Princes Gate and Ennismore Gardens: The Kingston House Estate, Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Ennismore Gardens (formerly All Saints' Church)

Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2000.

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'Princes Gate and Ennismore Gardens: The Kingston House Estate, Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Ennismore Gardens (formerly All Saints' Church)', in Survey of London: Volume 45, Knightsbridge, (London, 2000) pp. 186-190. British History Online [accessed 24 April 2024]

In this section

Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Ennismore Gardens (formerly All Saints' Church)

Standing at the east end of a little cul-de-sac off Ennismore Gardens, the former Anglican church of All Saints was erected in 1848–9, during the first phase of development on the Kingston House estate. Unusually, it is in the Lombardic style, which enjoyed a revival in the 1840s. Two striking features of the exterior were not, however, present when the church opened in 1849: the campanile, though contemporary in design, dates from about 1860, its construction having been deferred to save money; and the west front, an almost archaeological recreation of a twelfthcentury Lombardic façade, is a rebuilding of 1891–2. Conspicuously un-English in its appearance, the building has been happily adopted by the Russian Orthodox Church since it ceased to be used for Anglican worship in the 1950s, and is now the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints.

Although All Saints' was not erected until the late 1840s, the building of a new church to serve the developing district had been in contemplation since at least 1835, in which year the Church Building Commissioners made a grant of £2,000 for the purpose. (fn. 5) The delay was blamed on the difficulty of obtaining a suitable site in the district. In 1836 the Rev. Hibbert Binney, minister at the old Trinity Chapel on the north side of Knightsbridge, called for a 'spacious and well ordered' new church to be erected in a 'secluded' part of Hyde Park immediately behind his chapel, which, he suggested, should be demolished for a formal approach to the new building. (fn. 6) Nothing came of this – though it is possible that a design for a church in the park was prepared – and the subsequent building of St Paul's in Wilton Place, in 1840–3, reduced the need for another church at the eastern end of Knightsbridge.

The possibility of a site on the Kingston House property was first explored in 1840, when the Bishop of London asked John Elger to reserve a plot for a church on his proposed development there. (fn. 7) In April 1843 the building of a church on the estate was reportedly under consideration, but no agreement had yet been reached as to a site. (fn. 8) In fact it was only with 'great difficulty' that one was eventually secured on acceptable terms. The credit for this was due in large measure to the energy of the future first incumbent, the Rev. William Harness, then minister at the Brompton Chapel in Montpelier Street. Encouraged by the Rector of St Margaret's, Westminster, the mother church of the parish, Harness had set himself the task of securing a site and getting a church built. The former was accomplished in 1845, when Lord Listowel at last consented to sell some of his land. Although only a stone's throw from an existing large church, Holy Trinity, Brompton, this proximity was more apparent than real, since there was no direct access south to either the church or the Brompton road. The site, costing £1,250, was formally conveyed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1849. (fn. 9)

By June 1846, the versatile Lewis Vulliamy had been appointed architect and had produced plans for a church costing £8,514. (fn. 10) But instead of a conventional Gothic edifice like that shown in Thomas Allom's panoramic view of the Kingston House development (Plate 82a), Vulliamy proposed a building in the Lombardic style. According to the Ecclesiologist, his plans were not new, having been made in the mid-1830s for a site in Hyde Park – perhaps the site behind Trinity Chapel proposed by Binney in 1836. (fn. 11)

The dating of the design is significant. If, as claimed, it was made in the 1830s, it is a harbinger, albeit a tentative one, of the short-lived vogue for the Lombardic style, generally held to have arrived fully armed in England in 1840 with Wyatt & Brandon's St Mary and St Nicholas at Wilton. On the other hand, if All Saints' was designed in the mid-to-late 1840s it is a fairly tame specimen of the genre.

Construction could not begin immediately for financial reasons. A minimum of £7,000 was required before the Church Building Commissioners would allow work to start, and by 1848 the building fund was still short of this figure, in spite of Harness's efforts to drum up subscriptions. (fn. 1) The delay was undermining the morale of the building committee and Harness feared that unless a start was made soon the members might 'withdraw themselves in despair'. To cut costs they asked Vulliamy to make a reduced design, costing no more than £5,000. This he achieved largely by dispensing with the clerestory. But in the end the reduced version was not required and the committee was allowed to proceed on the basis of the original design, minus the campanile, the construction of which was postponed to save £1,400. (fn. 13) (Some bird's-eye views of the Crystal Palace in 1851 show the church in its original, towerless state, see Plates 6b and 7.)

