Saturday, 11 April 2009

St Peter, Belgravia, London

Eaton Square is not one my favourite squares in London. Grand in scale, bisected by the busy and windswept King’s Road, with its gardens denied to the public by railings, it does not feel like a welcoming, public space.

Fortunately, the Victoria station end is enlivened by the handsome proportions of St Peter’s Church, with its fine Ionic portico and tower. Built between 1824 and 1827 during the first phase of development, it was designed by the architect Henry Hakewill. The interior was, as was common at the time, a severe preaching box, with the organ and choir at the West end. In 1875, it was enlarged by Sir Arthur Blomfield, and reordered to provide a chancel at the East End, in the Romanesque style, although externally the changes remained faithful to the original classical style.

However, in 1987 an arsonist set fire to the East End, and within hours the entire church was engulfed. The following day, although the fire was out, the church was roofless, with most of its furnishings destroyed. An extensive programme of rebuilding was set in hand, with a new and simpler interior design, also incorporating offices and flats within the space. The interior therefore comes as something of a shock after passing under the grand portico, as it is clean, bright and modern. The choir and organ are located at the West End again, as in the 1827 plan, although the fittings are thoroughly modern. The church is accessible, with disabled toilets available.

Whether this works for you is a matter of taste, although I find it a little too bright and clinical. That said, behind the altar is an attractive apse, decorated entirely with gold mosaic. Walk around the side of the apse, and you find part of the 1873 sanctuary which survived the fire, and a side chapel now used as the Vestry office, complete with stained glass.

But whatever the merits of the internal architecture, there’s no doubt that the church is the centre of a lively and active parish life, with worship in an inclusive, modern catholic style, an excellent professional mixed choir (best experienced at the 11.15 Sung Eucharist on Sundays), regular concerts and talks.

119 Eaton Square, Belgravia, London SW1W 0HQ

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