23 September 2023

All Saints’ Church in
Margaret Street is one
of the finest examples of
Victorian Gothic style

All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, is known for its architecture, its liturgy, its interior, its rich decoration and its music (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was in London earlier today for the annual reunion and celebration day of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street.

Bishop Michael Marshall was, first, priest-in-charge and, later, rector of Holy Trinity Church from 1997 to 2007. But three decades earlier, from 1969 to 1975, he had been the Vicar of All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, London, which I visited last Saturday afternoon (23 September 2023).

All Saints’ Church is midway along Margaret Street, which runs parallel to the east end of Oxford Street. This Anglo-Catholic church in Fitzrovia, in the heart of the West End, is known for its architecture, for its style of liturgy, for its interior, rich decoration and beautiful fittings, and for its musical tradition. It a ‘hidden gem’ in central London, many regard it as one of the foremost examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture, and it is a Grade I listed building.

All Saints’ Church was designed in 1850 by William Butterfield (1814-1900), an architect strongly associated with Gothic revival church building and the Oxford Movement. But its origins lie in the Margaret Street Chapel, which had stood on the site from the 1760s.

All Saints’ Church owes it building to the Cambridge Camden Society and was designed by William Butterfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The chapel had ‘proceeded upwards through the various gradations of Dissent and Low-Churchism’ until 1829, when the Tractarian William Dodsworth (1798-1861) became the incumbent. Dodsworth resigned in 1839 and later became a Roman Catholic, as did his successor, the Lichfield hymn-writer, Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), who was at the chapel from 1839 to 1845.

Oakeley is best known for his translation of the Christmas carol Adeste Fideles (‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’). He later described the chapel as ‘a complete paragon of ugliness.’ Before resigning, he conceived the idea of rebuilding the chapel in what he considered a correct ecclesiastical style, and had collected a sum of almost £3,000 for the project.

All Saints’ Church owes it building to the Cambridge Camden Society, founded as the Ecclesiological Society in 1839 and which changed its name in 1845. The society was formed with the aim of reviving historically authentic Anglican worship through architecture.

By 1843, its 700 members included the Archbishop of Canterbury, and its monthly magazine, The Ecclesiologist, reviewed new churches and assessed their architectural and liturgical significance.

The Nativity scene in the frieze on the north wall was designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs, and fired by Henry Poole (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

While Oakley was still at Margaret Street in 1841, the society proposed building a ‘model church on a large and splendid scale’ that would embody the society’s values. It was to be in late 13th and early 14th century Gothic style and built honestly of solid materials. Its ornament should decorate its construction, and its artist should be ‘a single, pious and laborious artist alone, pondering deeply over his duty to do his best for the service of God’s Holy Religion.’

Above all, the church was to be built so that the ‘Rubricks and Canons of the Church of England may be consistently observed, and the Sacraments rubrically and decently administered.’

The congregation at All Saints agreed that the Ecclesiological Society’s model church could be built there, although, at just 100 ft sq, the site was small for a church, choir school and clergy house.The proposals from the Cambridge Camden Society for a model church were approved in 1845 by the Revd William Upton Richards (1811-1873) of All Saints, the Very Revd George Chandler, Rector of All Souls’ Church nearby and Dean of Chichester, and Charles James Blomfield, Bishop of London.

The chancel decoration is the work of Sir Ninian Comper (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The project was supervised and largely sponsored by Alexander Beresford-Hope (1820-1887), who was from a well-known Irish family and later an MP and son-in-law of the Marquis of Salisbury. Beresford-Hope chose Butterfield as the architect, although the two often disagreed about important aspects of the work.

During his career, Butterfield designed almost 100 churches and related buildings, including the chapels of Balliol College and Keble College, Oxford, and Saint Barnabas Church in Jericho, Oxford. He built in a highly personal form of Gothic revival, and All Saints’ Church remains his masterpiece and a pioneering building of the High Victorian Gothic style in church architecture.

