David Snowdon, The Earl of Snowdon, Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s nephew, as new President of The Wren Project, is aiming to help raise £20 million to restore and rejuvenate the whole site. Here he shares why this special place must remain a vital and active part of the community serving a wider audience in this smart London neighbourhood, than one would imagine.
In 1684, King Charles II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to build a new church in St James’s, London. Now another Royal family member is taking an active role to secure the future of Wren’s jewel, which the architect himself named as his favourite commission, ahead even of St Paul’s.
A place of inspiration to artists, musicians, activists and the community at large for over three centuries, St James’s Church is where R.E.M and Adele performed early in their careers, where Tracy Emin and Martin Creed both made work, and abolitionist, Quobna Ottobah Cugoano was baptized.
The Earl of Snowdon, Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s nephew, as new President of The Wren Project, is aiming to help raise £20 million to restore and rejuvenate the whole site. Here he shares why this special place must remain a vital and active part of the community serving a wider audience in this smart London neighbourhood, than one would imagine.
Why is St James’s, a more modest church than others in London, so significant?
This special place has long been a home for visionaries – Sir Isaac Newton worshiped at St James’s, Handel played the great organ, gifted by King William III and Queen Mary II and it was in St James’s that the poet and artist William Blake was baptised in 1757. Generations of visitors over the centuries have enjoyed attending services and concerts, meeting in its unique courtyard, and finding peace in the historic interior and the green space of its garden.
Critically, today, the team serve 6,000 meals a month to people enduring homelessness, helping others with a further 6,000 hours a year with free counselling.
Funds from The Wren Project will support a carefully planned series of improvements and investments to extend the impact of this place.
Is this why you agreed to be President of The Wren Project?
I have been associated with St James’s for many years, not least through my time at Christie’s (where I have been Honorary Chairman since 2015). This Wren jewel is one of London’s most innovative and active community centres and the goal is to renew the site to serve the community now and in the future.
While this postcode is synonymous with art, finance, fashion and luxury, the community here faces significant and growing challenges, which this special place actively works to address. We want this space to continue to be an energetic centre of community, ambition, and change.
So, I’m honoured to join a long list of active parishioners, supporters and friends of St James’s who over the years have imagined the world to be different and worked hard to make it so.
The fund-raising will support a wide-ranging and innovative list of improvements from transforming the energy generation on the site to enhancement of the sustainability goals – St James’s was the first historic church in London to install solar panels on the roof, and the first church in London to achieve Gold Eco Church status in 2018.
They will also make the garden fully accessible for wheelchair users and to continue historic music connections, by investing in a new organ to be housed in the incomparable 17th century case carved by Grinling Gibbons coupled with a 10-year music scholarship programme as well as restore the leaking church tower, open a long disused South Door on Jermyn Street.
Is there anything that is particularly significant to you?
With my background in craftsmanship, I am particularly drawn to the marble work by the Anglo-Dutch artist Grinling Gibbons made in 1773. In addition, there will be a new home for the memorial to auction house founder, James Christie, recently moved from Euston to accommodate the HS2 rail project.
Any other thoughts?
This is not your average church restoration; we are serious about the impact that exceptional, public, sacred space can have when the focus in on transforming the lives of those who need it.
St James’s already changes lives. The team want to do much, much more. This is not simply a religious museum or even a place just for people who believe. This is public, historic, sacred space which has transformative social and environmental impact at its heart.
David Snowdon, The Earl of Snowdon was speaking to Cat Manson – Tutor for Artemisia at www.arthistoryabroad.com