Soho Square, London W1
A red brick Italianate church built at the end of the nineteenth century from designs by John Kelly. It replaced, and incorporates furnishings from, a church which was one of the first to be built after the passing of the second Catholic Relief Act of 1791, and was the first church in England since the Reformation to be dedicated to St Patrick. It has recently (2011) undergone a major and costly refurbishment. The church has a long tradition of outreach to the poor and destitute of the Soho area. With its tall Italianate tower and arcaded north wall, and adjoining late eighteenth-century presbytery, it makes a noteworthy contribution to the Soho Conservation Area.
The word Soho is an ancient hunting call, possibly relating to the park of Whitehall Palace created on these lands by Henry VIII. The area’s modern development started in the late seventeenth century, with Soho Square developed with smart new houses between 1677 and 1691. Amongst these, on the east side, was Carlisle House, the town house of Earl of Carlisle. In the eighteenth century this came into the possession of the colourful adventuress, opera singer and hostess Mrs Teresa Cornelys, whose lovers included Casanova, and whose child she bore. In 1761 she built a large two-story structure, consisting of two great rooms, in the back garden of the property. Her lavish entertaining at Carlisle House, and the associated aggrandisement of the property, landed her in debtors’ prison, and in 1772 the house was seized and its contents auctioned off. The house was demolished, to be replaced with two new houses facing towards the square, nos. 21A and 21B. However, the garden structure was not demolished.
By 1791, when Parliament passed the second Catholic Relief Act, the area of what is now New Oxford Street, along with Seven Dials and Covent Garden, was known as ‘The Rookeries’, a district of poverty, drunkenness and criminality, as immortalised in Hogarth’s Gin Lane. The area included a great many poor Irish. In response to a pressing pastoral need, a group of notable Irish Catholics formed the Confraternity of St Patrick ‘to consider the most effectual means of establishing a chapel to be called St Patrick’s, on a liberal and permanent foundation’. They were able to take a sixty-two year lease on the vacant garden building of Carlisle House from the then owner, a Mr Hoffmann. An Irish Franciscan priest, Fr Arthur O’Leary, raised the funds and directed the building of a chapel, which was opened by Bishop Douglass on 29 September, 1792. This was built within the shell of the garden building, the external change being limited to the addition of porches. This external reticence may be a reflection of limited means, or a desire to maintain a low profile (the Gordon Riots still being fresh in the memory) or probably a combination of both. Internally, the structure was opened up, and galleries provided. This was one of the first Catholic churches to be built with official sanction, and was the first post-Reformation church in England dedicated to St Patrick. Fr O’Leary died in 1802, and is commemorated in a fine monument in the present church.
In 1848, according to Rottmann, the then rector, the Revd Canon Long, collected funds for the purchase of land for the building of a new church, from designs by A. W. Pugin and William Wardell. The purchase of land did not prove possible, but in 1865, when the lease fell in, Canon Long’s successor Fr Barge was able to buy the houses at nos. 21A and 21B Soho Square. 21A was to become the presbytery and 22B would, in due course, make way for a new and larger church.
In the nineteenth century Soho continued to develop as a cosmopolitan centre, with large waves of immigrants, in particular Italians. Increasingly, the late eighteenth century chapel was considered too small and its external presence unworthy, and John Kelly of Kelly and Birchall (who had designed the church at Chiswick of 1886, qv) was invited by the rector Canon Langton George Vere to prepare a scheme for its replacement. The foundation stone for his new church was laid on 18 June 1891 and the completed church was opened on 17 March 1893. The builder was W. H. Gaze of Kingston-upon Thames. The church was a large red brick design in Italianate style, with a tall northwestern campanile. Several furnishings from the old church were incorporated in the new building, including the monument to Fr O’Leary and the reredos of the high altar.
In 2010 the church was closed for fourteen months to allow for a major, £3.5m scheme of repair and improvement. The work included the re-flooring throughout of the church in marble, redecoration, and the installation of a lift down to new and improved facilities in the crypt. The church re-opened in May 2011, with Mass said by Archbishop Nichols, and with music composed for the occasion by James MacMillan. The Spanish architect Javier Castañón oversaw the scheme. More recently the church has gained additional townscape prominence with the creation of the Soho Place piazza to the east, connecting to the rebuilt Tottenham Court Road underground station and new Elizabeth Line station.
