You can see the tower of St Anne’s, Limehouse from afar — it was built to be seen from the Thames with its great clock, as shown in Walter Besant’s East End:
but now you mostly see it as a wayfarer along the DLR:
Me, working here now, walking these streets to know them, I have seen it from many other angles because I know to look, always it comes into view between buildings. Here looking to the north from Ropemaker’s Fields alongside the basin, a rare open view:
Here looking to the west:
But reading the writings of its former Rector in Limehouse Through Five Centuries, it was extraordinary to see how it once stood tall above everything:
It is this grandeur that it has lost, that makes more sense of its occult status granted it by Iain Sinclair in Lud Heat:
The old maps present a skyline dominated by church towers; those horizons were differently punctured, so that the subservience of the grounded eye, and the division of the city by parish, was not disguised. Moving now on an eastern arc the churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor soon invade the consciousness, the charting instinct. Eight churches give us the enclosure, the shape of the fear; – built for early century optimism, erected over a fen of undisclosed horrors, white stones laid upon the mud and dust. In this air certain hungers were activated that have yet to be pacified; no turning back, as Yeats claims: “the stones once set up traffic with the enemy.”
In turn Peter Ackroyd used this as his inspiration for Hawksmoor, possibly my favourite of his books:
I make no Mencion that in each of my Churches I put a Signe so that he who sees the Fabrick may see also the Shaddowe of the Reality of which it is the Pattern or Figure. Thus, in the church of Lime-house, the nineteen Pillars in the Aisles will represent the Names of Baal-Berith, the seven Pillars of the Chappell will signify the Chapters of his Covenant. All those who wish to know more of this may take up Clavis Salomonis… (45)
Willing as I am to step into a world of dark imagination, St Anne’s eclipses these words really. I have been inside after an interview with the Rector, explored the wonderful crypt and its treasures. I love this church:
I find the tower most beautiful from below, with angles and corners and symmetry outlined against sky:
Most of all I think, I love the approach from Newell Street, when you feel you have truly escaped into the past. These are the seventeen steps the old Rector thought would discourage those in shabby dress, but I find them lovely.
The beautiful grounds stand as a oasis along Commercial Road, along with the pyramid of moss green, the center of Ackroyd and Sinclairs occult murmurings:
Rumours say it was meant to sit on one of St Anne’s corners, one of four pyramids to have been crafted and placed there. There is no way now that you can see the church as a whole as in this print:
Though perhaps it was never properly seen like this at all beyond the artists’s imagination. Nowadays, with Canary Wharf just along down the road, I have to really stretch to see this as a corner of evil, feel that perhaps the only ‘horrors’ were the lives of the exploited working classes. It now stands as escape, as retreat — perhaps more seductive now than ever.
Most of the gravestones have been picked up, moved to skirt the edges and surround the living with memories of the dead to make of this an open green space of the kind that now fill London. And London is most grateful for them in Fall.
And then again in Spring, when they fill with flowers: