All Saints Margaret Street, London

Margaret Street leads out of Cavendish Square (rear of John Lewis, Oxford Street), and runs parallel to Oxford Street. All Saints is one of the key Victorian churches in London, and with its central position and conveniently long opening hours, must be high on the list of aesthetic things to see in London.

All Saints Margaret Street was built in High Victorian Gothic style by the eminent architect William Butterfield, in 1849-59. The church is set back from the street with a small courtyard, and the buildings to left and right - a school and vicarage - are also by Butterfield. The inside is astonishing - this must be one of the most convinced examples of structural polychromy (i.e. using highly coloured actual materials as opposed to coloured surface decoration) in a Victorian church. There are a series of large tile pictures on the walls, encaustic tiling in geometric patterns, and a wide variety of costly stones used in the pillars and other internal features of the church. The building was put up at the time when Ruskin's Stones of Venice was published, and the church embodies Ruskinian principles.

The tile pictures - four of them fill the North wall, with another on the rear wall, and one on the tower wall on a filled in arch - date from the 1870s onwards. Apparently they were designed by Butterfield himself, and painted by Alexander Gibbs, according to Pevsner. Other sources point to Gerald Moira for these pictures. They are in pastel colours, large scale and avoiding fine detail. The full-height figures fill the vertical space, and the composition, with foreground and rear layer only, is akin to sgraffito or woodcuts in style. Deceptively simple, fine work with a nice sense of drapery. The subjects are New Testament. The floor and lower walls of the church are tiled in purple, yellow, slate blue, white and black, and show zig zags, squares, hexagons and stars in a fashion typical of Butterfield. The aisles have arches on pillars of red granite, with capitals of alabaster, and the ornate pulpit is also in a variety of coloured stones.

Alas, paintings in the church by William Dyce deteriorated and no longer exist.

This church was much praised by another important Gothic architect, G. E. Street, and his equally polychromatic church of St James the Less can be seen on Vauxhall Bridge Road.

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