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Authors: Peter Ackroyd

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Hawksmoor

BOOK: Hawksmoor
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Hawksmoor
Peter Ackroyd

In recent years serial killer novels and films have become something of a cliche. It's a genre which has been done to death with only a few works standing above the herd. So Hawksmoor was a very refreshing change. A novel set in London, with two threads, one in the 1800's and one in contemporary times. The novel opens in the period following the Great Fire of London, with one Nicholas Dyer, an assistant surveyor in scotland yard who eventually becomes an apprentice to Christopher Wren. He is commissioned to rebuilt the lost churches of London. In the present we are introduced to a series of characters, including a young boy and a vagrant, whose stories are painted with a lavish brush, before we meet the eponymous hero of the novel.

Hawksmoor is the detective investigating a series of serial killings, located in the vicinity of a number of churches across London. It is here that the various sub plots are brought together, the story centring on Hawksmoor attempts at unravelling the mystery.

All the while the story of Dyer's architectural plans and the rebuilding of London unravel simultaneously. His true character is gradually exposed, revealing unexpected connections between the two disparate storylines.

The conclusion of the novel is both unexpected and uncomfortable, a brilliant conclusion to a work with a great psychological presence. Ackroyd brings the personalities of his characters to the fore, places them in a lushly drawn backdrop, and shows the story through their eyes.

One of the most impressive things about the novel is the way Ackroyd treats the serial killer storyline, keeping it very much in the background, shown only through the eyes of the characters and the ensuing investigation. It never dominates the proceedings, and Ackroyd instead concentrates his energy on exploring the eighteenth century events that hold a key to the present day. It is both chilling and filled with an aura of corruption, a reinvention of history and a fresh look at the present through the eyes of history.

It has been a while since I have read a novel this satisfying, an enthralling story on all levels with an ending that stays with you long after you've finished it.

Peter Ackroyd

 

Hawksmoor

For Giles Gordon

 

Thus in 1711, the ninth year of the reign of Queen Anne, an Act of Parliament was passed to erect seven new Parish Churches in the Cities of London and Westminster, which commission was delivered to Her Majesty's Office of Works in Scotland Yard. And the time came when Nicholas Dyer, architect, began to construct a model of the first church. His colleagues would have employed a skilled joiner to complete such a task, but Dyer preferred to work with his own hands, carving square windows in miniature and cutting steps out of the clean deal: each element could be removed or taken to pieces, so that those of an enquiring temper were able to peer into the model and see the placing of its constituent parts. Dyer took his scale from the plans he had already drawn up and, as always, he used a small knife with a piece of frayed rope wrapped around its ivory handle. For three weeks he laboured over this wooden prototype and, as by stages he fitted the spire upon the tower, we may imagine the church itself rising in Spitalfields. But there were six other churches to be built also, and once again the architect took his short brass rule, his pair of compasses, and the thick paper which he used for his draughts. Dyer worked swiftly with only his assistant, Walter Pyne, for company while, on the other side of the great city, the masons shouted to each other as they hewed out of rough stone the vision of the architect. This is the vision we still see and yet now, for a moment, there is only his heavy breathing as he bends over his papers and the noise of the fire which suddenly flares up and throws deep shadows across the room.

Part One

AND SO let us beginne; and, as the Fabrick takes its Shape in front of you, alwaies keep the Structure intirely in Mind as you inscribe it. First, you must measure out or cast the Area in as exact a Manner as can be, and then you must draw the Plot and make the Scale. I have imparted to you the Principles of Terrour and Magnificence, for these you must represent in the due placing of Parts and Ornaments as well as in the Proportion of the several Orders: you see, Walter, how I take my Pen? And here, on another Sheet, calculate the positions and influences of the Celestiall Bodies and the Heavenly Orbs, so that you are not at a Loss on which Dayes to begin or to leave off your Labours. The Désigne of the Worke, together with every several Partition and Opening, is to be drawne by straightedge and compass: as the Worke varies in rising, you must show how its Lines necessarily beare upon one another, like the Web which the Spider spins in a Closet; but, Walter, do this in black lead and not in inke -1 do not trust your Pen so far as yet.

