Faith in Fitzrovia

As I pass All Souls, Langham Place, on my left, worship music reaches me this Sunday morning through its open windows. I press on along Riding House Street, and turn right into Wells Street and right again for Margaret Street. It was named at the time of its laying out in 1719 after Lady Margaret Harley, then aged four.

A dissenters’ chapel, the Margaret Street Chapel, was built here in about 1752. The chapel and its surroundings were transformed in the 19th Century into London’s leading Anglo-Catholic church, All Saints, by the offices of the Cambridge Camden Society. The church has been described by Simon Jenkins as “architecturally England’s most celebrated church”.

St Andrew’s (raised 1845-7) in Wells Street, originally intended as a “daughter church” to All Souls, was as famous as All Saints in its High Church heyday. At one point, a ticket system for services was introduced. When it became redundant, it was taken down in 1934 and faithfully rebuilt in Kingsbury, where it serves today. Under its second incumbent, James Murray, St Andrew’s became notorious for ritualism, or “Popery in the full ear”. At the Dedication Festival in 1851, the choir and clergy as they processed into the church were “treated with violence” by Protestants, who allegedly let small birds dressed like cardinals fly into the building.

The material architect of All Saints was William Butterfield, who was closely associated with High Victorian Gothic revival church building and with the Oxford Movement. This, his masterpiece executed between 1850-9, was the first example of structural polychromy, using brick, in London. It continued to attract large and wealthy congregations until after the First World War.

The Oxford Movement ultimately provided from the Church of England to the Roman Catholic Church in England two cardinals, John Newman and Henry Manning: Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

Manning is less celebrated, and yet the crowds lining the streets for his funeral in 1892 had been equalled only by those for the Duke of Wellington forty years before. Less than three years earlier, when Manning was 81, he mediated the negotiations on 14 September 1889 between the leaders of the Great Dock Strike, then five weeks old, and the dock managers. He, like many others, had been deeply alarmed by the harsh reality of free market capitalism, warning that: ” “freedom of contract” has been the gospel of the employers.” One of the strike leaders, the future MP Ben Tillett, later reflected:

“I never look back on that meeting without a sense of nightmare, but there was a final judgment, and the Cardinal won.”

In the East End the Jewish community had led a solidarity march with the dockers, a large proportion of whom were Irish Catholics, and together with the Salvation Army provided soup kitchens for the dockers’ families and children. The Irish dockers returned the gesture of solidarity in the Cable Street riots nearly half a century later.

Lord Maurice Glasman, speaking at a conference in 2014 which commemorated the resolution of the Great London Dock Strike, described Cardinal Manning as “stubborn, organised and faithful “.

At the height of fashionable attendance at All Saints, a clerical wit wrote:

“In a church that is furnished with mullion and gable,

With altar and reredos, with gurgoyle and groin,

The penitents’ dresses are seal-skin and sable,

The odour of sanctity’s Eau de Cologne.

But if only could Lucifer flying from Hades

Gaze down on this crowd with its panniers and paints,

He could say, as he looked at the lords and the ladies,

“Oh! where is “All Sinners”, if this is “All Saints “?”.

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