An old Roman Catholic church was undergoing restoration when they uncovered something remarkable, and now the restoration is astonishing.
The church, one of the first permanent foundations of Augustinian friars in England since the Reformation was built in 1864/5 and its wooden altar with the hidden frescoes was added about a decade later. A Lady Chapel was added in 1860.
The completed church was opened on St Monica’s Day 1866.
Hoxton Square was laid out in the seventeenth century as a fashionable residential square. However, by the nineteenth century, this was a poor area with many Irish workers, and it cost just £1,609 to buy 18 Hoxton Square for the new church.
Although cheap by design, it was nonetheless designed by Edward Pugin, the son of the gothic genius Augustus Welby Pugin, and is a rare example of him working in wood, as the area was particularly noted for its furniture makers, so the skills were readily available.
Before the restoration, it was, to be fair, fairly plain. Probably a post-war paint job to get rid of that garish, as it was thought then, Victorian fuss. The stained glass windows were certainly replaced in 1951, possibly following bomb damage, so the repaint may have taken place around the same time.
Father Paul Graham, the church’s priest, brought in art restorers after he received a black and white postcard of the church, taken before the Second World War, which detailed the original etchings of the mural.
Although the stained glass and the altar were still impressive, as were the Stations of the Cross that lined the walls, the rest was post-war drab. The roof was a plain white paint, with a simple pale yellow washed out background to the altar space. It looked, to all intents, a large shed.
The subsequent restoration is a triumph.
The paint has been stripped back from the wooden side beams revealing their dark contrast with the white inlays once again. The same treatment for the ceiling turns the bland garden shed look into something quite magnificent to look upwards at.
However, it’s the altar space where the most dramatic transformation has taken place.
The dreary pale green is an explosion of colour and decoration now. A deep rich star decorated background sets off the altar, while the surroundings are a rich blend of gold decoration on a pastel background.
Pugin would have been proud of what his son achieved here.
Being a Catholic Church, that means the doors are almost always unlocked during the day. My visit was accompanied by the cleaner on her vacuum, but the church was otherwise empty and peaceful in this otherwise bustling part of London.
It’s small and basic from the outside, but what a marvellous delight is to be found inside.
Article last updated on June 27th, 2021 at 09:08 am