Text updated and new photos added by AHP 30.4.2023
The building is fully described in the list entry, below. However, this needs to be amended to take account of recent alterations and to correct one or two errors:
Roman Catholic Church. 1891-93 by John Kelly of Kelly and Birchall in Renaissance style replacing a reused late C18 building adapted for Catholic worship since 1802. Dark red brick of small gauge with rubbed brick detail. Italianate with early Renaissance simplified detail. Comprises west campanile tower, vestibule, antechapel, aisled nave, apsidal sanctuary and south chapel. West tower as campanile 125 feet high over principal entrance, with small stone Corinthian pedimented and columned porch, with inscription “UT CHRISTIANI ITA ET ROMANI SITIS” on narrow former house plot frontage to square; the tower has four pilastered stages with arcaded openings, and deep bracketed eaves cornice to pyramidal roof. Second stage has statue of St Francis in arched alcove. Inscription above third stage and bell stage above with paired round-headed arches and Diocletian arch above. Neo-Baroque cast iron railings at base but gates 1945 replacements. Raised and fielded panelled wooden doors. Adjoining to the right is the Presbytery no 21A which is separately listed. On north side to Sutton Row bold elevational treatment with arcading, pilasters and moulded cornices. Two bay tower and narthex set back at ground floor level to allow fixing of cast iron railings in Baroque style. North aisle then set back as nine bay north wall, but at clerestorey level one bay run as open screen to light hidden west gable of nave. Clerestorey proper expressed thereafter as five bay two storeys with set back elevation with brick buttresses. Pedimented gable end to nave. Pedimented stone doorcase in fifth bay and service door with windows above in ninth bay. Above two final bays on north the sanctuary and apse are expressed at clerestorey level only.
INTERIOR: Tower serves as vestibule, octagonal on plan. On the south side a late C18 Pieta figure of an angel holding the Dead Christ, carved white marble, now gold metal painted, the lower part of the monument in statuary and yellow marble, the plinth forming a Holy water stoup, also metal gilt painted, the whole design within a round-headed alcove. Also probable late C18 fixed Holy Water stoup with gadrooned sides on moulded octagonal plinth. Hanging lamp with the donor’s name 1929. Neo-Renaissance in style. Wall plaque inscribed “this is the oldest mission in England dedicated to St Patrick. The building which occupied part of this site known as Father O’Leary’s Chapel was opened in 1792. The present church was opened on 17 March 1893…” Two bay narthex between vestibule and nave has access to presbytery on the right. Within the first bay is a memorial to the Irish Franciscan Capuchin Priest Rev. Arthur O’Leary OSF (b. 1729 ordained 1756) died 1802 aged 78. A standing figure of Faith holding a cross leaning on a plinth with books including Holy Bible, the plinth with a bust of the priest surrounded by a shamrock wreath, the crowned harp of Ireland formerly above now missing. Statuary marble part relief with inscription below against a green marble obelisk. Artist not known but an important and possibly unique memorial to an C18 Catholic priest working in France, England and Ireland. Second bay has stairs to gallery on north. On south altar to St Anthony of Padua. Two semi-quadrant white marble altar rails and grey marble tiled floor. Altar and reredos in Byzantine style with variegated marble frontal and reredos, incorporating two c1890 paintings on canvas unsigned. Wooden statue of the Saint under marble niche with attic above. Partly painted pilasters and soffits of architrave above. Nave of five bays with attached pilasters and entablature supporting clerestory. Enriched Corinthian Order with arches in between. Two arched windows to each clerestorey bay with intervening Corinthian piers with capitals of gilt painted plaster. Impressive semi-circular Roman barrel-vaulted ceiling, wooden with stencilled coffers. Terrazzo floor to centre aisle and access to benches mounted on wooden floor. Benches c1893 of stained deal. Rear bay has tripartite arrangement supporting gallery above. Two standing marble figures of life-size angels with Holy Water stoups, possibly from the Moorfields church. At north plaster Pieta below window. On south side a separate bay for baptistery with a black and white tiled marble floor. Fixed stone font, painted stone with wooden gilt top. Fixed marble altar above with painting of Baptism of Christ above. Stained glass window of Baptism of Christ of 1921. Wooden surround to statue of St Anne and the Virgin. At rear a fixed plaque recording “rectors of St Patrick’s church” from 1792 to 1798, incorporating an upper level bas relief of St Peter, probably C18. On north side the “side chapels” are actually simple recesses between the arches. At north