28 August 2023

Saint Paul’s: a lost
Greek Revival church
in the Anglo-Catholic
tradition in Oxford

The former Saint Paul’s Church is a distinctive building that looks like a Greek temple on Walton Street, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Jericho is one of the trendiest parts of Oxford these days, with its fashionable wine bars, cafés, restaurants, shops and night clubs.

The name of Jericho probably dates from the 17th century, and seems appropriately named for an area outside the city walls. Jericho was the first planned suburb in Oxford, and developed in the 19th century next to the Oxford University Press and beside the canal, but at one time it also included some of the worst slums in Oxford.

Appropriately for its biblical name too, Jericho is also known for its places of worship. The Church of England parish church, Saint Barnabas, is in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Saint Sepulchre’s is the name of the cemetery off Walton Street. The Oxford Baptist Chapel is on Albert Street. The Oxford Synagogue – one of the few in England with more than one Jewish tradition worshipping in the same building – and the Oxford Jewish Centre are both in Jericho.

Saint Paul’s is a distinctive building that looks like a Greek temple on Walton Street, facing onto Great Clarendon Street. It stands opposite the Oxford University Press and beside the Blavatnik School of Government. It is surrounded by the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter of the University of Oxford, formerly the Radcliffe Infirmary site, and in recent years it has been a café and arts venue.

Saint Paul’s was the first new church built in Oxford since the Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Saint Paul’s was the first new parish to be created in Oxford and the first new church to be built in Oxford since the Reformation. The church and the parish came as responses to the first outbreak of cholera in this part of Oxford in 1831, and to serve both the growing new suburb of Jericho and the new industrial area growing up round the University Press.

Saint Paul’s Parish was carved out of the parishes of Saint Thomas and Saint Giles. It covered an area from Saint Giles Road West (now the south end of Woodstock Road) to the canal, and from Workhouse Lane (now Little Clarendon Street) to the end of Walton Street, which then turned west to end outside Carter’s Ironworks.

The parish then included the University Press and the few rows of houses between the Press and Jericho Street, east of Albert Street, Carter’s Ironworks, the odd cottage and Jericho House. On the east side were Walton Hall, Cock’s Alley, the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Radcliffe Observatory with Observatory Street. The present Saint Bernard’s Road was still a crooked sunken lane.

The Radcliffe Trustees made a gift of part of the old burial ground of the Radcliffe Infirmary as a site for the new church. The church was built in 1834 at a cost of about £3,500, and the money was raised by public subscription.

The church was designed by the Oxford-based architect Henry Jones Underwood (1804-1852). He was a brother of the architects Charles Underwood and George Allen Underwood, and trained in London under Henry Hake Seward before joining the office of Sir Robert Smirke. He moved to Oxford in 1830, and much of his work involved designing churches or schools.

Underwood is best known for his Gothic Revival architecture, and his church at Littlemore for John Henry Newman became a model for other churches. He also designed the library of the Oxford Botanic Garden in the Greek Revival style. Underwood died by suicide in 1852 in the White Hart Hotel, Bath.

The church was enlarged in 1853, a year after Underwood’s death, with the addition of an apsidal chancel at the east end designed by the Oxford architect Edward George Bruton (1826-1899).

Two further outbreaks of cholera, in 1849 and 1854, reinforced the parish’s commitments to the liturgical and social values and ideals of the Oxford Movement, emphasising the importance of personal responsibility in promoting education, health reform and social justice, and raising awareness of the living conditions of many people.

One of the churchwardens, Thomas Combe, Superintendent of the University Press, was a friend and follower of John Henry Newman, founding figure in the Oxford Movement, and did much to improve living conditions for people in Jericho.

With further growth of Jericho, the western part of the parish of Saint Paul's was split off in 1869 and became a separate parish, served by Saint Barnabas’s Church, which was built mainly at Thomas Combe’s expense.

The Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows by Charles Eamer Kempe need attention and repairs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows in Saint Paul’s were installed in 1888-1889. Six of the windows are by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), three depicting the Nativity, two the Resurrection and one the Ascension, with portraits of local dignitaries grouped round the Ascending Christ, including the then Vicar of Saint Paul’s, Father Duggan, and Thomas Combe.

The congregation of Saint Paul’s fell when Saint Barnabas’s opened, but increased again in the 1880s and 1890s, and the number of Easter communicants rose from 210 in 1872 to 320 in 1890.

The vestry was enlarged in 1892-1893, and the church architect and designer Frederick Charles Eden (1864-1944) remodelled the interior in 1908 and added a new doorway at the south-west corner.

Saint Paul’s is a rectangular stone building in the Greek Classic style with a west portico of the Ionic order and a bell turret. A gallery was added to increase the seating and the windows on the north side were raised to put in clear glass panels after the windows were reglazed with stained glass. The coping stones on the north side were removed so that the north and the south elevations are no longer the same.

Legacy photographs show a bright and colourful interior in Saint Paul’s

Legacy photographs show a bright and colourful interior with a magnificent high altar and tabernacle, adorned with candles and embroidered hangings, many the work of local women such as Ada Earl of Cardigan Street.