At this Walter Pyne hangs down his Head in a sullen Manner, as if he was like to have been Whipp'd at the Cart's Tail, and I could not refrain my self from bursting out in Laughter. Walter was apt to be of a Morose and Sullen cast of Mind, and so to Cheer him I lean'd forward across the Table and gave him Inke readily-see, says I, what I will risk to keep you Merry? And now you are not so vex'd please continue: draw the erect elevation of this Structure in face or front, then the same object elevated upon the same draught and centre in all its optical Flexures. This you must distinguish from the Profile, which is signifyed by edging Stroaks and Contours without any of the solid finishing: thus a book begins with a frontispiece, then its Dedication, and then its Preface or Advertisement. And now we come to the Heart of our Désigne: the art of Shaddowes you must know well, Walter, and you must be instructed how to Cast them with due Care. It is only the Darknesse that can give trew Formed to our Work and trew Perspective to our Fabrick, for there is no Light without Darknesse and no Substance without Shaddowe (and I turn this Thought over in my Mind: what Life is there which is not a Portmanteau of Shaddowes and Chimeras?). I build in the Day to bring News of the Night and of Sorrowe, I continued, and then I broke off for Walter's sake: No more of this now, I said, it is by the by. But you'll oblige me, Walter, to draw the Front pritty exact, this being for the Engraver to work from. And work trewe to my Design: that which is to last one thousand years is not to be praecipitated.

I had a violent Head-ach and, altho' there was only a small fire in the Closet, I was feeling unnaturall hot and walk'd out into Scotland-Yard; I knew that others imployed in the Office might stare at me, for I am an Object of Ridicule to them, and so I hasten'd my Steps to the Wood yards next the Wharfe where, since the Work men were at their Dinner, I might walk silent and unseen. This being the middle of Winter, and a strong Wind blown up, the River was pretty high for this spot and the Water was at times like to start a second Deluge while, on the Side opposite, the Feilds were quite darken'd as if in a Mist. And then of a sudden I could hear snatches of Song and confus'd Conversation; I whipp'd about, for in no wise could I ascertain where these Sounds came from, until I comforted my self with the Thought that it was the Wherry from Richmond which even then came into my View. So my Perceptions followed one another, and yet all this while my Thoughts were running on my seven Churches and were thus in quite another Time: like a Voyager I am confin'd in my Cabbin while yet dreaming of my Destination. And then, as I stand looking upon the River and the Feilds, I Blot them out with my Hand and see only the Lines upon my Palm.

I walk'd back to the Office, thinking to find Walter engag'd upon the Generall Plan and Upright, but I saw him lolling upon his Stool by the Chimney-Corner, gazing into the Fire as if he saw Strange Visions in the Coles and looking as melancholly as a Female Wretch does upon a Smith-Feild Pile. I trod softly to the Table and saw there one Draught half-made in inke and black lead. Well this is good for Nothing you impudent Rogue, said I, come here and see. And Walter in confusion rose from the Fire rubbing his Eyes, and would as like have rubb'd out his Face if he could. Look here Master Pyne, I continu'd, I do not like the jetting out of the Pillars after I instructed you to shew Pilasters there: and also here the Portal is near three feet out. Are you so wooden-headed that I must teach you Feet and Inches? Walter thrust his Hands into his Breeches and mutter'd so that I could not hear him.

And are you in such a Brown Study, I told him, that you cannot answer me?

I was sitting on my Stool, says he, and thinking on a Subject.

You will have Stools, Sir, when I beat them from your Arse. Then 1 went on: And in your Thought did you bring off any Conclusions?

I was thinking on Sir Christopher, and I was considering our new Church of Spittle-Fields.

And what does a green-head say of these Matters? (I do not give a Fart for Sir Chris, says I secretly to my self)

Master, says Walter, We have built near a Pitte and there are so vast a Number of Corses that the Pews will allwaies be Rotten and Damp.

