Why Are We Here?
When architect John Nash designed All Souls Church he was fulfilling a brief for one of a number of new churches and incorporating it into his grand plans for the area, backed by the then Prince Regent.
The original plan would have seen Regent Street running in a straight line to Regent's Park but swampy land and a resistant landowner meant that there had to be a curve in the road between Regent Street and Portland Place - Langham Place.
That turn in the road is where you'll find All Souls. The rotunda, with the main church building set at an angle, was a design Nash used to get round this situation leading to an eyecatching and unconventional focus, highly visible from Oxford Circus (which over 100,000 people a day now pass through).
Consecrated in November 1824, the architecture of the building was not universally acclaimed at the time but is now the last surviving Nash church in London. From its roots as a church building for the well-to-do inhabitants of Marylebone it has become home, over the years, to an ever-changing, international gospel community, which happens to be situated in one of the most internationally diverse parishes in the country.
Preserved Through the 20th Century
As with much of London, the second world war made its mark on Upper Regent Street and major damage was caused to the church by a landmine in 1940. The neighbouring Queen's Hall was destroyed.
The All Souls building survived though the roof collapsed and the spire needed partial dismantling. It remained too unsafe to worship in for some time. The congregation moved for the remainder of the war years to St Peter's Vere Street until it was finally safe to return. The restoration was completed in 1951 shortly after John Stott became rector in 1950.
John Stott capping the spire
John's first sermon, on June 18 1950, looked at the five-fold emphasis of the early church and brought that as a 'manifesto' to the congregation 'as we peer into the unknown' - together in study, together in fellowship, together in worship, together in prayer, together in evangelism. He issued a call to prayer and, at the outset of his ministry, expressed his wish that the midweek prayer gathering (then on Thursdays) 'should be the central activity of the week.' The church and its ministry grew over the next decades.
Expansion, Change and Hidden Provision
Growth brings with it various challenges and, by the end of the 1960's, one in particular was the lack of any meeting space on site apart from the main church auditorium. The church family could on some days make use of Waldegrave Hall in Duke Street, but this was some distance away.
It was then that an amazing 'hidden provision' came to light. Robert Potter, who was appointed as church architect in 1971, discovered that the building had unusually deep foundations designed by Nash, to give stability in the swampland on which the church was originally built. It was possible to construct a whole new church hall underneath the main church!
When the necessity came to close and sell the old Waldegrave Hall the impetus for a new one became critical. A sum, equivalent in today's terms to over £4.5 million, needed to be raised. The church closed for building work between May 1975 and November 1976 (when again the church family met in St Peter's to worship, with Michael Baughen now the rector), and the prayers, dedication and sacrificial giving of hundreds of All Souls members and friends from around the world saw the project finish on time and free of debt.
Visible, Open and Central
The ministry of a church will never be confined to any building - the 'church' in any case is the people and not the building itself - but we do pause and give thanks for the provision of this amazing platform God has given, and preserved, for His gospel work in the centre of London.
In recent years, we've added screens both inside the church and in the rotunda to make information clearer and to facilitate worship; we've opened up the front of church by replacing barrier-like wood and safety glass partitions with clear glass doors; we've added chairs that can be used more flexibly. We intend to make the building as welcoming and accessible as possible.
Thousands of people come through the doors during the week as well as on Sundays - some drawn by the light, some by the singing, some simply by the architecture - all, whether they know it yet or not, drawn by the Holy Spirit. The people may change, even the rectors may change, but we pray All Souls Church will continue to share the gospel in the heart of London.
Four rectors (left to right): John Stott, Michael Baughen, Richard Bewes and Hugh Palmer
In 2024 we will be celebrating 200 years of ministry at All Souls Langham Place. We want to make sure our buildings, ministries and mission work are in great shape as we prepare for a third century of reaching the people of this city. Please help us continue our work here in central London.