The Caryatids of St Pancras New Church

Not far from St Pancras Old Church and the The Hardy Tree, which Jess and I visited almost a year ago, is St Pancras New Church, where I tubed it to (three stops on the Met line) on my lunchtime travels today.  
Old and New

What's so special about St Pancras New Church, you may wonder. Well, there's a lot going on along the Euston Road, where the church is sited. As well the architectural wonder that is the St Pancras Rennaisance Hotel, and The British Library and its sculpture-filled forecourt (see last excursion), there reside four huge, lovely ladies, standing sentinnel over the entrance to the crypt on the North side of the church. 
Caryatids on Euston Road
These impressive caryatids by John Charles Felix Rossi are made of terracotta, built up in sections, which you can clearly see (there are four, I think), around cast iron columns. The inspiration for the design of the church is the Ionic Temple of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis. 
The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheum, Athens 421–407 BC
It is said that the St Pancras figures lack the grace of the originals (one of which is in the British Museum). Due to an oversight, they were made too high and had to be truncated at the waist and are now midriffless!  A bit like Jesslessness but different.  Do not be alarmed!  This in no way detracts from their majesty, and standing underneath them in my lunch hour on one of London's busiest roads, I was really quite moved that I was able to come and gaze at something so wonderful, pretty close to the office.  They are a real feast for the eyes.  Besides, I didn't have time to go to Athens.  Not even a trusty black cab, determination and a brazen sense of adventure would have got me back from a jaunt like that in time.

The cornices of the caryatid porches are studded with lion heads

Unlike those on the Erechtheum, each caryatid holds a symbolic extinguished torch or an empty jug, appropriate for their positions above the entrances to the burial vault.  There is also a stone sarcophagus behind the figures in each porch. 
Much to my surprise and delight, I found four more caryatids on the South side of the church.


Incidentally, the church, built to the designs of father and son, William and Henry William Inwood, cost £89,296 - a tidy sum back in the early 1800's, making St Pancras the most expensive church to be built in London since the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral.
The church is one of the most important 19th century churches in England and is a Grade I listed building. However, because of its situation on Euston Road, it has become stained with pollution, and recent cleaning attempts have been unable to remove the staining of much of the Portland stone.
Some other interesting church facts...

The crypt, which extends the whole length of the church, was designed to contain 2,000 coffins (in 1838 the cost of a private vault was £110), but less than five hundred interments had taken place by 1854, when the practice was ended in all London churches. It served as an air-raid shelter in both world wars, and is now used as an art gallery.

The church tower is a larger version of the "Tower of the Winds", the water clock of Andronicus Cyrrhestes, and it contains a ring of eight bells hung for chiming.

Checking the time, I decided to take a quick peek inside the church.  I was glad I did.  The stained glass windows, designed by Clayton and Bell and installed in 1866 and 1880, are some of the loveliest I've seen.  I was alone, apart from a long-haired, elderly gentleman with a big beard, resting at the back of the church, and as he didn't look like he'd mind (or notice - I think he was asleep), I took a few snaps of the windows.

Time to go (about 15 mins ago). But......Jess, I have no willpower without you. Interesting sculpture alert!!

I came across a sculpture in the grounds of the church by Emily Young, a British sculptor with permanent installations in St Paul’s Churchyard, Kew Gardens and Salisbury Catherdral.  Although I didn't recognise the name, I realised I had seen her work, "Five Stone Angels", at St Paul's and an exhibition in Berkeley Square last year called, "The Metaphysics of Stone".  This is what's so great about getting about and about - it brings all the pieces together.

Emily Young has been described as the country's finest female stone sculptor, and her website is well worth a look.

Artist's Statement: Emily Young on The Metaphysics of Stone.

I like the way she works with a reverence for the ancient stone she carves (sourced from abandoned quarries), celebrating its natural imperfections and contours, and incorporating them into the final piece.  Gnarly pieces of rock are untouched but transformed into hair, flowing behind beautifully polished faces that emerge under the expert hand of the artist, and reveal the wonderful patterns, shapes and swirls and inner beauty of the rock itself.

"Sometimes I'll polish a piece of stone and it'll gradually show a semblance of water, or the night sky, or flames, or honeycomb, or feathers, or snakeskin, or clouds, or melting ice cream and I am delighted and surprised, charmed." —Emily Young, 2003

The piece at St Pancras New Church...

Plaque inscription:



  1. This is a stunning church, I was amazed by its beauty, this is what I call architecture, not the rubbish thats being built today, what would we have done without the Victorians ? I couldnt stop looking at it, well worth visiting it.Hope to go back to London soon, and will visit the church again.


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