Given the financial constraints, there was no money available for building a rectory, and Harness continued to reside at his house in Hyde Park Terrace, Kensington Gore. Subsequent incumbents occupied a succession of local houses, in Montpelier Square, Rutland Gate and elsewhere.

Building began in September 1848, with George Baker & Son of Lambeth as the contractor, and was completed in the summer of 1849, consecration taking place in July. Vulliamy was paid his fees, totalling £373, in November. (fn. 14) The church was assigned a district or parish which extended from Kensington Palace Gardens to Albert Gate and included the barracks and the streets and estates on the south side of the Kensington road. Socially this was a very mixed area, though most of its five thousand inhabitants lived in the poor and densely crowded neighbourhood near the barracks. Less than a third of the population could be accommodated in the new church, which had sittings for 1,308 (including 100 children): only 100 sittings were free. (fn. 15)

All Saints' has a typical basilican plan, with a nave flanked by lower, lean-to aisles, and an apse at the east end (fig. 85): the original west front (like its late-Victorian successor) was a clear expression of this plan. At ground level the central entrance was recessed behind an arcade (Frontispiece, Plate 92a). In the centre of the front was a wheel window – higher up and much smaller than its 1890s counterpart.

The exterior was to have been faced in stone. (fn. 16) In the event, and no doubt to save money, stone was used only for the west front and north side, which overlooks the communal gardens of Princes Gate. The east and south elevations are of brick (Plate 92c, 92d).

Inside, round-arched arcades with classical columns divide the nave from the aisles. Raised on brick plinths, the columns are of cast iron, originally 'polished to imitate marble'. (fn. c1) Cast iron was also used for the bressummers or girders supporting the gallery fronts on the north, south and west sides. The original appearance of the interior was rather plain and severe, the prevailing tone being French grey. The Ecclesiologist was critical of the mean-looking ceiling in the nave – white, flat and dotted with large ventilators – a description which holds good today (Plate 93a, 93c). The only splash of colour was in the apse, where Owen Jones (a former pupil of Vulliamy) painted the semi-dome with a pattern of gold stars on a blue ground, and the windows were filled with coloured glass (long since removed). (fn. 17)

On the north side of the apse opening was a readingdesk, 'hoisted on a staircase', and on the south side a pulpit, reached from the vestry by a concealed staircase. The font was sited in the centre of the nave, among the block of free seats, and the organ in the children's gallery at the west end. None of these original fittings has survived.

During the incumbency of William Harness, which lasted until his death in 1869, the interior seems to have undergone little change. His curate, a Mr Tupper, repainted the Owen Jones decoration in the semi-dome, apparently turning the gold stars silver, and livened up the nave columns with red paint. Harness himself gave the three stained-glass windows in the apse (see below). (fn. 18) A new organ, by Holditch, was installed in 1851, (fn. 19) and it may have been then that the organ was moved from the west gallery to the easternmost bay of the north gallery.

Externally, the biggest change was the construction in about 1860 of the postponed bell-tower. Rising to some 120ft, it was built virtually as shown in Vulliamy's early sketch, though with a less pointed roof (Plate 92). This 'square topped' version dates from 1848, when he was cutting down his original design for the church to save money. (fn. 20) It is not known if Vulliamy himself oversaw the construction, or why the architect R. L. Roumieu should have prepared two spikily Gothic designs for the campanile (Frontispiece). (fn. 21) (fn. 2)

Originally the tower had only one clock face, on the west side. In 1872 a new eight-day movement by Gillett & Bland was installed and gilded copper dials put up on the other three sides. At the same time the old slate dial on the west side was gilded. (fn. 23)

Following the appointment in 1884 of a new and energetic incumbent, the Rev. Ravenscroft Stewart, plans were drawn up for enlarging and modernizing the church. These were the work of Charles Harrison Townsend, then a partner in the practice of Banks & Townsend, under whose imprint the drawings were prepared. There were three main components to this scheme: the re-ordering of the east end to create a raised chancel with choir seats in the easternmost bay of the nave; the complete rebuilding of the west end some ten feet further forward, partly to make up for the seating space lost to the new chancel; and the building of new vestries at the north-east and north-west corners of the church, linked to each other by an ambulatory. With John T. Chappell of Pimlico as contractor, building work began in July 1885, but, as less than half the estimated cost of around £9,000 was actually in hand, the remodelling of the west end was postponed. (fn. 24) (While the work was in progress the congregation met in a temporary wood-and-iron building erected by J. C. Humphreys on part of the site of Humphreys' Hall, which itself was being rebuilt after a fire. (fn. 25) )

Figure 85:

Russian Orthodox Cathedral (formerly All Saints' Church), Ennismore Gardens, plan c. 1990. Lewis Vulliamy, architect, 1848–9; enlarged by C. H. Townsend, 1885–92. The original form of the west end is shown below.

