I was walking up Jesus Lane the other day, and All Saints’ church was open. This Victorian pile was, for a long period in my Cambridge life, locked and threatened with demolition. Only about one hundred years after it was built, its congregation had diminished sufficiently to make it redundant, but happily, its destruction was averted by its being adopted by the Churches Conservation Trust, who restored the remarkable interior, and it is now regularly open to visitors. (The same charity also manages St Peter’s, the tiny Saxon church on Castle Hill, now part of the parish of the Ascension, and St John’s, in the nearby village of Duxford.)
If you know Cambridge, you will know All Saints’ Garden, opposite St John’s College and next to the Victorian former Divinity Faculty (now St John’s Divinity School), and All Saints’ Passage, which links Trinity Street with Sidney Street. The little garden (often used for craft and charity fairs) with its central memorial cross of 1882, designed by Basil Champneys (1842–1935) to echo the style of Edward I’s ‘Eleanor crosses’, or Oxford’s Martyrs’ Memorial (by George Gilbert Scott, 1840–2), is the site of the original All Saints’ Church.
It, ironically, was demolished in 1865 because it was too small for its existing congregation, but the space was kept open, providing a triangle of green accessible to all in the centre of town. The inscription on the cross reads: ‘This Cross / marks the site of the / Old Church of All Saints, / which was taken down in 1865, / and also commemorates / the Literary Men, / Benefactors / and other Parishioners / whose names are inscribed / on the faces of the pedestal.’
All Saints’ Passage was originally called Dolphin Lane, after the pub on the corner, and the church was ‘All Saints’ in the Jewry’, this being the Jewish quarter from at least the eleventh century to the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1275. By this time, the church was under the patronage of the important Benedictine priory of St Radegund, dissolved in 1496 by Bishop Alcock of Ely, who took its site and buildings to found the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund, near Cambridge, aka Jesus College.
(An unlikely fact about the nunnery (the only one in Cambridge) is that it was given its land (part of what is now Midsummer Common) between 1159 and 1161 by King Malcolm IV of Scotland – who, it turns out, was also earl of Huntingdon as heir to his father, Henry, earl of Huntingdon (via his English mother, Maud) and Northumbria, who had died in 1152, the year before his own father, King David I of Scotland. The twelve-year-old Malcolm succeeded his grandfather in 1153, but died in 1165, and was succeeded by his brother, William the Lion.)
There is one well known view of the exterior of the medieval All Saints’, from Le Keux’s set of engravings of 1841–2, and an intriguing sketch here. The only other image I have been able to find online is a tantalising view (c.1800) of the gatehouse of St John’s College, where the tall bit of building on the extreme right must be part of the church’s tower??
I don’t know if any images exist of the interior, but there is a useful list in the (best bargain ever from David’s Bookshop, long ago) RCHM Survey of Cambridge (vol. 2, p. 254) of the objects (from bells to books, and including plate, gravestones from the floor, and memorial plaques from the walls) that were transferred to the new church. Rather sadly, the double hammer-beam roof was re-erected in the new church of Wendy near Royston in 1866: ‘the latter has since been demolished’, according to the survey in 1959, ‘and the roof is in a builder’s yard’. The present All Saints’ church at Wendy is the old parish school – I wonder if the roof survives somewhere?
The foundation stone of the new All Saints’ church on Jesus Lane was laid on 27 May 1863. It was designed by G.F. Bodley (1827–1907), a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott, and its spire was at the time the tallest landmark in the city. This is something you are almost completely unaware of while walking past, but the church is a striking object from Castle Hill – even though a lot of people don’t recognise what it is. It was superseded, height-wise, by ‘the Catholic’ (Our Lady and English Martyrs on Hills Road) in 1885, and now the industrial chimneys of the Addenbrooke’s complex dwarf them both.
The vicar of the new church – clearly a muscular Christian – climbed the spire and fixed the weathercock in place himself. This is his memorial plaque inside:
The exterior is fairly modestly decorated in late Victorian Gothic style: by contrast, the inside is spectacular. Burne-Jones and Morris were heavily involved: the east window was designed by Burne-Jones, the individual figures in it by Burne-Jones, Morris and Ford Madox Brown, and the glass was made by Morris and Co.
The painting of the wall and ceiling was also planned by the Pre-Raphaelites, but executed by the Cambridge craftsman Frederick Leach, who worked on many local churches (including St Botolph’s), as well as college buildings: the ceiling of Jesus College chapel, designed by Morris, is one of his works. (On Leach and Cambridge, see this fascinating website.)
It could be argued that there is a bit of clash between the no-holds-barred Anglo-Catholicity of the walls and the various memorial plaques from the old church reattached to them, but the overall effect is undoubtedly impressive.
One quirk is that that Bodley had a faithful copy made of the alabaster font of the old church, but the original Tudor font is now also there – a before-and-after demonstration of the effect of age on stone.
The church is still used for worship by the community of Westcott House next door, and for art exhibitions and concerts.
It’s a fascinating place to drop into if you like the Pre-Raphaelites, Arts and Crafts, or any reminders of an extraordinary, backward-looking expression of piety in the mid-Victorian period.