In the 1840s, the Jesuits first began looking for a location for their London church, they found the site in a quiet back street. They found it in what was in fact the mews in a back street. The name 'Farm Street' derives from 'Hay Hill Farm' which, in the eighteenth century, extended from Hill Street eastward beyond Berkeley Square. In 1843 Pope Gregory XVI received a petition from English Catholics for permission to erect a Jesuit Church in London and plans were agreed.
Originally, the intention, by the Superior of the English Jesuits, Fr Randal Lythgoe, was for the church to have a capacity for 900 people. However, this was too expensive, so instead, the church was built for a capacity of 475. The cost of the site was £5,800, which came from multiple private benefactors.
In the nineteenth century, the choir consisted only of men and boys drawn from the local Roman Catholic schools. After the First World War, the choir came under the direction of Fr John Driscoll SJ, who was later succeeded by Fernand Laloux and the organist was Guy Weitz, a Belgian, who had been a pupil of Charles-Marie Widor and Alexandre Guilmant. One of Weitz's most notable students was Nicholas Danby (1935–1997) who succeeded him as the church organist in 1967. Danby was also a tutor and taught John Keys, Paul Hale and Robert Costin. His main achievement at Farm Street was re-establishing the choir in the early 1970s, following a period of change in the late 1960s, as a fully professional ensemble.
Following Nicholas Danby's death in 1997, two of his students, Martyn Parry, and David Graham were appointed Joint Directors of Music. Martyn Parry was formerly Director of Music at the Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon. David Graham had studied music with Nicholas Danby at the Royal College of Music. In December 2004, and following the death of Martyn Parry earlier that year, the music was reorganised and Duncan Aspden was appointed Associate Director of Music, to assist David Graham in directing the professional choir and playing the organ.
During the 1990s a number of recordings were made of the music at the Farm Street church. In 2000, a CD of organ music, recorded by David Graham, which included the music of Guy Weitz was recorded on the church organ in Farm Street.
In the twenty-first century, the repertoire is varied and ranges from sixteenth century Polyphony, the Viennese Classical composers, nineteenth century Romanics as well as twentieth century and contemporary music. Gregorian Chant still features and plays an important role in the regular worship of the church.
Since 1966 the church has been a parish in the centre of Mayfair. The Jesuit community has always consisted of priests and brothers attached specifically to the church, working in other pastoral sectors or in retirement.
The building next to the church hosts various parish events and is a home to the offices of the British Province of Jesuits, Jesuit Media Initiatives, the community house of the Jesuits who work in the parish, or teach and study at Heythrop College and also houses the Mount Street Jesuit Centre.
The centre provides opportunities in central London for adult Christian formation through prayer, worship, theological education and social justice.
As part of the centre’s commitment to social justice, it provides a full-time General Practitioner for homeless people at the Doctor Hickey Surgery in central London.
Also present within the centre is London Jesuit Volunteers. It is a programme that operates out of the centre that places busy adults of any age in direct service or in advocacy roles for a few hours a week. Volunteers work as advocates, mentors and befrienders alongside people in prisons, hospitals, homeless shelters and sleeping rough, in communities of people with learning disabilities, and with outreach agencies for refugees, asylum seekers, forced migrants, and other marginalised people.
Also within the Mount Street Jesuit Centre is Jesuit Media Initiatives. It runs Pray as you go, an online enterprise that offers daily prayer and reflections to its subscribers and Thinking Faith the online journal of the Society of Jesus in Britain.
Thinking Faith was launched on 18 January 2008. The journal is free to access and subscribe to and covers a set of subjects from such as politics, theology, philosophy, spirituality, poetry and culture, contributing to debates and issues from a British (and European) perspective. Also included are regular book reviews and film reviews. Unlike a printed publication, it doesn't have a weekly or monthly edition, but a 'rolling' format. Articles may be added at any time, with subscribers notified online.
Pray as you go is daily audio prayer, using scripture, questions for reflection, music and other prayer content such as the Stations of the Cross, that can be downloaded from the website or by subscribing to a podcast. An open, public trial began on Ash Wednesday of 2006 as a way of "taking something up" rather than giving something up for Lent, and then extended into the Easter season of that year. After more than 250,000 prayer sessions were downloaded by people all over the world, it was decided to continue Pray as you go indefinitely. By March 2008, over five million prayer sessions had been downloaded and it had been launched in 5 other languages.