To create the new chancel, Townsend provided a raised platform in the easternmost bay of the nave, and built up the floor level in the apse to make a sanctuary. The new chancel was paved with black-and-white marble squares, and the sanctuary in 'bastard white with a Sienna border'. At the same time the remainder of the nave was re-laid with wood blocks and reseated in oak, and the backs of the galleries were raised to improve the sight-lines. (fn. 26)

Townsend also designed several new fittings, including a high altar, a litany-desk, and a pulpit (Plate 93b). All three were made of carved oak, the altar and the pulpit by Messrs Daymond. The front of the altar, the only piece still in the church, was decorated with angels set within niches, and the pulpit with figures of Moses, Isaiah and Our Lord, representing the Law, the Prophets and the Gospel respectively. A design for a new square-shaped font of white statuary marble, decorated with low-relief carving and black marble inlay, was not executed. (fn. 27) Some years later, however, Townsend designed another font, which was installed in 1896 in the south-west bay of the nave on a specially laid paving of green cipollino marble. This font consisted of a large bowl of Mexican onyn with a lining of burnished copper, and an Art Nouveau cover of hand-beaten copper, made from Townsend's design by Llewellyn Rathbone at Menai Bridge. (fn. 28)

The rebuilding of the west end of the church eventually went ahead in 1891–2, but not in the form proposed in 1885. That scheme had included a semi-circular baptistery in the centre of the west front, flanked by columned porches leading to new vestibules at the western end of the nave. (fn. 29) Townsend's new design was closely modelled on the twelfth-century façade of S. Zeno Maggiore in Verona, which he had visited in 1886. His own characteristic style occasionally breaks through, however, for example in the treatment of the low-level windows on either side of the porch (Plate 92b, 92d). The new front was erected in 1892, by T. H. Adamson & Sons of Putney. (fn. 30)

Inside, the nave, having lost a bay for the new chancel in 1885, gained one at the west end in matching style, and the two westernmost columns are of this date, as is the present west gallery, with its supporting columns of carved wood.

Even before the western extension was begun plans were afoot to do something about the appearance of the interior, the decoration of the nave in particular being deemed 'chilly in the extreme'. (fn. 31) The authorities' first concern, however, was to embellish the re-ordered east end, and in 1891 the semi-dome was handed over to Thomas R. Spence for decoration. Recently moved to London from the north-east, Spence was a designer, decorator and architect, who had made a name for himself with St George's Church, Jesmond (1888–9). At All Saints' he painted the semi-dome 'after the manner of work characteristic of Northern Italy', with a view of an Eastern city surmounted by Christ in Majesty. On either side were standing figures of saints and above them a tier of angels. The predominant tones were yellow, russet and brown, on a rich blue background. Within only a few years, however, Spence's painting was obliterated, and no record of it appears to have survived, although a sketch model was shown at one of the Arts and Crafts Exhibitions. (fn. 32) (fn. 3)

Spence's work was sacrificed for a much more ambitious programme of decoration, carried out between 1896 and 1903 by the Arts and Crafts designer Heywood Sumner. As part of this scheme the walls of the apse were faced with alabaster and the semi-dome coffered and gilded (Plates 94a, 122). The gilded frieze of vines in the apse is doubtless also Sumner's. In a somewhat different style are the three mosaic panels between the windows (Plate 124c). The designer of these is unknown. Sir William Richmond, the artist responsible for much mosaic work in St Paul's Cathedral, who was paid £31 for work at All Saints', may have been consulted about them, but the panels are not characteristic of his manner. (fn. 33)

The principal feature of Sumner's work at All Saints' is the arresting sequence of sgraffito decoration on the nave walls, his largest surviving scheme (Plates 122, 123). This covers the clerestory and upper parts of the nave arcade, the chancel arch, and the arch over the west gallery. Sgraffito, a technique involving the scraping-back of layers of coloured plaster to produce decorative effects, was a particular speciality of Sumner, who first essayed it in 1885. Unlike earlier exponents, however, he used the medium in a pictorial way to create figurative and naturalistic images – well demonstrated in his first major commission, a series of panels illustrating the Benedicite, at Llanfair Kilgeddin church in Monmouthshire (1888–90).

