St Mary Magdalene’s Church on the canal at Paddington, with Little Venice on one side and Warwick Estate on the other, has undergone a major restoration that will preserve a unique slice of the nation’s heritage, as well as meeting a very real community need.
St Mary Mags, as it is affectionately known, is widely recognised as George Edmund Street’s masterpiece in London, built while he was working on the Royal Courts of Justice. It's Grade I and was a favourite of Betjeman’s but in the later 20th century it fell into decay and was placed on the 'heritage at risk' register.
The church has been transformed into a community and heritage hub serving one of the most religiously and culturally diverse wards in London, with the help of £75,000 funding from Allchurches Trust.
The undercroft, which was a film set for Les Miserables and once graced by Australian actor Hugh Jackman, will now be a space for adult education and arts activities, as well as benefiting children from the neighbouring primary school. A community café and open space is a place for locals to meet with space for children to play.
St Mary Mags has become a heritage, cultural and arts centre for north Paddington, while remaining a living place of worship. A new ‘heritage wing’ has been created between the church and St Mary Magdalene Primary School, which houses a lift connecting all levels, a bar and other amenities, the Allchurches Trust canalside café and an education space.
Inside the church, the painted surfaces of the nave ceiling, the chancel vault and the chancel walls have all been cleaned and conserved, and the stained glass windows repaired.
The undercroft has been transformed into a flexible, accessible community and events space and a new vestry will be created. In the longer term, it is also hoped that the Ninian Comper Chapel will be conserved.
Local people have worked with an artist to design and create tiles that sit within special recesses in the walls. Along with a timeline on the stairs, these tell the 200-year story of St Mary Mags.
“The aims of the Project, to enrich local people’s lives through heritage, art and culture, fit exactly with our own sense of mission, which embraces the approach to God through beauty.”
Fr Henry Everett
Young people in the area have made films that will be shown on screens within a special map in the entrance foyer, while oral histories will be available at the touch of a button throughout the building, as well as on the project website.