Any list of outstanding architectural buildings in London will naturally feature a splendid church or two, but the chances are that All Souls in Langham Place might not be one of them.
Built in 1824 during the regency period by the prolific architect of the day, John Nash, the design of the Anglican Church immediately came in for stern disapproval. One eminent critic wrote ‘that it was one of the most miserable structures in the metropolis – in its starved proportions more resembling a manufactory or warehouse that the impressive character of a church exterior!’.
The main criticism clearly was that they didn’t like the mixing up the two architectural styles – the gothic tower and the classical Corinthian columns. Maybe they also didn’t like the use of the sandy coloured Bath Stone instead of the more familiar and paler Portland Stone that London’s buildings of the time were generally built of.
Whatever their criticisms, the Church was here to stay although this was just the start of the problems for Nash’s Church.
On 8th December 1940, the Church became a casualty in the German bombing of London, when a German parachute mine exploded nearby and caused extensive damage. It was closed for about 10 years while repairs to the building took place.
Then in the 1970’s builders discovered that the foundations were only 13 feet deep. Maybe Nash knew that his building wouldn’t be well received so didn’t build it to last! Luckily, money was found to make the building more stable and a Hall was built under the Church for members of the congregation and visitors to meet after a service.
Whatever dislike the architects of the time had the church, it has defineitely stood the test of time and I for one, happen to love it. It’s exactly the odd shape and the combination of the architectural styles that makes it so striking – and its simplicity and lack of interior size seems to me to be perfectly in keeping. Love it or hate you can’t fail to notice it, standing proud in its place on a busy London street just in front of the famous BBC building – it’s often used for broadcasting by the BBC – just seems to add to its stock. For me it is one of London’s gems. A Church design that’s not afraid to be different!