The decoration of All Saints Church’s West wall

All Saints Church Cambridge is something of a forgotten treasure of the pre-Raphaelite movement. The church has stood on Jesus Lane since 1871 and, despite its great height, is often overlooked. The needle sharp spire at 54m it is still the 3rd tallest building in the City topped only by the Adenbrookes chimney (72m) and the spire of Our Lady of the English Martyrs (65m) it’s easy to walk past it without noticing it: its street facade is plain and Jesus Lane leads your eye towards the grander facades of St Johns or Kings in one direction and the open spaces of Midsummer Common in the other.
The church has been redundant since 1973 but it’s used by the adjoining Westcott House Anglican Theological College for weekly services on Thursdays and the Presbyterians have it on Sundays; as a place of worship it’s still pretty active so, although the philosophical aspirations of its builders as ‘Tractarian’ have fallen by the wayside, it is still very much a church.

It is richly decorated and lit by high stained glass windows. It’s dark inside and it takes a while to see the richness in the gloom. The wall decoration is said to be designed by both George Fredrick Bodley architect (and wall paper designer in his own right) and William Morris between 1861 and 66 and executed by F R & B M Leach of Cambridge in two campaigns in 1878-9 and 1904-5.
Having run a Disto over all the walls for the plan of the building I found the treatment of the West wall remarkable. Most of the decorative scheme in the church is stencilled but on the West wall its is covered very carefully set out free-hand work.

The West wall, being in almost permanent shadow uses colours that are warm and bright,  perhaps surprising for the Victorian age.

Despite surface damage the painting  still has a freshness and is remarkable for its fluidity. Painted straight on to the plaster the design takes natural forms in unrestrained rapid brush strokes, suggesting work of great confidence and pace as if, having been freed from the stencil, the artist enjoyed the movement.
The church is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and I’ll be exhibiting the best of my KAP work (so far) there from 19th -26th May!

About billboyheritagesurvey

Heritage worker
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