This is the first Matter. The second Matter is this: that Sir Chris, thoroughly forbids all Burrials under the Church or even within the Church-yard itself, as advancing the Rottennesse of the Structure and unwholesome and injurious for those who worship there. Then he scratch'd his Face and look'd down at his dusty Shooes.

This is a weak little Thing to take up your contemplations, Walter, I replied. But he gaz'd up at me and would not be brought off, so after a Pause I continu'd: I know Sir Chris, is flat against Burrialls, that he is all for Light and Easinesse and will sink in Dismay if ever Mortality or Darknesse shall touch his Edifices. It is not reasonable, he will say, it is not natural. But, Walter, I have instructed you in many things and principally in this -I am not a slave of Geometricall Beauty, I must build what is most Sollemn and Awefull. Then I changed my Tack: from what Purse are we building these Churches, Walter?

From the Imposicion on Coles.

And are the Coles not the blackest Element, which with their Smoak hide the Sunne?

Certainly they feed the Fires of this City, says he.

And where is the Light and Easinesse there? Since we take our Revenues from the Under-world, what does it Signifie if we also Build upon the Dead?

There was a Noise in the adjoining Chamber (it is two Rooms struck into one, and thus has more of an Eccho), a Noise like to someone's quick Steps and I broke off my Discourse as Sir Chris, walk'd in, accouter'd as the Boys that run with the Gazette -Hat under Arm, and Breathless, and yet despite his Age not so corpulent neither. Walter rose up in a fright and spilt the Inke upon his Draught (which was no great Loss), but Sir Chris, did not perceive anything of this and stepp'd up to me wheezing like an old Goat. Master Dyer, says he, the Commission are expecting your Report on the New Churches: if it be not done already get it done now, since they are in great Hast- -Hast is for Fools, I murmur'd beneath my Breath.

And your Church in the Spittle-Fields, is it near complete?

It needs only the Lead on the Portico.

Well make hast to buy it now, since Lead is under 9L a tun but in a fair way to go up by next month. And then Sir Chris, stood biting his under-lip like an Infant without his Toy or a Wretch at the Foot of the Gallows. And the other Churches, he asks after a Pause, are they well advanc'd?

I have fixed on their Situacon, I replied, and three already are being Laid.

I must have exact Plans of the Buildings as they stand at present, says he, and you must press the Joyner to build severall Moddells The Modells are of my own devising, Sir Christopher.

What you will, Master Dyer, what you will. And he waved at my Draughts with inexpressible Weariness before he departed, leaving the Mustiness of his Wig behind him. When I was young and vigorous, and first in his Service, I composed some verses on Sir Chris.: The Globe's thy Studye; for thy restless Mind In a less limit cannot be confin'd.

 

Thy Portrait I admire: thy very lookes

 

Shew Wren is read in Farts as well as Books.

He that shall scan this Face may judge by it, Thou hast an Head peece that is throng'd with Shit.

But this was in another Time. Now I call'd out to Walter who linger'd in the Paymaster's Closet until Sir Chris, be gone. Did I tell you, says I when he returned to me, of the story of Nestor? And Walter shook his Head. Nestor, I continu'd, was the inventor of Mechanick Power, which is now so cryed up, and once he designed an Edifice of Gracefull Form but which was so finely contriv'd that it could bear only its own Weight. And Walter nodded sagely at this. It fell down, Master Pyne, with no other Pressure than the setting of a Wren on top of it. And he lets out a Laugh, which stops as short as it was begun like the Bark of a Dogge.

Walter is of a reserv'd Disposition and speaks little, but this is of no matter since it is a Temper like to my own. And be pleased to take a Scetch of his Figure as follows: He wears an old Coat with odd Buttons and a Pair of Trowsers patched in Leather so that he is all of a pickle.

His awkward Garb and his odd Trim (as they call it in the Office) make him an Object of Humour: Master Dyer's Gentleman, they call him.

