St Anne's Church, Soho
|St. Anne's Church, Soho|
The tower and west end of St. Anne's Church, viewed from Wardour Street.
|Denomination||Church of England|
|Architect(s)||William Talman and/or Christopher Wren|
Saint Anne's Church in the Soho section of London was consecrated on 21 March 1686 by Bishop Henry Compton as the parish church of the new Church of England Parish of St Anne (known after 1945 as the Parish of St Anne with St Thomas and St Peter) which had been created out of parts of the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields. The church and parish still survive today, as part of the Deanery of Westminster (St Margaret) within the Diocese of London in the Church of England. Parts of its churchyard around the tower and west end are now the public park of Saint Anne's Gardens, accessed from the Shaftesbury Avenue end of Wardour Street, whilst the church itself is accessed via a gate at the Shaftesbury Avenue end of Dean Street (it does not front onto the street).
The parish was dedicated to Saint Anne because Compton had been tutor to Princess Anne before she became Queen. Construction commenced in 1677 on a plot in what was then the countryside of Soho Fields, with William Talman and/or Christopher Wren as architect(s). The church was designed as an 80 feet (24 m) long and 64 feet (20 m) wide basilican church, with a 70 feet (21 m) high west end tower.
In 1699 a tuition-free parish school was founded for boys and in 1704 it started to admit girls. The church received an organ in 1699 from the Dowager-Queen's Chapel in St James's Palace and from 1700 the church's first organist was William Croft (composer of the "St Anne" tune to O God, Our Help in Ages Past). The church's tower was only completed in 1718, with the addition of a timber spire by local carpenter John Meard. Edmund Andros was buried in the church's churchyard in 1714, in 1724/5 the church saw the marriage of Edward Harley, 3rd Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, and in 1743 Prince William Henry (younger brother of George III) was baptised here.
The tower, however, became unstable by 1800 and, after 41 meetings of a "Tower Rebuilding Committee" came no closer to solving the problem, the architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell was commissioned to design a replacement. The original tower was demolished (though the 1 ton clock bell, cast in 1691 and still in use, was retained) and the new tower's brickwork was completed by 1801, its bell chamber's Portland stonework by March 1803, and its copper cupola by May 1803. The new tower's ground floor room became the parish's vestry room, and later (in the 20th century) a robing room for the clergy, and in the 14 feet (4.3 m) deep brick chamber beneath it are interred the ashes of the novelist Dorothy L Sayers, who was a longtime Churchwarden of the parish and member of the St Anne's Society. 19th century burials in St Anne's churchyard included David Williams (1816) and William Hazlitt (1830).
The church's choir and musical, famous since its consecration, continued with Sir Joseph Barnby (later Precentor of Eton), who served as its organist from 1871 to 1888 and introduced the first UK performance of Bach's "St John Passion", and with royal command performances (in 1886 for Queen Victoria at Windsor, singing Louis Spohr's "Last Judgement"; and later, at Buckingham Palace, for Queen Alexandra). The first religious service with music to be broadcast on the radio came from St Anne's in the 1920s.
The whole church was left burned out on the night of 24 September 1940 during the Blitz, apart from the tower, which was left derelict. St. Thomas's, Regent Street (now demolished), and the adjoining St. Anne's House in the "Upper Room" (now known as the "Allen Room") were used for worship from then on. Though Jacques Groag in 1945 proposed keeping the ruins as a war memorial, it was by 1949 assumed that the church would not be re-built, and so in 1953 the remains of the east wall (the only significant parts left standing) were demolished, the site deconsecrated and prepared for sale, and the parish amalgamated with those of the churches of St. Thomas's, Regent Street and St. Peter's, Great Windmill Street (creating the Parish of St Anne with St Thomas and St Peter, centred on St Thomas's).
The tower was used as a chapel for a time in the 1950s, partly restored in 1979 by the Soho Society, and fully restored in the 1990-91 re-building of the whole church - the tower is now a Grade II listed building. That reconstruction had been the result of London County Council's policy to keep Soho as a residential area, was facilitated by a new private act of parliament in 1965 allowing the site to be cleared, and began in earnest with a foundation stone laid by Princess Anne on 12 March 1990. The new complex was completed in time for an opening and re-dedication on St. Anne's Day, 26 July 1991. The new church and its associated complex is not per se a reconstruction of the old, and can be varied from a large to a small space. It is set within a Community Centre, and is a community focus, such as for grief surrounding the 1999 Admiral Duncan pub bombing.
Despite the lack of a building at that time, from 1941 to 1958 the St. Anne Society under Father Patrick McLaughlin encouraged links between the literary world and the Church of England, with members such as Fr Gilbert Shaw, J. C. Winnington-Ingram, Charles Williams, Agatha Christie, T. S. Eliot, Fr Max Petitpierre, Dom Gregory Dix, Arnold Bennett, C. S. Lewis and the churchwarden Rose Macaulay. Continuing the work of the church's 18th and 19th century philanthropic Rectors, in the 20th and 21st centuries the "Vestry of St Anne's" has been active in social work with London's poor and homeless (Kenneth Leech founded the charity Centrepoint in St. Anne's House's basement in December 1969 whilst he was assistant priest at St Anne's, and - along with The Soho Society and the Westminster Advocacy Service - it is still based at the church). The Soho Masses Pastoral Council (SMPC), a Roman Catholic community which provides pastoral care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered Catholics, their parents, families and friends, also holds its masses in the church.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to St Anne's, Soho.|
- Detailed description from the Survey of London online
- The Spirit of Soho mural
- History page of the church of St Anne's website.
- The Soho Society
- Parish of St Anne's, Soho (History)
- Deanery of Westminster (St Margaret)