All Saints Margaret Street

An Introduction to All Saints

Introduction

'I was aware that I was standing not only in one of the great monuments of Victorian church art, arguably William Butterfield's masterpiece, but also in one of the penultimate expressions of its revived faith within a tradition which stretched back to the Caroline divines in the seventeenth century, down through the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth to our own day.'
Art historian Roy Strong, on his first visit to All Saints

 

'It is the first piece of architecture I have seen, built in modern days, which is free from all signs of timidity or incapacity...it challenges fearless comparison with the noblest work of any time. Having done this, we may do anything: there need be no limits to our hope or our confidence.'
Art commentator John Ruskin

These two quotations are an appropriate place to begin a survey of All Saints, Margaret Street. Both encapsulate the sense of awe and holiness that greets worshipper and visitor alike.

Both also set All Saints within a historical context - liturgically and architecturally. The Ruskin quotation in particular also hints at the response to All Saints upon its unveiling. Like all great things, All Saints provoked - and continues to do so - a variety of reactions, both positive and negative. Not everyone in the mid-19th century saw freedom from timidity as a good thing.

It is not possible, nor would it be accurate, to divorce the architecture from the history and worship of All Saints. That all should be deeply entwined was a fundamental principle behind the foundation and design of the church. The following pages will trace its history, from its origins as a model church for the Ecclesiological Society, to the architecturally fascinating, decoratively beautiful, but most importantly alive and spiritually enriching place of worship that we have today.

John Betjeman and All Saints Margaret Street
"It was here, in the 1850s, that the revolution in architecture began...It led the way, All Saints Margaret Street, in church building."

In 1970 Sir John Betjeman, the poet, writer and enthusiastic advocate of heritage and architecture, visited All Saints Margaret Street as part of a television programme he was making about Victorian Architecture for the BBC. In the clip, which you can view by clicking the link below, he talks about William Butterfield and All Saints, one of his most beautiful and important buildings. It also includes some fine footage of the church itself.

 

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