St John Westminster - The Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks

St John Westminster

• St John's, Smith Square is in the middle of Smith Square, Westminster. Sold to a charitable Trust as a ruin following firebombing in the Second World War, it was restored, the internal layout altered somewhat, and is now used as a concert hall.

• This grade I listed church was designed by Thomas Archer and was completed in 1728. His architectural output was small - including some work at Chatsworth; Roehampton House (now part of Queen Mary's Hospital); St. Philip's Church, Birmingham (now the Cathedral) and St Paul's Church, Deptford. However, the original - not to say idiosyncratic - personal style, which is the hallmark of St John’s, distinguishes all of his work. While his contemporaries included Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, Archer's style owes most to the Italian influences he experienced on his Grand Tour, primarily that of Borromini.

• It is regarded as one of the finest works of English Baroque architecture, and features four corner towers and monumental broken pediments. It is often referred to as 'Queen Anne's Footstool' because as legend has it, when Archer was designing the church he asked the Queen what she wanted it to look like. She kicked over her footstool and said 'Like that!' giving rise to the building's four corner towers. The towers were, in fact, added to stabilise the building against subsidence.

• For the next 213 years, the Church of St. John the Evangelist served the surrounding parish - although the life of the building appears somewhat accident-prone. In 1742 (the year before Archer's death) its interior was damaged by fire and required extensive restoration; in 1773 it was struck by lightning and in 1815 the towers and roof had to be shored up. Finally on 10 May 1941, the church was directly hit by an incendiary bomb and gutted by fire during a bombing raid on London. A handwritten account of the events of that night hangs in a frame at the top of the stairs leading from the rear of the hall down to the Crypt (now the Footstool Restaurant). Subsequently, the church stood a ruin; open to the sky, for over 20 years.

• The building was saved by the determination and dedication of Lady Parker of Waddington, commemorated by a plaque on the South wall of the hall. She formed the Friends of St John's in 1962 to raise money and restore the church to its former splendour using Thomas Archer's original design and for use as a concert hall. Since its rebirth as a concert venue, St John's, Smith Square has come to be regarded internationally as one of London's major concert halls. It’s fine acoustic is suitable for nearly all forms of music and its versatility in terms of space enables it to accommodate a wide range of music without losing its special atmosphere of elegant intimacy.

• The Crypt of the Church can be reached from the hall via stairs from the main portico steps or via the spiral staircase towards the rear of the hall. This part of the building was not damaged by the wartime bombing, so the brickwork is the original 18th century. Unlike other notable churches of the period (for example Christ Church, Spitalfields, whose crypt was excavated by archaeologists in the 1980s yielding much information about the 18th-century inhabitants of the parish), the crypt of St. John's was never used for burials. In fact, for most of the 18th and 19th centuries, the space was let for storage of wines and beer.

• The church's burial ground is situated in Horseferry Road adjacent to the former Westminster Hospital buildings. The site is now designated St. John's Gardens and the remaining grave-slabs much eroded by time and the elements are arranged around the perimeter of the garden.


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