Saint George’s Hanover Square in the Mayfair district of London was completed in 1724 to the design of John James and is one of the fifty churches planned by Queen Anne’s act of 1711. (Another famous church resulting from this act is Saint John’s Smith Square, now deconsecrated but famous for its musical life).
(A little snack before proceeding on my pilgrimage to Saint George)
Saint George has always held a special significance for me.
First, without it I wouldn’t be here to write this since my father, Harvey, was christened there on October 26th 1914 when his father was a coachman for the nobility of the area.
Second, it is the church Handel regularly worshipped at since it is just a few minutes’ walk from his house in Brook Street into which he moved in 1723. I’ve described this house a few times in my posts (see https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/from-handel-to-hendrix/) and also mentioned another illustrious musician who lived next door to Handel but two hundred years later (see https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/a-house-of-great-music/).
Handel also advised on the church’s first organ, together with some help from Lucchese composer Francesco Geminiani (see my post on him at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/lets-celebrate-francis-xaverio-geminiani/ ). Handel’s association with the church is celebrated annually by a festival in his honour.
Third, it is the church where we regularly used to go on Good Friday to listen to a performance of J.S Bach’s St Matthew passion, probably the greatest piece of music ever written.
Fourth, as befits its position in the centre of Mayfair, it has been the scene of many society weddings. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli married Mary Lewis here in 1839. Emma Hart married Sir William Hamilton here in 1791 (before she met Horatio Nelson, of course). The great Italian inventor of wireless telegraphy, Guglielmo Marconi, married Beatrice O’Brien here in 1905. Even an American president, Theodore Roosevelt, sealed the knot with Edith Carron here in 1886.
Most poignantly of all, however, it was here that in 1814 Percy Bysshe Shelley officially married his first wife, Harriet Westbrook. They’d been married secretly, eloping to Scotland in 1811. Harriet gave Shelley two children, Ianthe (1813-1876) and Charles (1814-1826), before committing suicide in 1816, aged 21, by throwing herself into Hyde Park’s Serpentine when Shelley had abandoned her for Mary Godwin, the future author of ‘Frankenstein’.
(London’s Serpentine where Harriet Shelley, néeWestbrook, committed suicide)
Harriet, who was a highly intelligent and beautiful girl (undeservedly vilified by some biographers) left this suicide note:
When you read this letr. I shall be no more an inhabitant of this miserable world. do not regret the loss of one who could never be anything but a source of vexation & misery to you all belonging to me. .. My dear Bysshe … if you had never left me I might have lived but as it is, I freely forgive you & may you enjoy that happiness which you have deprived me of… so shall my spirit find rest & forgiveness. God bless you all is the last prayer of the unfortunate Harriet S—
Shelley in some way was punished. He never legally managed to regain guardianship of his two children by Harriet and remained broken-hearted regarding this to the end of his short life in the bay of La Spezia.
Fifth, and on a happier note, St George has some magnificent Flemish stained glass, an authentic eighteenth interior look with its sets of stalls which form a little maze upstairs, a magnificent painting of the Last Supper by William Kent who, coincidentally when in Rome carried out paintings for Cardinal Ottoboni, the same Cardinal for which Handel wrote his early cantatas when he, also, was in Rome. Did the two ever meet I wonder?
William Kent became one of the major advocates of the Palladian style in England and designed and decorated such exquisite palaces as Kensington Palace, Chiswick House and, of course, Horse Guards parade in Whitehall.
Finally, Saint George’s has a very fine organ, rebuilt in 2012 by an American firm Richard Fowkes & Co. It’s a truly magnificent instrument (for organ aficionados see its web site at http://www.stgeorgeshanoversquare.org/history/The-Organ.html ) and I feel its celestial harmonies would bring solace to the ghosts of all those happy and less happy people who have had connections with Saint Georges.
It might even bring back those two cast-iron statues of pointers which guarded the entrance but were regrettably stolen some years ago!