site unseen The caryatids, St Pancras New Church, London

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The Independent Online
Most people have travelled along Euston Road, London, either by car, bus or taxi. The traffic is horrendous, and the noise, dirt, smell, together with outbreaks of road rage are even worse. All in all, it's an experience to be endured rather than treasured.

It is, therefore, easy to miss the fine church which stands diagonally across from Euston station. Large, imposing, and built in the Greek Revival style in the early 19th century, here is St Pancras New Church. Which immediately prompts the question, where is the Old Church? This is to be found to the north of St Pancras railway station.

Much of this area is owned by the Bedford family - hence the plethora of street names such as Woburn and Tavistock - who developed their land in the 1820s and 1830s. The prosperous new residents moving into the delightful squares naturally wanted their own neighbourhood church, scorning the idea of walking half a mile along dirty paths to the Old Church.

What happened next makes Trollope's Barchester happenings look tame. Old Church devotees tried to sabotage New Church developments, even resorting to fisticuffs at the ceremony to lay the foundation stone. Their efforts proved unsuccessful: the New Church opened in 1822. Costing nearly pounds 90,000, it was the most expensive religious building erected since the completion of Wren's St Paul's Cathedral more than a century before.

The new Church was designed by father-and-son team William and Henry Inwood, who had spent much time in Greece. They tried to reproduce several features of the Temple of the Erectheum on the Acropolis, accounting for the elaborate look of the tower, which rises in stages, as well as the imposing portico.

Inside, the eye is irresistibly drawn to the six huge columns in the apse which are, despite appearances, hollow. It was estimated that if they had been constructed of stone or marble, the floor would have collapsed.

The pulpit was carved from a famous oak tree in Hainault Forest, which was blown down in a storm in 1820, while the huge organ once belonged to a music hall in Birmingham. When the music hall went bust in 1864, the church trustees bought the organ for pounds 400. The sacred and the secular were once again reunited.

But my favourite part of the church is to be found outside. On both the north and south sides are protruding vestries, elegantly supported by four very beautiful caryatids, or female figures.

Nothing so surprising about that, you might think. But, in fact, the caryatids were originally too tall and a slice had to be removed from their middles in order to make them fit.

I have spent hours scrutinising the figures, trying to spot the join, but I can't. My guess is that many Hollywood actresses (and actors, too) would be delighted if their cosmetic surgery turned out to be so invisible.

St Pancras New Church is in Upper Woburn Place, London WC1. The caryatids are best seen facing Euston Road

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