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    The Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street

    By the Survey of London, on 17 March 2017

    The present synagogue was built to designs by C. Edmund Wilford & Sons in 1956–8, replacing its bomb-damaged predecessor of 1869–70.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland street, Marylebone, Greater London. Exterior view from north east. Taken for the Survey of London.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Exterior view from north east. Taken in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

    Jewish West Enders were obliged until well into the nineteenth century to attend long-established places of worship in the City of London, notably the Great Synagogue in Duke’s Place, Aldgate. In 1842 the Reform congregation broke this tradition with a modest synagogue in Burton Street, Bloomsbury, moving to Margaret Street in 1849. Fearing loss of worshippers to this convenient address, the Committee of the Great Synagogue agreed in 1850 to fund a new branch synagogue in the West End. The site selected lay behind 43–47 Great Portland Street, but the building there soon proved too small and could not be extended. In 1866 a Great Synagogue subcommittee headed by Sir Anthony de Rothschild was appointed to find a new site near by and build afresh for 800 worshippers, with two ministers’ houses attached. They promptly secured the houses at 133–141 Great Portland Street. The budget was ample, as the synagogue was prospering; Messrs Rothschild had promised £4,000. The committee decided against a competition and chose as architect Nathan Solomon Joseph, son-in-law to Nathan Marcus Adler, Chief Rabbi and creator of the United Synagogue, the federation to which the Central, as the congregation was by now called, adhered from 1870. Joseph presented a Moorish design in 1867, arguing that Gothic and Classical styles were both unsuitable, whereas the Moresque was well adapted to an ‘ecclesiastical’ building yet had advantages of ‘elasticity’ and economy. He was asked to present an alternative Italianate version, but the original was preferred, with modifications. That design was built in 1869–70.

    Survey of London (Marylebone). 40-36 Hallam Street, Westminster, London. View from west.

    40-36 Hallam Street, Westminster, London. View from west. Photographed in 2014 by Lucy Millson-Watkins for the Survey of London © Historic England

    The Central has been described as the first thoroughly Oriental-style synagogue, not just in Britain but beyond. The Great Portland Street front was an eccentric confection in brick and two types of stone, culminating at the north end in a tower-like feature over an entrance porch with a horseshoe arch. The interior, spacious, high and light, faced south like the present building, culminating in a richly decorated apsidal space for the ark. Windows and arches were round-headed, with an orientalizing horseshoe profile above the arches over the galleries, and round clerestory lights incorporating Star-of-David tracery. Cast-iron columns, painted at first, marble-clad from 1876, carried the galleries and roof, which was divided by ribs. The rabbis’ houses at the back along Hallam Street (Nos 36–40) survive, their two-tone brickwork and Moorish detail having a hint of the Great Mosque at Cordoba.Embellishments took place over the years, the grandest being the replacement of the central almemar with an elaborate new one in marble, presented in 1928 by the 2nd Lord Bearsted in memory of his parents; Joseph’s original almemar (or bimah) was relegated to the Margate synagogue. But the building was burnt out by a fire bomb on 10 May 1941, the congregation returning to a temporary building on the site in 1948.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London, Interior view from south east.Taken for the Survey of London.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Interior view from south east. Photographed in 2013  for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

    Meanwhile plans for a full rebuilding were hatching. The architects Shaw & Lloyd worked up a radical proposal in 1947, with the synagogue turned across the axis from Great Portland Street to Hallam Street, set over social space and flanked by narrow courts, with a taller block at the back facing Hallam Street, presumably for letting. Having done all the war-damage costings and negotiations, in 1954 S. John Lloyd presented a fresh scheme for a 1,028-seater, to be built of reinforced concrete with a Portland stone front to Great Portland Street.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. Detail of theTebah from north east. Taken for the Survey of London.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Detail of the Tebah from north east. Photographed in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

    There were tensions at this juncture, as the United Synagogue authorities were pressing for a fresh place of worship at Marble Arch and the abandonment of the Central. Isaac Wolfson and his son Leonard, resident in Portland Place, resolved things by offering £25,000 towards rebuilding the Central, which meant that, with war-damage compensation, rebuilding would cost the congregation little. The United Synagogue sent a long list of possible architects to the building committee, who shortlisted three, not including Shaw & Lloyd. At Leonard Wolfson’s request they added an outsider, C. Edmund Wilford. It seems that Wilford had shown him some sketches which, United’s president Ewan Montague agreed, showed ‘a most interesting approach to the theme of Synagogue architecture which hitherto in our experience has tended to be somewhat hackneyed’. But when Wilford was confirmed and met the building committee, he was told that the external elevation ‘should be on traditional lines’. [1]