But this is a fitting Title since thus can I mould him as the Baker moulds the Dough before he pops it in the Oven: I have turn'd him into a proper Scholar, and steer'd him safe among the Books which lie in his way. I acquainted him with certain Prints of the Aegyptian Obelisks, and advised him to studdy them well and copy them; I instructed him in my own Scriptures -in Aylet Sammes his Britannia Antiqua lllustrata, in Mr Baxter's Book Concerning the Certainty of the World of Spirits, in Mr Cotton Mather his Relations of the Wonders of the Invisible World and many other such, for this is fit Reading for one who wishes to become a thoro' Master. The Length of my necessary Instructions is too great to compleat here but there were four things I taught Walter to consider: 1) That it was Cain who built the first City, 2) That there is a true Science in the World called Scientia Umbrarum which, as to the publick teaching of it, has been suppressed but which the proper Artificer must comprehend, 3) That Architecture aims at Eternity and must contain the Eternal Powers: not only our Altars and Sacrifices, but the Forms of our Temples, must be mysticall, 4) That the miseries of the present Life, arid the Barbarities of Mankind, the fatall disadvantages we are all under and the Hazard we run of being eternally Undone, lead the True Architect not to Harmony or to Rationall Beauty but to quite another Game. Why, do we not believe the very Infants to be the Heirs of Hell and Children of the Devil as soon as they are disclos'd to the World? I declare that I build my Churches firmly on this Dunghil Earth and with a full Conception of Degenerated Nature.

I have only room to add: there is a mad-drunken Catch, Hey ho! The Devil is dead! If that be true, I have been in the wrong Suit all my Life.

But to return to the Thread of this History. Sir Chris, presses hard at our Heels, says I to Walter, and we must make an Account to the Commission: I will dictate it to you now and you must fair-write it later. And I clear my Throat, savoring the Blood in my Mouth. To the Honble. The Commission for Building Seven New Churches in the Cities of London and Westminster. Dated: 13 January 1712, from the Office of Works, Scotland Yard. Sirs, in obedience to your orders, I most humbly submit my Account, having been instructed by Sir Xtofer Wren, Surveyor to Her Majesty's Works, to have such Churches quite in my Charge. The weather being mighty favourable, there has been great forwardness in carrying on the New Church in Spittle-Fields. The masonry of the West End is now intirely com- pleated and the Portico is to be covered with Lead presently. The Plaistering is pretty forward, and withinne a month I shall send instructions for the Gallery and Inside furnishing. The Tower is advancing and has been carried up about Fifteen foot higher since my last account of it. (And my own tumbling Thought upon this Topick goes as follows: I will have one Bell only since too much Ringing disturbs the Spirits.) Of the other Churches it has been given into my Commission to build: the New Church at Limehouse is advanc'd as high as necessary for the season and it will be for the advantage of that Work to stop for the Present. This figure shewes half the outside of the Building -you will inclose it, Walter, will you not? -designed after a plain manner to be performed most with Ashler. I have added thin Pilasters to the walls, which are easily performed in rendering upon Brick-worke. I have given the ancient formed of Roofe which the experience of all Ages hath found the surest, noe other is to be trusted without doubling the thicknesse of the walles. When the Mason has sent me his Draughts, I will give you a carefull estimate of the charge, and returne you again the originall Désignes, for in the handes of the workemen they will soon be soe defaced that they will not be able from them to pursew the Work to a Conclusion. This for the Church at Limehouse. The foundation of the Wapping New Church is carryed up as high as the Ground and ready to receive such sort of fabrick as I inclose draughts and Plans for. This for the Church at Wapping. We desire the honorable Board will be pleased to direct the covering of these respective Fabricks, and that the Ground therein to be walled in with Brick in order to hinder the Rabble and idle Mobb from getting in and finding ways to do continual Mischief. And then add this, Walter: In obedience to your Orders I have survey'd four other Parrishes mencioned and Sites for Churches; and which said Parrishes and Sites are humbly offered as followeth, viz And here, Walter, make precise the Situacions of St Mary Woolnoth, the New Churches in Blooms bury and Greenwich, and the Church of Little St Hugh in Black Step Lane.

That stinking Alley close by the Moor-Fields?

Write it down as Black Step Lane. And then end thus: All which is most humbly submitted by your most humble Servant to command.

BOOK: Hawksmoor
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