on entry a fixed marble shelf on columns. In next bay a wooden confession box c1893. In next bay a late C18 bombe-shaped altar table metal gilt painted and very fine mahogany and gilt gradine and reredos with fixed tabernacle with inlaid door, late C18 and said to be from another London Catholic chapel of the date. Also carved painted statue of the Virgin above under reused late C19 bed tester. Next bay has carved wooden confessional box as above, fixed pulpit square on plan, of carved variegated marbles in neo-Renaissance style, attached to wall neo-Renaissance carved mahogany backboard and tester, probably a gift of 1901 (inscription). Next bay has a fixed marble altar c1900 with wooden statue of St John Bosco, by Delapre, maker. On the south side from the first bay of the narthex a three storey statuary marble altar to the Virgin, elaborate reredos with Corinthian order supporting an elaborate pedimented and scrolled attic and marble statue of the Virgin of Lourdes, possibly a gift of 1892. Next bay has a fixed alabaster altar in High Victorian Gothic style with polychromatic frontal of stylises leaves, spars etc. Tripartite panel painting above fixed against wall forming shallow reredos below fixed picture, Christ with Martha and Mary. All contained under Ionic columns supporting segmental pediment of late C18 date, the reredos of the altar of the 1793 church. Next bay, fixed marble altar and reredos with columns supporting segmental pediment with fixed painting of St Joseph and the Christ Child and inscription to dedication of reredos of 1892. Next bay has fixed wooden altar with attached thin marble panel within elaborate gilt frame and central flaming Sacred Heart against sunburst, late C18 from the gallery of the previous church. A reredos of plinth supporting semi-detached pairs of lotus columns supporting triangular pediment, all late C18. Fixed painted wood statue of Christ by Mayer and Co. of Munich, c1860. On the south side also is a domed side chapel, square on plan, with no access available. This is dedicated to the Lady of Sorrows and is said to contain a Pieta by Theodore Phyffers, Sculptor, c1860. The Sanctuary arch is expressed through two storeys with enriched compound Corinthian pilasters. Initial half-bay and apsed plan lit from pair of windows north and south but no lighting at east end. Stencilled lettered quotations in frieze of entablature and either side of fixed marble panel of St Patrick in attic storey. Gilt and green stencilled decoration to coffer ceiling. Fixed marble communion rails neo-Renaissance in style, with pair of gilt metal gates. At Sanctuary level the floor is laid in marble of Byzantine inspiration. There is a detached working altar made from the mensa of the original high altar, which survives as a dwarf wall in the original position with a half reredos. Above the altar C18 hanging picture of Crucifixion after Van Dyck. Marble lining on south and round apse c1930? Two doorcases of similar date incorporating the harp of Ireland to standard C18 classical design. In north bay a polished wood classical probably C18 organ case within its own niche. A single bank of fixed choir benches on south.
HISTORY: Existing building replaces a late C18 building adapted for Catholic worship and used since 1802 and retains late C18 Roman Catholic church monuments and altars of great rarity. The church has a strong claim to be the first Roman Catholic Church in England dedicated to St Patrick as required by a large late C18 and C19 Irish population in this part of London. The architects were one of the unsuccessful competitors for the Brompton Oratory and the Italian Renaissance style is comparatively rare for church architecture in the last decade of the C19.
[“Survey of London. Parish of St Anne’s Soho”. Volume 31 (1966) pp79-80. Alexander Rottmann “London Catholic Churches: a historical and artistic record (1926), pp. 57-65.]
Listing NGR: TQ2976581268
Former terrace house. 1791-93. Stock brick with stucco ground floor, slate roof. 4 storeys and basement. Doorway to left has panelled door with side lights and radial glazed semicircular fanlight overall, plain recessed glazing bar sashes to right. Upper floors have recessed glazing bar sashes in shallow early C19 stucco architraves. Parapet with coping. Wrought iron ornamental bowed balconettes to 1st floor. Original area railings with urn finial standards. Rear has slightly bowed window wall. Interior largely intact with semicircular archway opening from hall on to staircase which is of timber and geometric; main rooms with restrained enrichment, marble ground floor chimney pieces and 1st floor rear room chimney piece of wood elaborately composed with slender Corinthian columns, enriched frieze with relief carving to tablet blocks, etc. Survey of London; Vol. XXXIII.
Listing NGR: TQ2975381259
Architect: John Kelly of Kelly & Birchall
Original Date: 1891
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Grade II*