All Saints Margaret Street Church spire - at 227 feet tall it's 2 feet higher than Westminster Abbey's western towers
London has some beautiful Victorian Gothic style buildings, amongst its most popular are Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin’s Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and George Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, my own personal favourite. However hidden away, behind busy Oxford Street, is the smaller, less well known but equally magnificent architectural masterpiece of All Saints Margaret Street designed by William Butterfield. It’s in a style also known as gothic revival which was popular in the 1800s and it draws its influence from the great gothic religious buildings of the Middle Ages.
The spire which stands at nearly 230 feet (70 metres) tall rises high above the surrounding buildings and is 2 feet taller than the western towers of Westminster Abbey.
Entrance to All Saints
The church is set back from the main street in a delightful small courtyard with an adjoining vicarage and old choir school, which are linked at basement level.
The buildings are constructed of red brick decorated with bands of black brick in a style known as structural polychrome.
What makes Butterworth’s design so remarkable is that he managed to convey a sense of spaciousness throughout although it is built on a small and cramped site which covers just over 100 square feet (9m2).
Previously on the site was Margaret Street Chapel which dated from the 1760s.
The present church was built between 1850 and 1859. It is Grade I listed and owes its origins to the Ecclesiological Society who wanted to build a "model church" in the gothic style. Alexander Beresford Hope, who was the principle benefactor, chose Butterfield and the building took many years to be built as there were disagreements between the two of them. However the end result is a masterpiece.
The highly ornate interior is utterly breathtaking
A visit to All Saints had been on my London wish list for a few years now, since I first discovered it while undertook an evening course on London architecture, but nothing prepared me for its sheer opulence. I visited just after a church service had finished while the clouds of incense were still in the air which added an almost surreal charm to the highly ornate interior.
The richly decorated chancel occupies nearly one third of the length of the church. The reredos, the decorative screen behind the altar, by Ninian Comper dates to 1909 and replaces the original one by William Dyce which had deteriorated. The central panels depict the nativity and crucifixion and are surrounded by the apostles. In 1914 Comper added additional panels on the north and south walls which portray Fathers of the Eastern and Western Churches (lower tier) and child martyrs (upper tier).
“The interior is indeed dazzling.... no part of the walls is left undecorated” Pevsner
Pevsner's description is indeed fitting as this is one of the most beautiful Victorian buildings in London.
The open timber roof is brightly decorated and the light floods in from the clerestory, upper windows.
The church although only three bays wide is lavishly decorated throughout.
The pulpit is the original design by Butterworth and features Derbyshire fossil grey, red Languedoc, yellow Sienna and Irish green marbles.
It was also Butterworth's original idea to have chairs rather than pews.
Decorative tiles grace the north wall
Along the north wall are vast tile panels which depict a variety of scenes from the Bible painted by Alexander Gibbs. The tiles dating from 1873 were designed by Butterfield replaced his original geometric patterns and were erected in memory of Upton Richards, the church's first vicar.
This tiled panel portrays figures from the Old Testament: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Miriam and Aaron
The octagonal font is decorated in coloured marble
The Baptistery housing the font is near the entrance in the south west corner.
Address: Margaret Street, London, W1W 8JG
Nearest Tube Station: Oxford Circus is in Travelcard Zone 1 and is located a few minutes walk from All Saints.
Opening Hours: Please check website for opening times. My recent visit was made after the Sunday service.
All Saints will be open during the 2013 Open House weekend. Saturday 21 September 10am - 5pm and Sunday 22 September 1pm - 5pm. There will be guided tours on Saturday at 11am and 3pm and also on Sunday at 2pm, on a first come basis.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.