St. Marylebone Parish Church

St-Marylebone

Built in 1813-17 by Thomas Hardwick, this is the church in which Robert Browning was married to Elizabeth Barrett in 1846. A Browning Room here contains relics of the poet.

Construction of the present church was first considered in 1770. A site was given in Paddington Street and plans were prepared by Sir William Chambers, Architect to the King, but the scheme was abandoned, and the land purchased for a burial ground. In 1810-11 the present site was secured, and it was intended that this building should be another Chapel of Ease supporting the work of the nearby Parish Church.

Plans were prepared by Thomas Hardwick, who was a pupil of Sir William Chambers, and the foundation stone was laid on 5 July 1813. Later, it was decided to enlarge the building and make it the Parish Church; the present tower was erected, the front widened, and the gigantic Corinthian-columned Portico built. A vaulted crypt extended under the whole area of the church, with extensive catacombs under the west side. 

These catacombs were bricked up in 1853, and in the mid-1980s, with due authority, the coffins were removed from the crypt for reinterment at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey and the crypt was transformed into the present-day Healing and Counselling Centre, Sacrament Chapel, Jerusalem Chapel and NHS Marylebone Health Centre.

The present parish church, opened in February 1817, is the fourth known parish church building to serve this parish. It was originally built (at a cost of some £80,000) without its fine Roman Renaissance style frescoed apse; this was added in 1884 by Thomas Harris. The original position of the altar was in what is now the Choir, just below the cross built into the ceiling. This altar (before which Robert Browning married Elizabeth Barrett in 1846) can be seen in the Holy Family Chapel. Above it hangs the painting of the Holy Family donated to the new parish church by Benjamin West, PRA (1738 -1820).

The church of 1817 is reputed to have sat 3,000 people and, above the present gallery, a second gallery (the remains of which can be seen either side of the organ) wrapped around three sides of the building.

The present organ, one of the finest recital instruments in the country, was built by Rieger Orgelbau of Austria and was commissioned in July 1987; it was a joint venture between the parish church and the neighbouring Royal Academy of Music. The organ pipes, which can be seen at the ends of the first floor galleries, belong to earlier instruments.

Charles Dickens and his family lived for many years next door to the parish church in Devonshire Terrace. He brought his son here to be baptised and the ceremony is described in his novel Dombey and Son.

Bomb damage sustained during World War II destroyed the stained glass windows and also the Georgian roof. Fragments of the destroyed windows were collected and set in the windows you see today.

The fine crystal chandeliers were relocated here in 1968 from the old Council Chamber in St

Marylebone Town Hall when the Borough of St Marylebone merged with other metropolitan boroughs of Middlesex to form the City of Westminster.

A fine collection of memorials adorn the walls of the parish church; many of them belonging to colonial administrators and governors and members of the East India Company.

St Marylebone Parish Church has always had a fine musical tradition and today the professional choir of ten voices is supported by the Director of Music, the Assistant Director of Music and an Organ Scholar. Sir John Stainer wrote his Oratorio Crucifixion for the choir in 1886 and it has been performed every year since.

The Browning Room, which commemorates the marriage of the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett here on 12th September 1846, has a stained glass window gifted by The Browning Society of Winnipeg. Two fine brass bas reliefs of the poets can also be found in this room.

The fine apse, the mahogany benches and choir stalls together with the gilded English baroque decorative scheme all date from the mid-1880s and were designed by Thomas Hardwick. Work begun in 1884 and a memorial stone laid by Mrs Gladstone can be seen on the outside wall of the apse. The decoration of the apse was carried out by Edward Armitage, RA; his decorative scheme once included murals between the great windows on the gallery level but these were painted over in the late 1940s.

In 2016, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the parish church a grant of nearly £4 million to help complete an ambitious programme of works that will repair the ravages of time, extend the crypt and help tell the story of St Marylebone from rural hamlet to urban metropolis.



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