Thoughts following a tour of textiles at a now redundant masterpiece
I was at the redundant church of All Saints in Cambridge for their event on textiles of the building and vestments. It was a church that started out life opposite Trinity College, but moved in the mid-1800s because as you can see below, the old tower got in the way of traffic.
The old All Saints Church in Cambridge on Trinity/St John’s Street. Mid-1800s Via Museum of Cambridge
It moved to its current site and was completed in 1870. A video by Anglia Ruskin University’s Dr Sean Lang takes you through its history below.
You can follow Dr Lang on Twitter at @sf_lang
One of the things that strikes me about this church is how thin it feels. It is actually wider, with the two pitched roofs covering a single hall, with great stone columns running through the middle.
Original plan of All Saints Church on Jesus Lane, Cambridge on display.
It’s now in the hands of the Churches Conservation Trust as they work out what to do with a historical masterpiece that is somewhat off the beaten track. (There’s more on the history and architecture on their WikiP page).
A story of declining churches and congregations
It’s not easy to get across the different life and social pressures there were at the time that drove the church authorities to build the church, and also how they struggled with declining congregations so shortly afterwards. As well as the national and global changes that were happening, at a very local level it was the slum clearances and sale of properties to colleges for more student and college accommodation that took away the congregations from many of the town centre churches – ones that are struggling to pay for their upkeep. Many of the former townhouses and flats that surround the church are now occupied by university students in term time and language school students in the summer terms. Not the making of stable congregations with such a huge turnover of populations – aside from the generational differences.
Church of England applies to demolish much of the church building in 1980
I went hunting for any documents on Cambridge City Council’s planning portal https://idox.cambridge.gov.uk/online-applications/ and found this – which I’ve converted to black and white.
Cambridge City Council refuses planning permission for the demolition. 21 Jan 1980
The paragraphs giving reasons for refusal state:
“The proposal will result in the virtually complete destruction of a building of national importance lying within the Cambridge Central ‘outstanding’ Conservation Area.
The applicants have failed to show that the partial demolition of the church is necessary in order to achieve the accommodation needs of both parish and Theological College.
Insufficient account has been taken of the need to preserve those aspects of the church interior that give it the significant quality.”
To give an insight into the interior, see the photos below.
The group of images, some of which I’ve digitally enhanced give a feel for what the place might have felt like during its earlier days. It clearly needs a huge amount of restoration work done to it.
I had wondered what had happened to the interiors of the old Tudor church when it was demolished – did they save anything nice? Was there anything nice to save? Turns out they saved the tablets of old.
They’ve been tucked away behind the organ.
…which is a shame because it means most people end up missing them. You can only get a glimpse of them from the altar. I assume this also meant that during the times the church was functioning, most parishioners missed out too.
Names on the newer tables
I spotted this one dedicated to “Caroline Attack”
With a surname like that, and having a tablet put up in her name, I assumed that she’d have been in a fairly prominent family. Turns out she was.
You don’t get details of your will printed in the London Gazette if you’re not prominent. Turns out that she paid for a new stained glass window (that’s still there) in 1893.
This was a few years after her relation (I assume her brother) Benjamin Attack, died in 1889.
…because the remainder of the sum of money and property he left went to Caroline. Turns out that £52,000 in 1889 money according to the Bank of England’s historical inflation calculator would be worth over £6million today.
Which means that Benjamin Attack was seriously loaded so must have either been aristocracy or a very successful tradesman. As it turns out he was one of the city’s most high profile builders in the 19th Century. His name comes up 42 times in the British Newspaper Archives currently incomplete archive. So if there are any historical trusts out there that would like to give the newspaper archive ***lots of money*** to speed up their digitisation processes, that would be splendid! Mr Attack’s business was taken over by M Yarrow of Sturton Street. His wife, Charlotte appears to have died just over a decade before him. The newspaper archives also shows him appearing as a witness in a couple of court cases – civil and criminal, as a donor to Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge.
Today, the church is undergoing a huge restoration project, as the video below shows.
See more at http://www.htcambridge.org.uk/transform/
Assuming all goes will, the refurbished church will provide more much needed community meeting space of which there is a shortage of affordable places in Cambridge. If you want a detailed look of their plans, see the original planning documents here. In particular the proposals and drawings towards the end of this document, and the archaeological study here.
“What should become of the church?”
The church owners can do what they like but so long as it is off the beaten track, they will struggle to get people into it. Part of the problem as I see it is with Jesus Lane by Sidney Sussex. Too many buses and cars, too narrow a pavement. Essentially more of the city needs pedestrianising, and more of the pavements need widening. Demolishing old walls and purchasing lands off of the colleges has been proposed before. There are a number of sites across Cambridge I can think off where colleges need to give up some land to widen the pavements. Emmanuel, Christs, Sidney Sussex colleges are all examples of where demolishing walls and moving back the boundaries would make many a street in Cambridge much more pleasant. Yet we’ve been here before.
The above is a meeting of Cambridge’s Improvement Commissioners from 1854. And that was when Cambridge didn’t have 7million visitors turning up annually. Something’s got to give.
If, in this case Sidney Sussex can be persuaded to move back its wall, if Westcott Theological College can move back its raised pavement and if Cambridgeshire County Council can be persuaded of the merits of taking out that central bus route and switching it elsewhere, there might be a chance that general bus traffic and HGVs can be moved out of that part of town. Personally I can’t see that happening because of the existence of Park Street car park – that road is the only route in and out. I’ll be long gone before they solve that one.
2 thoughts on “All Saints Church Cambridge – a hidden gem?”
It’s an amazing interior. I’ve been in a few times, first when I dropped into a pottery exhibition by chance, and later going in just to gaze (it’s open to visitors for some hours on some days). I’m very glad they’re restoring it.
Oh, sorry, it’s Holy Trinity that’s being restored. I hope something can be done for All Saints one day. It’s such a gem.