Line of Sight

Fantastic. I have looooong wanted to talk about St Anne’s Church in Limehouse, – mainly because, in the churchyard, lies it my favourite piece of Grade II-listed builders’ rubble. It seems to have been shoehorned into every leyline in London and there are all sorts of psycho-geographical theories about it but ultimately it’s no one’s grave, didn’t come from Outer Space and, as far as I know, there’s nothing sinister buried under it. It’s just a roof decoration that never got used.

That doesn’t stop it being a wonderfully creepy thing, even in brilliant sunshine, and c’mon – it’s a pyramid. And it was left by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Yeah, okay, stick it in those ley-lines after all.

But I digress. I couldn’t include St Anne’s because, apart from the obvious Hawskmoor thing, I couldn’t find any link direct enough with Greenwich to justify it. It’s the kind of lovely quirky thing for which I occasionally envy London bloggers who haven’t set themselves such narrow parameters.

I can’t even remember what I was googling yesterday when I came across St Anne’s Wikipedia page and read this:

There is a link to Greenwich time at the top of the tower: a weight falls when a signal comes from Greenwich (line of sight).

Yay! An excuse…

You can just about see the golden ball at the top of the tower in the picture above. Apparently St Anne’s has close connections with the Royal Navy – the rector is Honorary Chaplain to the Navy.  It was granted the right to carry the White Ensign as a landmark (and so the ships’ captains could record any births, marriages or deaths). Most places permitted to fly the White Ensign can only do so on special occasions, but St Anne’s is allowed to carry it at all times.

The clock is the highest church clock in London, built for the shipping on the Thames. It used to chime every quarter of the hour, but is now just hourly. I still can’t tell whether the ball was just a marker for ships, or whether, like the Timeball at Greenwich, it drops. The Wikipedia entry suggests this, but there’s no mention of balls dropping (oh, honestly…) on the official St Anne’s site.

The Wikipedia site mentions ‘line of sight’ – which implies that the curate would have had to climb to the top of the tower with a telescope once a day to watch for the Greenwich signal. A very inaccurate line I’ve drawn on this old map reveals it’s a good job that BBC pips and automatic clocks were invented; it goes straight through Canary Wharf these days:


the attachments to this post:

observatory to limehouse
observatory to limehouse

St Annes Limehouse low
St Annes Limehouse low

pyramid low
pyramid low


10 Comments to “Line of Sight”

  1. Paul says:

    Thanks for this. You can’t beat a good photo of a pyramid early in the morning.

    Now I’m off to roll up me trouser legs and practise funny handshakes.

  2. Old China says:

    I’m going to vary the route of my cycle home tonight just to see this amazing object.

  3. There’s a very cute street just outside the main gate, Old China, Newell Street – all cobbles and loveliness. Cycle back along the North Thames Path from Narrow Street. Fab.

  4. Harriet says:

    Well you learn something new everyday. I noticed the church with the white ensign when coming to Greenwich last week on the DLR and wondered why/and what church and now I know. Thank you TGP for adding to my knowledge.

  5. South Coast Man says:

    “Well you learn something new everyday”

    Harriet -
    you can learn a lot about Greenwich’s history on this site. Did you know that another connection that St Anne’s Limehouse has with Greenwich is that the classical columns that form the top of the spire at Limehouse were in fact Hawksmoor’s original design for our parish church, St Alfege’s. He didn’t get to top off St Alfege’s (his first church) because the Commissioners of the project wouldn’t pay for a steeple at Greenwich.
    If you have queries about Greenwich history, or anything about Greenwich, a search here will often provide the answer – the Phantom and the regular posters here are, between them, incredibly knowledgable.

  6. I always thought that was St Georges in the East?

  7. South Coast Man says:

    Ah… now that you say that… (coughs)
    Ahem – Harriet
    listen to the Phantom, she’s rarely wrong

  8. Benedict says:

    One of Hawksmoor’s best I always thought. I have a great pic of a sign outside St Mary Woolnorth in the city saying “We will be closed over Christmas”?

  9. Bad Witch says:

    Ooh I must visit there some time!