    Wilford had made a name with cinemas before the war. He had no known connection with the Jewish community, but may have worked for the Wolfsons’ company, Great Universal Stores. He and his assistants were directed to look at synagogues in London and perhaps also Venice. The result, built by Tersons Ltd in 1956–8, was a conventional, dignified building with close correspondences to its predecessor but an internal touch of cinematic glamour.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. Detail showing Torah Ark. Taken for the Survey of London.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Detail showing Torah Ark. Photographed in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

    The Great Portland Street façade is mainly clad in Portland stone, but the plinth and the columns flanking the high and hooded windows are of red Swedish granite. At the north end the entrance doors are set back in a high frame clad in gold mosaic. There is also a subsidiary entrance from Hallam Street. The galleried interior gives a powerful impression of height and restrained opulence.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. View of east windows. Taken for the Survey of London.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. View of east windows. Taken for the Survey of London in 2013 by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

    The focus is on the ark at the south end, which stands in an outer surround of red mosaic embellished by flanking lions on tall pillars of gold and an inner frame of Sienna marble. The bronze metalwork to the ark doors and elsewhere, made by the Brent Metal Company, is strong, spiky and characteristically 1950s. The other main feature is the almemar, clad in red marble, with attached panels carved in low relief.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. Detail showing east stained glass window. Taken for the Survey of London

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. Detail showing east stained glass window. Photographed in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave.  © Historic England

    After completion, the synagogue windows were filled over a fifteen-year period with colourful glass made by Lowndes & Drury to designs by David Hillman. There is a hall below the worship area, and the circulation spaces including the stairs to the galleries are generous.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street,Marylebone, Greater London. View of stair. Taken for the Survey of London.

    Central Synagogue, Great Portland Street, Marylebone, Greater London. View of stair. Photographed in 2013 for the Survey of London by Chris Redgrave. © Historic England

    Reference

    [1] London Metropolitan Archives, ACC/26712/15/2334

    The Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel: part two

    By the Survey of London, on 1 July 2016

    In 1873 an inspection in advance of an intended redecoration led to a condemnation of the seventeenth-century church of St Mary Matfelon as structurally unsafe (see earlier post). The parish reluctantly geared up to spend £4,000 on essential repairs. Then, in June 1874, Octavius Edward Coope came to the rescue. Coope was a wealthy brewer, a founder of Ind Coope & Co. in Romford in 1845, which firm expanded to Burton-on-Trent in 1856. He had been an MP in 1847–8, but was unseated on grounds of bribery. After a long interval he was again elected to Parliament as a Conservative MP for Middlesex in 1874. With that newly acquired status, Coope stepped forward claiming to be a Whitechapel parishioner – Ind Coope & Co. had offices and a depot on the west side of Osborn Street. Coope himself lived in Essex and, when in London, on Upper Brook Street in Mayfair. He offered to pay up to £12,500 towards a new church, presenting plans by his architect nephew, Ernest Claude Lee, who had been a pupil of William Burges’s, for a red-brick and stone-dressed High Gothic Revival building to seat 1,400. The offer was initially accepted with great relief and joy, but Coope had soon to defend the proposed use of red brick, averring, wrongly, that ‘our great church architect Street invariably uses it’. [1] In fact, for comparative inspection a Vestry committee turned to James Brooks’s recent red-brick churches in Haggerston, St Columba and St Chad. This committee was led by the Rev. James Cohen, a converted Jew who had been Whitechapel’s rector since 1860; it was subsequently spearheaded by Augustus William Gadesden, a sugar refiner. They were not impressed, convinced in their dislike of red brick, and anyway keen to have a larger church. Overall costs were estimated to be about £6,000 more than Coope was offering. Cohen’s committee concluded in September, with diminished alacrity, that ‘it is expedient that the offer of Mr Coope be accepted.’ [2] Rebuilding began in 1875 when Cohen was succeeded by the Rev. John Fenwick Kitto. Work was completed in October 1876 and there was a consecration in February 1877. The upper stage of the tower and spire followed in 1878. The estimated total final cost had risen to about £30,000 of which it was later said around £10,000 came from public subscription, the rest from Coope.