The site was bought for £14,500, the last service at the old chapel was held on Easter Monday 1850, and the foundation stone of the new church was laid on All Saints’ Day 1850 by Edward Bouverie Pusey, a key figure in the Oxford Movement. The new church was consecrated on 28 May 1859.

The panel on the north wall of the tower depicting the Ascension (1891) is the last section of tilework added by Butterfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

All Saints marked a new stage in the development of the Gothic Revival in English architecture. It is built of brick, in contrast to Gothic Revival churches of the 1840s, typically built of grey Kentish ragstone. Previous architecture in the 19th-century Gothic Revival had copied mediaeval buildings, but Butterfield departed considerably from mediaeval Gothic practice, and he was innovative in using new building materials such as brick.

The Ecclesiologists originally extolled the virtues of rough stone walls, but they were converted by the brick churches of Italy and North Germany. Butterfield’s chosen pink brick was more expensive than stone, and the bold chequered patterning seems to have been based on English East Anglian tradition.

At All Saints, Butterfield felt a mission to ‘give dignity to brick,’ and the quality of the brick he chose made it more expensive than stone. The exterior of All Saints employs red brick, heavily banded and patterned with black brick, with bands of stone and carved elements in the gate, the church wall and spire. Decoration is built into the structure, making All Saints the first example of ‘structural polychromy’ in London.

The Baptistry houses the font (1857-1858) and the large paschal candlestick, a copy of one in the Certosa at Pavia, Italy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

All Saints’ Church is particularly celebrated for its interior decoration. Every surface is richly patterned or decorated: the floor in diaper patterned tiles, wall surfaces in geometrical patterned brick, tile, and marble, as well as tiles with painted decoration, large friezes executed in painted tiles, a painted ceiling, and painted and gilded timberwork behind the altar.

The vast tiled panels on the north wall were painted by Alexander Gibbs and manufactured by Henry Poole and Sons. They are rich with Biblical symbolism and depict a variety of important figures and themes from the Bible and the Early Church.

The rear of the chancel features a series of paintings on gilded boards, within a delicately carved brightly patterned Gothic screen. The immense reredos was originally completed by William Dyce in 1853-1859. But it suffered from the polluting effects of London air, and was reproduced by Sir Ninian Comper in 1909 on wooden panels in front of the original. Starting at the base with the depiction of Christ’s earthly life, the eye is drawn up to Christ in glory, the free movement of the figures there contrasting with the more static figures beneath.

The great silver pyx, designed by Ninan Comper, was given by the Duke of Newcastle in 1928 as a memorial to choristers killed in World War I.

The Lady Chapel (1911), at the east end of the north aisle, was designed by Ninian Comper in late Gothic style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Lady Chapel (1911), at the east end of the north aisle, was designed by Ninian Comper in late Gothic style. It was enlarged in 1971 by Ian Grant as a memorial to the Revd Kenneth Ross (1908-1970), eighth vicar of All Saints (1957-1969). The reredos is of Caen stone and alabaster, and shows the Virgin and Child surrounded by angels and saints. It was restored by Peter Larkworthy in 1978-1980.

The north wall is dominated by a large ceramic tile frieze designed by Butterfield, painted by Alexander Gibbs, and fired by Henry Poole and Sons, installed in 1873. It depicts a variety of scenes from the Old Testament, a central Nativity scene and depictions of Early Church Fathers.

The designs that adorn the walls and pillars owe much to John Ruskin who, in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), advocated the use of chequers, zig-zags, stripes and geometrical colour mosaic. Matthew Digby Wyatt’s Specimens of Geometrical Mosaic of the Middle Ages may also have influenced some of the detailing.

Butterfield’s tiled floor, made by Minton, is deep red with black checks and a white stone diaper, while the north and south aisles have a triangular variation on this pattern. The roof, now repainted, was originally in chocolate and white with blue detailing.

