On a side street not far from Harrods in Knightsbridge can be found a large but slightly dour-looking grey stone church.
This is St Columba’s Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church that owes its origins to the union of the English and Scottish crowns in the early 17th century. As the Scottish population in London increased, a church was opened in Covent Garden, but in 1884, a second was added, here in Knightsbridge.
That church looked very different though, being what can be best described as a classic Victorian brick church, with a tall tower beside the main building.
However, that church was utterly destroyed on the evening of 10th May 1941 when an incendiary bomb hit the building and in just a few hours, the whole building had been irretrievably damaged. The congregation decamped to Imperial College while a replacement church was built.
The church was eventually dedicated on 4th December 1955.
Designed by the architect Sir Edward Maufe R.A., the replacement church is clad in Portland stone and was built over the shell of the old church, which now remains as the new church’s crypt. The modern solid tower replaced the old brick tower on the same location, and over the main entrance is a statue of St Columba, carved by Vernon Hill.
Inside, the church is upstairs and through some wood-framed glass doors into the main church. A church on the first floor is not unique, but it’s fairly unusual.
It’s a large space, quite austere in decoration, as befits the Presbyterian tradition of not distracting the eye from the worship of God. It’s not totally without decoration though as lining the walls are the coloured shields of the Scottish counties.
There is also a single stained glass window, designed by Moira Forstyth, over the main altar.
Over the pulpit is the sounding-board, which helps to project the voice of the speaker to the congregation. The pews are original to the new church and are of Scottish Oak. Around the church, large blocks of acoustic panels help to deal with echoes in the large hall.
Over in a corner is the war memorial chapel, which was dedicated the following year. Either sensible thinking ahead, or a sad reflection on humanity, the list of battles on the windows leaves plenty of space for more to be added later.
Overall, the effect of the main church is one of deceptive simplicity, for such things are rarely easy to deliver, and while plainer than my personal taste prefers, the architectural design is very appealing. The sculpting of the ceiling and side naves is worth seeking out.
The church did explode with colour once though, when it featured in the finale of series three of Absolutely Fabulous for the wedding of Saffron and Paolo.