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history of christ church

History of Christ Church

A History Of Braemar Shipping Services' London Headquarters

Christ Church was built between 1822 and 1824, and was consecrated in 1825.

It appears to have been built originally as a chapel of ease and did not become a Parish Church until sometime later. At that time the district was fashionable and located right on the edge of the countryside.

The principal architect was Thomas Hardwick (1752 - 1829) who was the pupil of Sir William Chambers. He designed several other churches including St Mary the Virgin in Wanstead (1790) and the Parish Church of St. Marylebone (1813-1817).

In 1810 George III appointed Hardwick resident architect at Hampton Court, a position he retained until his death. Christ Church was completed under the supervision of his younger son Philip Hardwick, who became an important architect in his own right.

Christ Church is a fairly simple building and this was reflected in its construction cost, which at 18,804 was roughly a quarter of the cost needed to build the nearby Parish Church of St. Marylebone. The principal building material is brick, with Bath Stone for the door and window surrounds. The eastern salient is the most striking aspect, being constructed of Portland stone and given added dignity by the ionic portico and giant columns.

The church follows the roman pattern with a long central aisle and two side aisles. It is probable that the altar was originally located at the western end of the church and relocated to the customary east end by Sir Arthur Bloomfield some years later. This architect is also credited with modifying the doorway and porch in the northwest corner, and, in 1885, with arranging the fine balustrade that surrounds the gallery.

The paintings at the east end are by W. Cave Thomas who was born 1820 in Marylebone and devoted himself to fresco painting from 1839 onwards. The large lunettes on the east wall above the cornice, 'The Distribution Of Miraculous Gifts' and a 'Transfiguration' in the arched niche above the east entrance date to 1867. Below this the scheme is divided by Corinthian pilasters into five bays, three on the east wall and one on each of the north and south walls. Each bay is divided into two registers, the upper consisting of a shallow arched niche flanked by decorative marouflage inserts in a classical/renaissance style, and small roundels depicting symbols of passion. The bays of the lower register divided from the upper by a dado rail, each contain a central marouflage painting depicting one of the evangelists – though that of St. John is now missing.

Over the course of time a number of the other adornments have been lost. There used to be three bells in the tower tuned to F, D and A constructed in 1824, 1844 and 1865. An organ, constructed in 1825 used to stand on the south side of what is now the reception area, while on the north side was a fine pulpit by Bloomfield. The pulpit was constructed of white marble and the sides were divided into panels, each filled with coloured stones. Many of these including onyx and lapis lazuli were stolen over the years, and now even the pulpit has gone, though Bloomfield’s much less ornate font still remains. The wrought iron railings, which separate the existing reception area from the main floor, are the original altar rails.

Many of the original windows have also been lost. However a good few stained glass windows do remain, including a pictorial nativity in the south elevation which is believed to date from about 1865 and two windows in the north elevation dedicated to Anne Blessley are dated 1881/82. Other windows have been replaced with machine-made, tinted, cathedral glass.

Though the church was originally supported by a relatively prosperous local congregation, the next hundred years saw enormous changes in the local environment. What was formerly open countryside was soon overtaken by development, and the character of the district changed forever, though the church tower and cupola still dominate the local area. From the 1960s, Christ Church went into decline. It stood empty for many years because the congregation had dwindled and the building needed very expensive repairs. It was finally declared redundant in 1978. The roof leaked, walls were peeling, dry rot infested the timber, and pictures were decaying. For some time the galleries were used as a workshop and storage room by an organ builder, but apart from this the building stood empty and everything deteriorated.

Eventually in 1987 the building was taken over by a company, which planned to turn it into an art market called the Hardwick Centre. Divided into small boutiques, it was designed to allow dealers to display their antiques in an unusual setting. Extensive restoration was carried out to the highest standards, and the lead roof was completely stripped and replaced with new lead. Inside, the beautiful ceiling was restored and the crypt was cleared and sandblasted so it became an impressive range of brick arches, with a domed octagonal room below the belfry. The tiers were removed from the gallery to create a more useable area. However before the work was completed, the company ceased trading and once again the building stood empty while debts mounted.

Eventually the building was taken over by the Aspen Group, which discovered that the fabric had again deteriorated, and dry rot had returned. Yet another expensive restoration was necessary before the building could be used for offices and studios.

The Braemar Group purchased the building from Aspen in August 1998 and carried out extensive refurbishment and redecoration. Meeting rooms, dining rooms and a modern kitchen have been installed while retaining the original features of the building. The ornate ceiling and every room and passage from the ground level up have been repainted and new lighting has been installed to meet up-to-date requirements. In addition a new air conditioning system has been introduced to provide a pleasant working environment and to stabilise the fabric of the building.

The building is now Listed Grade 2, which defines it as being of particular interest. A rolling programme of care and maintenance is in progress with some of the stained glass windows undergoing renovation by specialists. Now into the 21st century, the current owners are determined to preserve this important part of our heritage.


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