All saints, Margaret street, London W1
Just yards behind Oxford Street, Margaret Street is one of those quiet backwaters of bustling central London. The long-planned model church for the Ecclesiological Society, All Saints’ foundation stone was laid by Dr Pusey on All Saints’ Day 1850, and the completed church was consecrated by Bishop Tait on 28 May 1859 (extremes meet). Working on a restricted site, Butterfield’s first triumph was the grouping of the clergy house and the former choir school, flanking a courtyard in front of the church, a grouping best viewed and enjoyed from across the road. He worked in polychromatic layered and patterned brickwork in red and black, not the usual stone. Enter and adjust your eyes to the darkness; this is a town church just illuminated by high windows.
Butterfield’s other great triumph is the amazing feeling of spaciousness in the stunning polychromatic interior; because of its brilliant proportions, you do not realize how small it is. You spot the details first – the marble font, the coloured mosaic-in-marble pulpit, the tiled walls and floor, or the AD. detailing of the chancel arch; above all, your eye is drawn to the East end by the powerful reredos designed by William Dyce. Its lower panels are scenes from the life of Christ, looked down upon by a Crucifixion and by a Christ in Glory; today you see Comper’s copies of the original panels.
‘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,’ marvelled Ruskin. And still we marvel.
Reflect that the Victorians dared to take risks in Christ’s service, and pray that we may be similarly inspired to dare.