The west window (1877) by Alexander Gibbs is inspired by the 14th-century Jesse Tree window in Wells Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The stained-glass windows are limited by the density of buildings around the church. The original windows were designed by Alfred GĂ©rente (1821-1868), but his work was later replaced. The large west window, originally fitted with glass by Gerente in 1853-1858, was replaced in 1877 with a design by Alexander Gibbs based on the Tree of Jesse window in Wells Cathedral.

The glass in the clerestory dates from 1853 and is the work of Michael O’Connor, who also designed the east window of the south chancel aisle which depicts Christ in Majesty with Saint Edward Martyr and Saint Augustine.

The Baptistry in the south-west corner has marble tiling that features an image of the Pelican in her Piety in the ceiling tiles.

The church stands within a small courtyard. Two other buildings face onto the courtyard: one is the vicarage and the other, formerly a choir school, now houses the parish room and flats for assistant priests.

Soaring above the courtyard is the 227-feet spire – higher than the towers of Westminster Abbey.

The Stained-glass window depicting the archangels Gabriel, Michael and Raphael was designed by Alexander Gibbs in the 1860s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

After seeing All Saints, John Ruskin wrote: ‘Having done this, we may do anything … and I believe it to be possible for us, not only to equal, but far to surpass, in some respects, any Gothic yet seen in Northern countries.’ However, Ruskin did not ‘altogether like the arrangements of colour in the brickwork.’

The architect Charles Locke Eastlake said Butterfield’s design was ‘a bold and magnificent endeavour to shake off the trammels of antiquarian precedent, which had long fettered the progress of the Revival, to create not a new style, but a development of previous styles.’

The author and columnist Simon Jenkins says All Saints is ‘architecturally England’s most celebrated Victorian church.’ The architectural historian Simon Thurley lists All Saints among the 10 most important buildings in Britain.

In the 1970 BBC Television programme, Four With Betjeman – Victorian Architects and Architecture, the poet Sir John Betjeman visited All Saints. In his view, ‘It was here, in the 1850s, that the revolution in architecture began … It led the way, All Saints Margaret Street, in church building.’

The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described the interior as ‘dazzling, though in an eminently High Victorian ostentatiousness or obtrusiveness … No part of the walls is left undecorated. From everywhere the praise of the Lord is drummed into you.’

Simon Jenkins says All Saints is ‘architecturally England’s most celebrated Victorian church’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The choristers of All Saints sang at the coronations of Edward VII (1902), George V (1911), George VI (1937) and Elizabeth II (1953). The choir school closed in 1968, and the boys’ voices were replaced by adult sopranos.

Several pieces have been commissioned for the church, including Walter Vale’s arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom and All-Night Vigil. Rachmaninoff heard Vale’s adaptations when he visited All Saints in 1915 and 1923.

All Saints’ organ is a four-manual Harrison and Harrison instrument with 65 speaking stops, built in 1910 to a specification drawn up by Walter Vale.

The organists have included Richard Redhead, the composer of ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘Bright the Vision’, Walter Vale (1907-1939), William Lloyd Webber (1939-1948), John Birch (1953-1958), Michael Fleming (1958-1968) and Harry Bramma (1989-2004).

John Betjeman declared, ‘It was here, in the 1850s, that the revolution in architecture began … It led the way, All Saints Margaret Street, in church building’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Recent vicars have included David Michael Hope (1982-1985), later Bishop of London and Archbishop of York. The Revd Peter Benedict Anthony has been the Parish Priest of All Saints since 2021.

The style of worship at All Saints is Anglo-Catholic, including ritual, choir and organ music, vestments and incense. As a traditional Anglo-Catholic parish, All Saints has passed resolutions accepting only male episcopal and priestly sacramental ministry.

On Sundays, High Mass is at 11 am, there is a Low Mass at 5:15, and Evensong and Benediction at 6 pm. On week days, from Monday to Friday, Low Mass is at 12 noon and 6: 30 pm. On Solemnities and certain Feast Days, High Mass is at 6:30. On Saturdays, there is Low Mass at 12 noon and the Vigil Mass at 6:30.