    The Church of St Mary Matfelon was rebuilt with a tall spire in 1875-8, but it had to be largely rebuilt again after it was burnt out in 1880 (The East of London Family History Society, reproduced via Wikimedia Commons).

    The large brick church comprised a nave and aisles, a round-apsed chancel, a baptistery under a west gallery and a three-stage north-west tower with an octagonal spire and corner turrets rising 175ft in all, sited so as to be prominent on the main road. It extended further west and south than had its predecessor and was set less squarely to the road, to minimise disturbance of the graveyard and avoid southerly ground that was only leasehold. While adhering to red brick, Lee had amended his plans. The church had only 1,250 sittings and omitted a full-height north transept in favour of a gabled organ bay at the east end of the north aisle. An unusual feature, reflecting the local evangelical mission, was an external pulpit, placed on a staircase turret at the north-west corner of the nave. There was a large ‘church room’ to the south-east in which relics from the old church were displayed. The interior had ornamentally carved Bath stone dressings to naked brick surfaces (perhaps intended for decoration), Minton floor tiles and a ceiled wagon-vault, a form chosen for auditory reasons, ill-advisedly as the building had very poor acoustics. The old clock and bells were reset. Lee deployed thirteenth-century style details and himself designed fittings including the pulpit, lectern, font and a mosaic apse floor, executed by Burke & Co. of Regent Street. Horatio Walter Lonsdale, Lee’s brother-in-law, supplied stained-glass windows. Stone carving was by Thomas Earp of Lambeth.

     View of the interior of the 1876 church, looking towards the chancel (Building News, 8 September 1876).

    View of the interior of the 1876 church, looking towards the chancel (Building News, 8 September 1876).

    This church was short-lived, suddenly gutted by fire on a summer’s Thursday afternoon, on 27 August 1880. Flames in the organ chamber swept up the organ pipes into the timber roof. The tower survived. Kitto and Gadesden led an approach to Coope, still an MP, who undertook to use his influence to secure insurance cover of £16,800 and to stump up further rebuilding costs. The acoustical shortcomings of the destroyed interior led him to make replacement conditional on a redesign by nephew Lee. The church was rebuilt in 1881–2 on the same plan, but with a polygonal apse and an open pseudo-hammerbeam roof beneath a lower ridge which did bring acoustical success. The nave west wall was given three windows in place of two, and there were other detailed variations that favoured a style more characteristic of the fourteenth century. The interior was yet more richly sculpted than its predecessor, and this time lavishly decorated with stencilling that shows the influence of Burges. Lonsdale supervised painting and glass.

    St Mary Matfelon, 9-5-1941, HELR F237

    The church was gutted by firebombs in 1940 (Historic England London Region).

    An alabaster reredos intended since 1878 was at last made in 1886–7 as a memorial to Coope. Carved by Earp, it represented the Last Supper and the Tree of Jesse, and stood in front of stencilled decoration of the early 1880s by Lonsdale that included large angels for the Twelve Gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

    Rebuilds notwithstanding, church attendance declined. It was estimated in the early 1880s to be around 1,500 across Sunday services, the main impediment being what the Rev. Arthur James Robinson called ‘the old story of indifference’. [3] Yet this was among the best attended of East London churches, with fully choral services and psalms chanted morning and evening. By 1884 Robinson’s team included two Missioners to Jews, the Rev. J. H. Bruhl and the Rev. A. Bernstein. The open-air pulpit was in regular use, and by the 1890s and well into the twentieth century special services were conducted for Jews in Hebrew and German, with sermons preached in Yiddish to congregations of up to 500. A last notable rector was the Rev. John A. Mayo, who gave the first ever radio sermon in 1922.

    St Mary’s Church was gutted once again, this time by fire bombs on 29 December 1940. The ruined shell of the building was cleared in 1952.

    St Mary Matfelon, 9-5-1941, HELR F238

    Nave of the church in 1941 after bomb damage (Historic England London Region).

    References

    1. Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, L/SMW/A/1/1
    2. THLHLA, L/SMW/A/1/1
    3. Lambeth Palace Library, FP Jackson 2, f.513

    The Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel: part one

    By the Survey of London, on 10 June 2016

    The first church on the site that is now Altab Ali Park was built in the mid thirteenth century, dedicated to Mary and from the outset identified as ‘de Matefelun’. This, which became Matfelon, may derive from a family name; Richard Matefelun, a wine merchant, is said to have been present in the area in 1230. If this is the derivation (matfelon as meaning knapweed is the least preposterous of numerous suggested alternatives), it was presumably in recognition of a pious benefaction, maybe prompted by local need. There was significant population growth in the area, and the existing parish church of St Dunstan, Stepney, was distant.

