Historic Churches 2020

BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 27 TH ANNUAL EDITION 21 THE CEILING PAINTINGS OF ST MARY MAGDALENE Polly Westlake E NTERING THE church of St Mary Magdalene at Paddington, the visitor is struck by the great abundance of decoration. The chancel is particularly elaborate with every possible surface decorated, from the painted plaster ceiling to the painted brick walls, paint and gilding on every beam and column, stained glass windows and ornate alabaster wall tiles. The visitor is dazzled with a richness of colour, texture and fabric; precisely what the architect, George Edmund Street intended when he commissioned the leading artisans of the time to provide an inspirational place of worship to serve poor neighbourhoods around Paddington. This is also what made conservation at St Mary Magdalene such an exciting and diverse project. Now Grade I listed, the church was built between 1867 and 1873 and consecrated in 1878. It is located on the Grand Union Canal, and its red and white striped needle spire is visible from Paddington Station and the Westway. Inside, Street accentuates the highly decorative chancel and the upper levels of the nave by contrasting these elements with the austere red brick and white stone of the exterior and lower nave walls. Within the nave, the visitor’s eye is directed up to the statuary of Thomas Earp and the vast painted ceiling by Daniel Bell. In the chancel, the painted ceiling is attributable to Clayton and Bell, while the stained glass windows are by Henry Holiday. In the years that followed, additions and changes were made to the church such as the elaborately decorated St Sepulchre Chapel by Ninian Comper (1890s) on the south side of the undercroft, and the Lady Chapel inside the transept porch by Martin Travers (1920s). When the surrounding neighbourhoods were dispersed in the ‘slum clearance’ of the 1960s, St Mary Magdalene church became isolated. Following several decades of decay the church was placed on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register. THE PROJECT A programme of works to improve facilities and to undertake conservation was coordinated by the Paddington Development Trust and St Mary Magdalene church, supported by Westminster City Council and the Archdeaconry of Charing Cross, while funding came from the Heritage Lottery Fund and many other generous donors. A new ‘Heritage Wing’ was designed and built at the west end by Dow Jones Architects, linking the adjacent primary school with the church. This houses a kitchen, café and other facilities that enable the entire space to be used as a cultural hub for the community. As the new building was being constructed, work to conserve and restore the original fabric of the church was commenced by Cliveden Conservation under the supervision of Caroe Architecture Ltd. The project Top, conservators removing the darkened layers of varnish from the nave ceiling panels: the paper holds the cleaning gel in targeted areas. (Photo: Cliveden Conservation). Below, the nave and chancel today