Wednesday, 8 May 2013

All Saints, Margaret Street

Architect: William Butterfield, 1849-59

A hugely influential design that provided the template for many High Victorian Neo-Gothic urban churches.

Butterfield's work at All Saints transformed an awkward site into an experiential tour-de-force, making the church one of the most impressive exercises in the use of space and decoration in all of London. Nestled in a congested block, only the polychrome tower punctures the skyline to mark the presence of the Anglo-Catholic parish. Nothing about Butterfield's scheme was typical for the time: red brick had previously been considered a lowly and antiquated material, the site left no room to follow traditional spatial rules for the layout of a church, and the High Victorian Gothic style was in its infancy. Nonetheless, Butterfield confidently designed the building with complex Tudor-patterned  brickwork, breaking away from prevailing popular taste to create a rich, eclectic mix of elements and materials that did not just revive the Gothic but rather reinvented it in the Victorian Age.

Sacrificing space to a courtyard in such a limited site may seem an odd decision, however the area created an all-important threshold for the church and allowed more natural light to permeate the cramped south elevation. Walking through the church's corner entry door, visitors are met with the tiny chancel and sideways nave that comprise the explosively decorative interior of Butterfield’s pioneering creation. Today the Gothic Revival is easily associated with grim moralising, but Butterfield’s colourful design, reflecting the ideas of John Ruskin, was intended as a celebration of life and creativity.

Best time to visit: open Monday-Saturday 7:30am-6pm with various weekday and Sunday services

Address: 7 Margaret Street, London W1W 8JG