St Mary Magdalene

The parish was founded in 1865 in a densely packed slum district, the architect was George Edmund Street, a member of the Margaret Street congregation, and then at the height of his powers.

About this church

Building started in 1867, and was complete in 1872, but a fire destroyed the brand new roof and the reconstruction took a year. The church was consecrated on 21st October 1878, after the decorations were finished.

Street’s design was dictated by the site, sloping steeply from north to south and also from west to east at the back and slightly from east to west at the front, and hemmed in by terraced housing. The church is immensely high, with a needle spire, which rose above the rooftops. Clerestory windows ensured that it was light. The irregular west end abutted existing buildings, and the church occupies every inch of the available site, except for a sunken area to access the vestries.

Under the church, to provide a level platform, is a massive crypt, including vestries at the east end. Street’s artistry was to provide a double arcade to the north aisle which takes the eye away from the proximity of the outside wall and conceals a slight curve in it. He was building the Royal Courts of Justice at the same time, and there is more than a passing resemblance between the church and the Great Hall there.

The decorative scheme of the church is Street’s, executed by some of the leading ecclesiastical artists of the day. The windows are all by Henry Holiday and repay careful study.

Twenty years after the building of the church, Ninian Comper created the Chapel of St Sepulchre in the south aisle of the crypt, his first work in London. The chapel is a chantry chapel translated from 15th century Germany, with every detail perfectly designed by Comper. The reredos contains a concealed tabernacle (possibly the first to be installed on a Church of England altar) which took the place of Comper’s favoured hanging pyx for fear of protestant rioters.

Key Features

  • Captivating architecture
  • Spectacular stained glass
  • Glorious furnishings
  • National heritage here
  • Famous connections

Visitors information

  • Bus stop within 100m
  • Train station within 250m
  • Level access to the main areas
  • On street parking at church
  • Accessible toilets in church
  • Café in church
  • Space to secure your bike
  • Wifi

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