    Archaeological evidence indicates that the church was of clunch or white chalk rubble. It thus, no doubt, came to be known as the ‘white chapel’, an appellation in use by 1344. Clunch was not uncommon in medieval churches, especially east and north of London, but it is friable so was often mixed with other materials. The church was reportedly wrecked in a storm and restored in 1362 thanks, it is said, to a papal Bull negotiated by the absentee rector, Sir David Gower, a Canon of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that promised sinners a remission of penance for visiting Whitechapel with an offering. There were four priests in 1416 indicating a large congregation or at least a prospering parish. Documentation of legacies and archaeology both point to fifteenth-century improvements, to doors and windows if not more. Exceptionally, there were no chantries at the Reformation, when, in 1548, there were 670 communicants.

    View of the 1670s church (Reproduced by kind permission of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives).

    View of the 1670s church (Reproduced by kind permission of Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives). If you are having problems viewing images, please click here.

    Little is known of the form of this medieval church. It appears to have had a four-bay nave to which a three-stage tower and a north aisle and porch might have been fifteenth-century additions. A south ‘aisle’ was added in 1591. This was, it seems, separately roofed, and almost as tall as the nave. More a room than an aisle it would have generated not just more seating for a growing congregation, but also a more auditory and less processional interior. That would have been in keeping with the Calvinist conventions of the late sixteenth century that were strongly represented in east London, where Protestantism sparked early. These norms were firmly upheld by Richard Gardiner, Whitechapel’s rector from 1570 to 1617. Prominent among Elizabethan puritans, Gardiner was embroiled in high-level religious–political controversy in the immediate run up to the extension of his church in 1591. Tellingly, during his time the vestry sold off the church organ.

    In 1618 William Crashawe, another outspoken and leading London puritan, became Whitechapel’s rector. He oversaw the insertion of a gallery in the south aisle which suggests that capacity was already again stretched. It bore a panel to celebrate the failure in 1623 of the Spanish Match. Crashawe died in 1626, preceded by 1,100 of his parishioners in the plague year of 1625. His successor in what his will called the ‘too greate Parishe’ of Whitechapel was John Johnson, another puritan, but one who married the daughter (Judith Meggs) of a wealthy parishioner in 1627 and trimmed thereafter to align with the anti-Calvinist tide headed by Bishop William Laud. Johnson moved the communion table to the east end of the church, and undertook beautifying repairs in 1633–4 with £300 raised from parishioners and more from the Haberdashers’ Company, which in making the grant took into account the relative poverty of the parish.

    Laud had strong local opposition and Johnson was among the first London clergy to be deprived of his living in 1641. Thomas Lambe’s General Baptists, formed in Whitechapel at this time, were ‘easily the most visible and notorious of all sectarian congregations in London’. [1] After contested elections for parish overseers and violent confrontations in the church in 1646, Whitechapel’s Independents gained control and gathered under a new rector, Thomas Walley. When the tables turned at the Restoration in 1660 Johnson was reinstated and a schism resulted, most of the congregation departing to a meeting house in Brick Lane. In 1662 Walley was arrested preaching elsewhere in Whitechapel; he soon after emigrated to New England. Johnson was revealed as corrupt and deprived of his living in 1668, chiefly through the agency of his son-in-law, Ralph Davenant, who became Whitechapel’s next rector. A fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and a descendant of Bishop John Davenant, the moderate Calvinist who had represented the English church at the synod of Dort in 1618, he was also a cousin to the historian Thomas Fuller.

    Plan of the Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, as rebuilt in 1672-3.

    Plan of the Church of St Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, as rebuilt in 1672-3 (© Historic England).

    Under Davenant the largely medieval church was rebuilt in 1672–3. The principal benefactor was William Meggs, who had the parish’s largest house where Johnson, his brother-in-law, had lodged in the 1650s. Meggs had been a member of Johnson’s vestry from 1660. These links with Johnson notwithstanding, Crashawe’s panel of 1623 was relocated onto the new south gallery and a monument to Crashawe himelf was conspicuously re-erected on the north wall. Puritan inheritance was not obscured.