The pulpit was in wrought iron. The font, designed by Edward Bouverie Pusey, was an odd rectangular shape on a stand with medallions like a Wedgewood vase. Both the pulpit and the font have disappeared since the church was closed.

There were side altars with statues of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady, Saint Anthony and Saint Joseph, brought in France by Father Roger Wodehouse, along with the tabernacle. The Stations of the Cross were given by Sir Herbert Miller.

Saint Paul’s was known for its ritual and processions. There was Mass on Sunday morning, Benediction in the evening and many weekday services. Sunday evening services created long queues of students waiting to hear the distinguished preachers. There were two Sunday schools, for boys and girls, each with about 100 children.

The church celebrations included May Day and Corpus Christi processions. The annual pilgrimage to Walsingham continued until the church closed. Saint Paul’s also had its own amateur dramatic society, the SPADS. The church staged dramatic tableaux depicting biblical events and there was great competition to take part.

Sunday School and choir outings included visits to Blenheim Palace, Clifton Hampden, London Zoo and Margate. The social club in the 1920s organised a day trip to France by special train to Dover and by the ferry. There were garden fetes in Somerville every year and a Christmas fair in the ballroom of the Randolph Hotel.

When Saint Paul’s was founded, the patronage was vested in the Bishop of Oxford, with the consent of Saint John’s College and Christ Church. The first Vicar of Saint Paul’s was the Revd Henry Gary.

Gary was succeeded by his former curate, Canon Alfred Hackman (1811-1874), as vicar in 1844-1871. Hackman had been chaplain of Christ Church College, Oxford, and Vicar of Cowley, and was also Precentor of Christ Church (1841-1873) and sub-librarian of the Bodleian.

In Hackman’s time, the church developed a reputation as a centre of Tractarianism. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were said daily, and Holy Communion was weekly, with about 63 communicants. The congregation was 400 in the morning and 600 in the evening, but some people came from outside the parish. The number of weekly communicants had risen to 110 by 1866, and the congregation of 600 could not grow because of space needs.
Hackman’s curates included Canon James Ridgway (1826-1881), curate in 1851-1853, later a canon of Christ Church and Principal of Culham Training College. The Revd Addington Robert Peel Venables (1827-1876), curate in 1852-1863, was later the second Bishop of Nassau in the Bahamas (1873-1876).

Hackman’s successor was another curate, the Revd William Bottomley Duggan (1844-1904), who was the vicar in 1871-1904. He introduced a surpliced choir, altar frontals in liturgical colours, and Eucharistic vestments.

Father Roger Wodehouse (1890-1958) was a grandson of both the poet Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) and John Wodehouse (1826-1902), 1st Earl of Kimberley, a former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1864-1866). He had been a curate at Saint Thomas and was one of the original trustees of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.

Despite a long vacancy, the church attracted large numbers of people in the 1930s with its combination of ‘Roman Catholicism with Moody and Sankey Protestantism.’ But the decline of the parish began in the 1930s with the demolition of some of the worst slums in Oxford, including Jericho Gardens and King Street, when about 50 large families with many children were moved out to Rose Hill. Later, the homes on the north side of Cardigan Street, the south side of Jericho Street, and part of Union Street, now Hart Street, were demolished and the people were moved out to Marston.

As more people moved out of Jericho in the post-war decades, the congregation dwindled to a handful, most of them living outside the parish. The decline was hastened in the 1950s by the rise of the neighbouring church of Saint Mary Magdalen as the centre of Anglo-Catholicism in Oxford.

The old and the new … reflections of Saint Paul’s in the Blavatnik School of Government (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The parishes of Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas were united in 1963, and Saint Paul’s was closed in 1969. The vicarage at 1A Observatory Street, built in 1905, was sold in 1965. The organ went to Gosford Hill School, some of the statues went to Saint Aloysius Roman Catholic Church, some of the embroidery to Middleton Stoney, the registers to the Bodleian Library and the war memorial is now in the south aisle in Saint Barnabas Church.

The church stood empty until 1975, when the Oxford Area Arts Council bought it as a theatre and arts centre. But the conversion was mismanaged and was incomplete when the Arts Centre opened in 1985, and it closed again in 1987.

The building was acquired in 1988 by Secession Ltd to prevent its demolition, and it opened that year as Freud’s Arts Café, a café bar created by David Freud that offered live music, including jazz, punk, post-punk and blues. The name is written in Roman-style capital letters as ‘FREVD’ above the main entrance door.

A new building for the Blavatnik School of Government of Oxford University opened on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter site beside Freud in 2015. David Freud opposed the scheme because of the size and height of the building compared to the former church.

But when I tried to visit Freud’s or Saint Paul’s last week, the gates were padlocked, weeds were growing profusely on the site and Kempe’s Pre-Raphaelite windows looked like they are in serious need of attention, repair and conservation.

Saint Paul’s Church became Freud’s Arts Café in 1988 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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