This is a tale of two remarkable churches. They were once cosy High Anglican neighbours barely 50 yards apart, almost Siamese twins, built within a few years of each other around 1850. Now, they are separated by 10 miles after the first of them, St Andrews, in Wells Street (north of Oxford Street) was dismantled brick by brick almost 90 years ago and reassembled at Kingsbury.
In its time, St Andrews was a very fashionable church with first class music and lovely statues whose attendees included William Gladstone. So why was it moved from London? Maybe it just couldn’t stand the competition, because its new neighbour was, and is, a church even agnostics drool over.
William Butterfield’s Grade 1-listed All Saints in Margaret Street is a Gothic masterpiece. The architecture critic Ian Nairn said it can only be understood in terms of overwhelming passion: “Here is the force of Wuthering Heights translated into dusky red and black bricks, put down in a mundane Marylebone street to rivet you, pluck you into the courtyard with its harsh welcoming wings and quivering steeple”. Walking inside, you could be forgiven for thinking that there hadn’t been a Reformation. The walls have been painted with zealous enthusiasm and there are statues of the Virgin Mary and even a bijou confessional.
It is still a bit of a puzzle why two High Anglican churches were built so close together in the first place. The end came not from divine intervention but from mundane market forces. Numbers of congregants dropped as the area lost its houses and became more commercialised. Sadly, 50 yards was too close to accommodate both churches and the doors of St Andrews closed on Easter Sunday, 1931.
It would have been completely destroyed but for a public outcry against the demolition of a beautiful church. This led to it being pulled down in 1933-34 with each brick meticulously labelled and moved to the expanding commuter town near Wembley in what was dubbed “the biggest jig-saw puzzle in the world”.
The relocation of the church was judged a big success, not least because, freed from the constraining buildings next door in Wells Street, more light came in to illuminate some of the treasures within, which had been built up to compete with All Saints. They initially included an altar and window by Pugin, a wall monument by William Burgess, fittings by G E Street and even a lectern by All Saints architect Butterfield. If ever there was a case for two churches to be “‘twinned” this is it.
Vic would like to thank G de J for bringing this story to his attention. All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here and a book containing many of them can be bought here. Follow Vic on Twitter. Image from St Andrew’s church website.
On London is a small but influential website which strives to provide more of the kind of journalism the capital city needs. It depends on financial help from readers and is able to offer them something in return. Please consider becoming a supporter. Details here.