    In its architectural form the new brick-built church represented a rapprochement with moderate Nonconformity. It reused some old footings and lower parts of the tower, but in its regular cross-in-rectangle plan with shallow transept projections, it closely followed pre-Restoration Calvinist models at Westminster Broadway and Poplar (now the Church of St Matthias). While architects and builders remain unknown, there are circumstantial reasons for suspecting involvement on the part of Robert Hooke. The assuredly, if impurely, classical auditory interior was light and spacious. Though centralized, it had an east-west axis emphasized by three ribbed cross vaults supported by Portland stone Corinthian columns. There was a step up to the chancel, otherwise only articulated by the inclusion of flanking vestries. Shallow north and south galleries were probably original.

    Davenant was succeeded in 1681 by Dr William Payne, a latitudinarian, fellow of the Royal Society and leading Whig among London clergy who was keen to embrace dissenters. The liturgical politics of Whitechapel changed dramatically in 1697 with the appointment of the Rev. Richard Welton, a high-church Tory and Jacobite. Welton attacked Nonconformity and spurned the area’s recent Huguenot immigrants: ‘This set of rabble are the very offal of the earth, who cannot be content to be safe here from that justice and beggary from which they fled, and to be fattened on what belongs to the poor of our own land to grow rich at our expense, but must needs rob us of our religion too.’ When this was quoted by G. Reginald Balleine in 1898 he added ‘how blind this prejudice was … May we learn the obvious lesson for ourselves!’. [2] Harking back to the Laudian spirit, Welton made beautifying alterations, moving the font and altering pews, and attracted controversy in 1713 when he placed a painting of the Last Supper by John Fellowes in the church as an altarpiece. Judas was prominently represented as a likeness of Bishop White Kennett, an antagonist of Welton’s. Through the Bishop of London, Kennett saw to the altarpiece’s removal in 1714. The same phase of works included an organ by Christopher Schreider, perhaps also the west gallery in which it stood. The organ case was later described as ‘carved and gilt, with carved oak trusses and gilt cherubim, surmounted by four richly-carved and gilt figures’ [3] The gallery front sported a finely carved wood panel depicting King David playing the harp flanked by musical instruments. This survives close by in the church of St Botolph Aldgate. Refusing to swear loyalty to the Hanoverian succession, Welton was deprived of his position in 1715.

    A few fragments from the churches survive, including this carved wood panel of King David with music instruments that was made to grace the front of an organ gallery in 1713-15, now close by in St Botolph Aldgate

    A few fragments from the church survive, including this carved wood panel of King David with musical instruments that was made to grace the front of an organ gallery in 1713-15, now close by in St Botolph Aldgate.

    Under a succession of latitudinarian rectors Whitechapel’s church appears to have steered clear of further controversy making it a quieter but duller place. It was repaired and beautified in 1735 and again repaired, in what was a wealthy parish, with funds raised through an Act of Parliament in 1762–3 when the tower, possibly unstable, was to have been cased in Portland stone – it was probably rendered instead. The clock stage gained aedicules and a large cupola took the place of a small bell turret. Similarities with the exactly contemporary St George’s German Lutheran Church on Alie Street suggest that the carpenter–architect Joel Johnson may have been in charge of this project. He had property, perhaps a home, round the corner on what is now Whitechurch Lane.

    There were further expensive repairs in 1805–6, with James Carr as surveyor. Structural rescue involving iron tie rods followed in 1825–6, with John Shaw (the elder) the surveyor this time. Even so, the tower became dangerous. James Savage acted as surveyor for yet further repairs in 1829–30. In 1839 Edward Blore reported on the state of the church and recommended rebuilding. Discussion was adjourned for a year, but not resumed, the notion presumably deemed too costly.

    From 1837 to 1860 the Rev. William Weldon Champneys was Whitechapel’s rector. An evangelical, he started with a congregation of about 100, in a population of 36,000, and by 1851 had built attendances up to more than 4,000 across three services on a Sunday. He brought numerous reforms to Whitechapel, from a Sunday School and Mothers’ Meeting, to a Coal Club and Shoe Black Brigade, attempted to convert Whitechapel’s many Jews, and battled cholera and house farmers. Champneys also divided the parish, founding three new churches.

    The tower was again and for the last time repaired in 1865. The subsequent history of the church will follow in a second post.

