I discovered this monster of a church when I was researching my book on Henry Bridges’ Microcosm as the great organ here is by Henry Bridges, the great organ maker of Georgian London.
It was the finest of the Commissioners’ Churches under an act of parliament passed in 1711 to create new parishes, mostly in regions where Anglican presence was weak. Queen Anne was a great promoter of new churches as a means of shoring up the state, as more people turned to Nonconformism, so the church is making a very clear statement about the state.
It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1714-19 but he had lots of trouble with funding for such a large building. He was one of he church commissioners, with Wren, Archer, and Vanbrugh. They were to build fifty new churches, but only managed twelve, of which six were by Hawksmoor. His later career was hampered by the cold period in the 1740s which caused food shortages, a decline in trade and the near absence of country house building.
It was carved out of Stepney parish, a region settled largely by Huguenots whose silk industry made the region famous. But they had their own church, so only attended for births, deaths and marriages so they had evidence of their existence. This led the church to have a strong evangelical element, which is suggested by two of the memorials in the porch, dedicated to priests who worked in the Holy Land.
The main entrance faces the busy Commercial Road, so also provides space for one of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain & Horse Trough drinking fountains which formerly had brass cups and a trough, now as many redundant items has been converted to a planter. Water fountains provided important reminders to people – especially the thirsty poor – that God is a source of the water of life, so was a powerful tool in evangelising.