Church of the Annunciation, Marble Arch, London

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The Building

A place of worship has existed on the site of the present church since 1787 when a Chapel of Ease was built by Lord Portman. It was named the Quebec Chapel after the street in which it stood. Whether the street was named after General Wolfe capturing the city of Quebec in 1759 or the defeat of the Americans as they tried to capture Quebec in 1775 is unclear.

The orginal chapel was reputedly converted from the riding school of the Portman Barracks which was nearby. This appears to be untrue, however. There was a stables opposite where there chapel was built but it is unclear if this was connected to the barracks.

According to a contemporary report the original chapel was

... a square, ugly edifice ... with no pretensions to ecclesiastical fitness, and has been described as nothing but a "large room with sash-windows." Among its ministers have been the amiable and accomplished Dean of Canterbury, Dr. Henry Alford; Dr. Goulburn, afterwards Dean of Norwich; and Dr. Magee, who here first acquired the popularity as a preacher which he carried to so great a height as Bishop of Peterborough.

In the 1850s, the interior of the chapel was redecorated in an elaborate Byzantine style by Arthur Blomfield (1829-1899).

In 1894, the Revd Edward Bickersteth Ottley who was the Chaplain raised a public subscription and the chapel was purchased from the Portman Estate. The congregation had grand ideas. They wanted to build a new church and take over the whole city block between Seymour Street and Bryanston Street, and between Great Cumberland Place and Quebec Street.

The inspiration behind the new building was the Revd Bernard Day Douglas Shaw. Walter Tapper (1861-1935) was chosen as the architect. Tapper was an authority on church architecture. He was a Royal Academician, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and President of the Royal Institute of Architects. In 1928 he became Surveyor to the Fabric of Westminster Abbey where he is buried.

Artist's impressions prior to construction were painted in the office of Charles Gascoyne (1887 -1917). The view of the exterior is in the Royal Academy. The view of the interior is owned by the church and hangs in a vestry. The entry in the RA Exhibition catalogue for the relevant year says

Walter Tapper was elected a full Royal Academician on 12 February 1935, was knighted on 23 July and died on 21 September. But, within a month of his election, he had submitted his Diploma Work, this drawing for the Church of the Annunciation, a building squeezed into the back streets near Marble Arch. Tapper was a quiet and reflective architect. He was chief assistant and then manager in the office of George Bodley RA and Thomas Garner before setting up full time in his own practice at the relatively ripe age of forty. Preferring to keep a close check on his designs, he never employed more than four draughtsmen at a time. Tapper is said to have gained honours for his ‘positive goodness’ and ‘honesty’, qualities which the architect Charles Reilly said commanded ‘affection and respect’ (Reilly, p. 157). Deeply religious and of a high church persuasion, Sir Walter Tapper was principally an ecclesiastical designer, the architect of many churches. He held the position of Architect to the Fabric of Westminster Abbey, where he now lies buried in the cloisters. But he could also turn his hand to more prosaic matters, as he had a good sideline in creating showrooms and gas fires for the Gas Light and Coke Company. His son and later architectural partner Michael John Tapper recalled that the Church of the Annunciation, a fine lofty building, with something of the scale of a cathedral or a major medieval church, was his father’s favourite work. The street elevations are windowless at ground level, but high windows and vaulting throughout give the interior spaciousness. The church’s rich furnishings are in keeping with the Anglo-Catholic tradition. In 1912, the year construction began, Tapper showed this drawing and another of the interior at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. Both were by Charles Gascoyne, the popular perspective artist who died as a prisoner of war in Germany in 1917. This moody and introspective scene is played out beneath the great east window and flying buttresses on the north side of the church. The winter day is rainy and blustery. A woman fights the wind with her umbrella. Another, wrapped up against the weather, skirts a puddle in the road. But her umbrella is folded, the rain has passed, and the church is bathed in the emerging sun, catching on its spire – created by a touch of gouache – hinting at the heavenly light of hope.”

The Annunciation is in the style known as Edwardian Gothic. Pevsner notes that to enter the Annunciation is to have stumbled upon 'a fragment of a major medieval church'. Tapper was a pupil of G.F. Bodley (1827-1907) who was a leading light in the resurgence of interest in English and North European late medieval design.

The church has many fine furnishings. The high altar reredos was designed by Tapper and executed by J.C. Bewsey (1880-1940). Bewsey also designed the stained glass.

The organ case is by Tapper and may be based on J. L. Pearson's 1817-1987) organ cases in Westminster Abbey. The organ was built by Frederick Rothwell (1853 - 1944).

The Rood supporting Christ on the Cross flanked by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John is in the shape of the rainbow, a symbol of the covenant between God and creation.

In the north aisle the Somerset Memorial is dedicated to Norman Somerset who was a close friend of the Prince of Wales. He was killed aged 20 at the First Battle of Ypres (1914).

The floor of the sanctuary contains a fine brass memorial to the Revd Bernard D. D. Shaw, the only brass known to have been designed by Tapper. It was engraved by hand.

The Stations of the Cross are by Alois de Beule of Ghent (1861-1935). They are plaster casts of originals in wood.

The single bell was cast in 1913 by John Warner & Sons, Spitalfields.

The Annunciation also contains some furnishings brought from elsewhere. The lampidarium spanning the arch between the sanctuary and the Lady Chapel originally hung above the high altar of St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham and was designed by A. W. N. Pugin (1812-1852).

There was tension on the day of the dedication of the church by the Bishop of London on 24 June 1914. Not only was war imminent but there was concern that the service might be disrupted by Suffragettes. This article appeared in The Marylebone Recorder on 27 June 1914:

Marylebone’s New Church

The Church of the Annunciation Bryanston Street – girded with policemen, within easy distance of the Fire Brigade, not far from ambulancemen – was dedicated by the Bishop of London on Wednesday morning. Admission was by ticket only, and females were closely scrutinized as they entered the doorway. For a shadow lay on the edifice, that of the Suffragette, and there was no driving it away. The talk of the crowd assembled in the street was to the effect that it was feared that some of the “wild women” might make a “scene” or a “succession of scenes” that even the outward and visible grandeur of the worthy Head of the Church in London might not avail to quench the ardour of perverse and unruly females, married, or otherwise. Wherefore strong men in uniform and out of it kept watch and ward, and I confess I record the fact with pleasure, held militants, not the Church militant, at bay. Wherefore the Vicar, he of commanding figure might no doubt did enjoy a dreamless rest on the night of Wednesday 24 June.

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