    References

    [1] Murray Tolmie, The triumph of the saints: the separate churches of London, 1616–49, 1977, p.76

    [2] G. Reginald Balleine, The Story of St Mary Matfelon, 1898, p.22

    [3] The Builder, 30. Jan. 1875, p.93

    All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street

    By the Survey of London, on 25 December 2015

    The brick church and lofty spire of All Saints, together with the twin clergy and parish buildings that front it towards Margaret Street, comprise a renowned monument to Victorian religion and architecture. Exuberant and compact, the group was built in 1850–2 by John Kelk to designs by William Butterfield, yet the interior of the church with its painted reredos by William Dyce was not completed and opened till 1859.

    Generally regarded as Butterfield’s masterpiece, recent restorations have reinforced his original vision of strength, experimental colour and sublimity. A full account of this astonishing church will be given in the Survey of London’s forthcoming volumes on South-East Marylebone, in the meantime we would like to share a few of the extraordinary photographs of the church, taken for us by Chris Redgrave between 2013 and 2015.

    All Saints' Church (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    A view of the Margaret Street frontage of All Saints’ Church and its twin clergy houses, showing the 220ft spire (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave). If you are having trouble viewing images, please click here.

    All Saints replaced an earlier chapel that had been built in the mid eighteenth century and by 1839 was  ‘a complete paragon of ugliness … low, dark and stuffy … choked with sheep pens under the name of pews’ and ‘begirt by a hideous gallery, filled on Sundays with uneasy schoolchildren’. [1]

    The entrance arch to the church, in red brick with diaper patterns in black brick (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The entrance arch to the church, in red brick with diaper patterns in black brick (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    In 1846–7 the old chapel was embellished and restored by William Butterfield, but this was just an interim measure before plans for a new church could be put in hand. Butterfield was selected as the architect for the new church. Aged then 34 and at the top of his powers, he was to remain architect to All Saints and a member of the congregation until his death in 1900.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The Clergy House on the east side of the church, now offices (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The building contract was signed on 1 September 1850 and despite the site constraints, the construction of this radical and unique church went ahead smartly, so that the shell was finished by the end of 1852.  For six and a half further years the church stayed shut. All the available money had been spent, and there were differences over how to finish the interior.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    View towards the east end with the elaborately patterned chancel arch. (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The church was consecrated at last in May 1859, after an estimated total expenditure of £70,000. All Saints opened to much publicity in newspapers, church journals and the building press alike. The Prince Consort, always interested in art-novelties, was among early visitors. Most comment was complimentary, sometimes lavishly so.

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The chancel and towering reredos with paintings by H. A. Bernard Smith to designs by Ninian Comper, 1909, recreating William Dyce’s reredos of 1854–9 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    The pulpit. Seven-panelled on a splayed base, front supported on stubby granite columns, faced in patterning of many marbles, c.1858 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    All Saints, Margaret Street, by common estimation a masterpiece of British architectural and ecclesiastical art, has drawn many levels of reaction. Ian Nairn likened the church to an ‘orgasm’, and Nikolaus Pevsner saw it as an endeavour ‘most violently eager to drum into you the praise of the Lord’. [2]

    (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    North wall of the tower at the west end of the nave, with memorial to Henry Wood in the arch depicting the Ascension, 1891 (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    All critics have agreed on the buildings’ sheer impact, expressed through force of line and intensity of colour. This ‘architecture of power’, to borrow Ruskin’s phrase, can be felt as strongly today as it was when the church was new.

    Nativity with six apostles on the lowest row of the reredos. The tilework at All Saints was designed by Butterworth, painted by Alexander Gibbs and executed by Henry Poole & Sons (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Nativity with six apostles on the lowest row of the reredos. The tilework at All Saints was designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs and executed by Henry Poole & Sons (© Historic England, Chris Redgrave)

    Sources

    1. Peter Galloway, A Passionate Humility: Frederick Oakeley and the Oxford Movement, 1999, pp.45–6 (quoting from Oakeley’s memoirs in Balliol College Library, Oxford)
    2. Ian Nairn, Nairn’s London, 1988 edn, p.77:  Susie Harries, Pevsner and Victorian Architecture Studies in Victorian Architecture and Design, vol.5, 2015, p.29. See also James Stevens Curl, ‘All Saints’, Margaret Street’, in AJ, 20 June 1990, pp.36–55