then one morning a
large mechanical scoop backed up a ramp, under the tower and into the
excavation site; a monorail truck chugged busily in and out every three
minutes and 2,500 cubic yards of brick and concrete rubble disappeared
down Cannon Street Road by April 1961. The District Surveyor came and
pronounced the laying of new mains and drains satisfactory, together
with the foundations of the sixteen new columns on bases of concrete
plinths four foot square. By November 1961 the lantern was completely
repaired and the flag mast erected. In June 1962 there was a bit of
excitement. Whilst repairing the stonework, some personal marks of the
stonemasons engaged in the original construction came to light. "The
best example of these 'banker' marks is on the keystone of the external
arch at belfry level on the west face of the tower. On the north-west
turret on the topmost ring of stones directly below the wooden dome six
different kinds of marks on the sixteen stones are the family marks of
got the roof of the new Church on, the Surveyor condemned the east
gable which was originally thought to be only superficially in need of
repair. With ultra caution vast stones were lowered on to the new
floor; the arch was stripped and rebuilt from the piers upwards. This
was the first major upset of the time schedule. By February 1963 the
gable and the copper roof to the nave was complete, despite the bitter
cold which had suspended much of the work. By May the decoration of the
Parish Hall was nearing completion and by July the four turret domes
looked resplendent in lead with their copper finials, two of which are
renovated originals. The new eastern face of the tower was emerging
from scaffolding and we began to appreciate the beauty of Arthur
Bailey's restoration. By the time the mosaics were repaired and washed
with a solution of spirits of salts and the apse ceiling was assembled
in its five panels, the new atmosphere of the resurrected Church of St.
George-in-the-East was beginning to instil awe and reverence among
visitors and the congregation.
And so to April 26th - the date of the Re-dedication.
God's House is now completely restored. The utmost thought and care have been devotedly lavished on its construction. Within its walls family life, social service, the cultivation of talent and the practice of prayer - in fact Worship in all its forms will be expressed. It is ready for the new Stepney growing out of the ruins to value and care for it. It also has a wider appeal beyond the parochial boundary.
Already the Hall is in great demand. It has the natural assets of theatre and concert hall; here theatre can be performed formally, in the round and by using the gallery as stage, with an eastern atmosphere or in the mood of the mystery plays against a setting of fascinating arches and inner shapes of the vaulted ceiling beyond.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra, under the conductorship of Jascha Horenstein, used the well of the Hall for rehearsal early in March and booked five dates.
The Education Authorities are planning to use the hall for drama and music on festival occasions for young and old. The London Federation of Boys Clubs has come to regard the hall and stage as their home for theatre and arts and crafts. West End theatre producers find excellent facilities for rehearsal here too. Arts and Crafts examinations are assessed and Exhibitions staged. Amateur sporting occasions are held. The local young and old are learning to play musical instruments within the walls of St. George's.
It is developing as an Arts Centre. Monthly recitals of music are held during the winter season. Religious drama naturally finds a place.
visitor to Hawksmoor's
historic building is greeted by a vista upon entering the drive. The
eye travels up the drive, across the rotunda, through the portico,
across the courtyard, through the west window to the altar standing
well forward and resplendent against the apse, restored as of old, with
the muted tones of the mosaic panels and the crowning glory of the
ceiling. [drawing by J.D. Harvey, left]
The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the
and in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of Hosts.