The Watts Church Crawl (Part the 23rd) Mansion House

Mansion House station is a somewhat unremarkable station: nothing of any huge historic note has happened here, no one has been notably blown up or murdered in the left luggage office. It has simply trundled along competently since its opening in 1871 as part of the MDR.
Architecturally the building is not without note: the entrance was designed by Charles Holden, the well known civic architect, who designed quite a few of the later tube stations, and also 55 Broadway, home to St. James’ Park Station, and the headquarters of what is now Transport for London. He also designed the Senate Building for the University of London, and lots of other things as well.
Our church is, of course, Wren’s triumph: St. Paul’s Cathedral. I am not going to dwell too much on it, to be perfectly honest. There are plenty of very good articles and books about it, and I would be here all month if I tried. I would like to draw attention, however, to something which is not there any more, which is the reredos designed by Bodley & Garner. It was very high, both in dimensions and churchmanship, and the cathedral never really  took to it. Consequently, when it sustained some slight war damage, it was dismantled for safety, and most of it was lost. The Madonna at the top lived in a transept for a time, as did the Cross in the opposite transept. Your author does not currently know the whereabouts of either.
A wonderful example of thought about the reredos is expressed by Augustus Hare:

‘The sumptuous reredos, from the designs of Messrs. Bodley and Garner, was finished in January 1888, at a cost of £37,000. It was affirmed that it is in accordance with the intentions of Wren, as expressed in the ‘Parentalia,’ but it is not likely that Wren would have wished forty feet at the beautiful east end of his church to be permanently cut off by a barricade 60 feet high: neither is this mass of marbles, angels, Latin inscriptions, doors leading nowhere, &c., in accordance either with his pure Roman or Palladian designs, or with his intentions as to where the altar should be placed.’


Ironically, more recent and measured research has shown that the reredos was far more in keeping with Wren’s thought, than the Gothic baldachino put in in 1958 by Stephen Dykes-Bower. But thought at that time was not entirely favourable towards Victoriana. Shanna Patton’s paper on the subject lays out the arguments very well.


Standing down the hill towards the river, from St. Paul’s, we see the new(ish) Salvation Army Headquarters. They have been here since 1881; the first building (a former billiard hall) was destroyed by bombing in 1941, and a new building replaced it in 1963, when the graveyard of St. Peter Lesser was discovered underneath the site, along with other archaeological finds.


This was replaced by the current building which was completed in 2005. The difference between the two buildings is marked: the 1960s building was very much of it’s time (as the current building is), with long, forbidding corridors, and many private rooms.



The new building is open, public, and filled with light. It could be thought of as being just another new build city of London building, all plate glass and steel, and from an objective point of view it is. But this tour is not about objectivity, you may be surprised to learn. What matters is what happens inside this plate glass building: the organisation attempting to erect, in bricks and mortar (alright, glass and steel), what they aim to be as a group: open, and transparent; which they have certainly achieved in the building.




Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.