“Saint George’s Fields are fields no more…”*

*from “Rejected Addresses” (1812), by James and Horace Smith.

I’m in Southwark today. In the area once known as St George’s Fields, the Romans had one of their summer camps; in winter, the greater part of them (Lambeth Marsh, the part lying closest to the Thames) was under water.

St George’s Fields were named after the adjacent church of St George the Martyr: the present church is the third to have stood on the site since Norman times. The surviving wall of the Marshalsea Prison adjoins the north side of the churchyard.

John Noorthouck (1732-1816), topographer of London, foresaw in 1773 that the erection of Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges would lead to the building over of the Fields, and in the next couple of decades streets and terraces sprang up there. Several charitable institutions were attracted by the pleasant and open aspect of the neighbourhood and the moderate price of the land.

In my post of 30/5/19, I noted that the Priory of Our Lady of Bethlehem was founded in the City of London in 1247. From its location in Bishopsgate Without (on the site of Liverpool Street Station), the mediaeval hospital moved to Moorfields in 1676, and from there, in 1815, to St George’s Fields. Though much truncated, it is the largest remaining of the buildings originally erected in the Fields.

The main part of the institution remained in Southwark until after the 1914-18 war, when the Governors decided to build new premises in rural surroundings. The removal to Monks Orchard was sanctioned by Act of Parliament in 1926.

The freehold of the old site was purchased by Viscount Rothermere in 1930 and vested in the London County Council for the formation of a public open space, to be known as the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in memory of his mother.

The side wings and some other parts of the building were demolished. The central portion of the front, with the dome looking disproportionately high above it, and the rear galleries were leased to the Commissioners of Works to house the Imperial War Museum. The building was opened to the public in 1936.

Just across Lambeth Road, SE1, and on the corner of St George’s Road, lies the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St George, the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark. By 1848, a recent wave of Irish immigration in the area had driven the construction of a larger house of worship than the small chapel on London Road (and before that, a house in Bandyleg Walk) previously used by the local Catholic community. It was raised to cathedral status in 1852.

The original grand scheme of Augustus Pugin (born 1812; converted to Catholicism aged 22; died at the age of 40) was rejected as too expensive. A competition was held in 1839 which Pugin won and the current, more modest, plan was accepted, being dictated by the restricted site (there was formerly a built up road immediately to the north).

Fifteen minutes’ walk via Blackfriars Road brings me to my appointed destination in Nelson Square to hear Dr Kenneth Wright, a psychoanalyst in practice near Ipswich, deliver his paper, “Body and Soul”. It’s a rich presentation, leaning towards Jung and Winnicott. Dr Wright reflects on subjective development, creativity and the therapeutic process, and quotes at length from WB Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium”, with its concluding stanza:

“Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.”.

Jonathan Jones on Byzantine art:

“This art is mystical: it is not a storytelling art so much as a spur to meditation on dreamlike spiritual forms.”.

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