All Saints’ Church is open from 11 am to 7 pm, Monday to Friday.

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (118) 23 September 2023

‘We have devalued the fine ecological mat that you wove with so much love’ (‘Litany of Repentance,’ Season of Creation) … street art in Mikrasiaton Square, Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and tomorrow is the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XVI, 24 September 2023). We are also in the Season of Creation.

I am in London later this morning for the annual reunion and celebration day of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street.

But, before the day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

This week, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a theme in this Season of Creation, the annual Christian celebration to pray and respond together to the cry of Creation;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The theme of the Season of Creation this year is ‘Let Justice and Peace Flow’

‘Litany of Repentance’:

The Season of Creation is the annual Christian celebration to pray and respond together to the cry of Creation: the ecumenical family around the world unites to listen and care for our common home, the Oikos of God.

The Season of Creation began on 1 September, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and it ends on 4 October, the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations.

Each year, the Season of Creation Ecumenical Steering Committee proposes a theme for the Season of Creation. This year, the theme is ‘Let Justice and Peace Flow,’ and the symbol is ‘A Mighty River’.

The ecumenical resources produced for the Season of Creation this year include a ‘Litany of Repentance’ written by the Revd James Shri Bhagwan, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches:

God of light, life and love,
God of land, and sea, and sky,
Who called creation into existence and wove it into a rich
tapestry, a fine mat, a web of life

Your Spirit hovered over the face of the primordial waters,
And was breathed into humankind after you made us
equally in your image.
Your Word was made flesh and embodied your divine
love as it took root and bore fruit in us, restoring our
relationship with you.

Yet we have not honoured this relationship with you and
the rest of your Creation.
We have disrespected the web of life
We have devalued the fine ecological mat that you wove
with so much love
We have uprooted Your tree of life and sold it as logs.
We have forgotten that we sweat and cry saltwater and
have polluted your oceans and rivers … oceans that cry for
Justice and rivers that call to righteousness.

Instead of everything that has breath praising you, all
creation groans in pain as trees and phytoplankton choke
on carbon belched from our desire for more, and our care
for less.
All around we see the consequences of our ecological sin
as we extract and exploit, as we defile and pillage our sister
and brother creation:
Heatwaves and wildfires
Bitter winters
Droughts and floods
Rising sea levels and rising ocean temperatures
More extreme cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes

Yet we are blind
Creation roars in pain
Yet we are deaf
You call us in Christ, to speak truth to power and peace to
this planet, our common home
Yet we are silent.

God of hope and healing
May your Rivers of Righteousness
Wash away our apathy, our greed and selfishness and
reveal the deep relationships You created for us with all
Nourish us with the water of life that restores, turning
deserts of despair into oases of hope.

May the waves of Your embrace
Transform us back into guardians of Your creation.
May the currents of Your justice
Carry us to Your lagoon of peace
Where all creation may enjoy
Life in abundance.

We pray in the name of the one who came so that the whole
cosmos may have everlasting life,
Jesus the Christ,

Find out more about the Season of Creation HERE.

‘Nourish us with the water of life that restores’ (Season of Creation, ‘Litany of Repentance’) … the River Great Ouse at Calverton, Buckinghamshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 8: 4-15 (NRSVA):

4 When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 ‘A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6 Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. 7 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. 8 Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’ As he said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

9 Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that

“looking they may not perceive,
and listening they may not understand.”

11 ‘Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.’

‘May your Rivers of Righteousness wash away our apathy, our greed and selfishness (Season of Creation ‘Litany of Repentance’ … by the waterside in Cosgrove, Northamptonshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Let Justice and Peace Flow.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (23 September 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We thank you Lord for the infinite love and mercy you show all your people, for the blessings you bestow on your children.

The Collect:

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy;
and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall,
keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org