The sgraffito decoration at All Saints', though conceived as a unity and executed as such, divides into two sequences: one, a cycle of scriptural scenes – from Creation to Calvary – the other, in the elerestory, a sequence of saints plus the Venerable Bede and the Holy Innocents. (A list of the subjects is given below.) The figures in the clerestory are framed by oblong panels, on either side of the windows, while the scriptural scenes occupy roundels filling the spandrels of the nave arcade. The intervening wall spaces are covered with a design of trailing foliage and other patterns. As part of this scheme Sumner designed new stained glass for the clerestory and also for the new west front.

Work began at the east end, after a faculty for the decoration was issued in September 1896. (fn. 34) But progress was intermittent, being dependent on funds becoming available. In spite of this, the original programme was little changed: on the north wall St Anselm ousted St Cecilia, and on the western arch the proposed 'Promise to the World' from Genesis (presumably to be represented by a rainbow) gave way to a series of six roundels illustrating the six days of Creation. Only the Jesse tree intended to embrace the wheel window in the west wall failed to materialize, and this wall remains undecorated.

Between 1903 and 1955, when All Saints' was made redundant, changes to the interior were mostly of a minor character. A new organ had been installed in 1901, and in 1920 it was re-cased to a design by George Jack, carved by Joubert. (fn. 35) In 1927 a new oak lectern, designed by W. A. Forsyth, was installed, evidently replacing Townsend's reading-desk. (fn. 36) In 1939 F. C. Eden, an expert in church fittings and furniture who had trained with Bodley & Garner, designed a Renaissance-style altar for a small chapel to be formed out of the easternmost bay of the south aisle. (fn. 37)

It was not until 1924 that the church acquired a room for parochial activities. This was in a building erected before the First World War as a side addition to No. 65 Ennismore Gardens, above two former stables in Ennismore Mews. The principal room, formerly a dining-room, was oakpanelled, with a Jacobean-style plaster ceiling and a bow window overlooking the mews (see Plate 78d). The floor above was adapted as a flat for the vestry clerk, while the stables were let as garaging. The entrance to Church House, as it became known, was on the north side, through a round-headed stone doorcase decorated with a carved cross above the door. Since converted into a private residence and given another storey, it is now No. 66 Ennismore Gardens. The main room has lost its oak panelling, but retains its ornamental ceiling. (fn. 38)

Following closure in 1955, when the district was merged with that of Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road, All Saints' was leased to the Russian Orthodox Church, which has since bought the freehold. (fn. 39) Before being handed over to the Orthodox congregation many of the fittings were removed, and their present whereabouts are mostly unknown. (fn. 4) The pews have been taken out of the nave and an iconostasis or icon screen installed at the eastern end (Plate 122b). The Royal Gates in the centre of this screen were rescued from the old Czarist embassy chapel in Welbeck Street after the 1917 revolution. The icons on the screen were painted by pupils of the Russian iconographer, Leonid Ouspensky. (fn. 40)

In the early 1990s a parish hall and other ancillary buildings were erected along the south side of the church, and some of the existing structures, including the south-east vestry, demolished. Designed by M. P. Mandrigin, the new buildings are faced with fawn-coloured bricks, matched to the fabric of the church. (fn. 41)

Sgraffito decoration

Designed and executed by Heywood Sumner, 1896–1903 (Plates 93a, 94a, 122a, 123)

Chancel arch. Crucifixion (in a mandorla), flanked by symbols of the four Evangelists and a trellis of vines. The sgraffito work is embellished with gilded mosaic and mother-of-pearl.

North clerestory (west to east). St Agnes; St Swithin; St Giles; St George; St Christopher; St Paul; St Peter; St Francis; St Maurice; St Anselm; The Venerable Bede; St Columba.

North nave arcade (west to east). Angel (Heywood Sumner's initials, and the date 1903); Hortus Paradisi (Man before the Fall); Labor Terrae (Man after the Fall); Abraham Patriarcha; Moses Legislator; Esaias Propheta; Angel with scroll.

South clerestory (west to east). St Anne; St Catherine; St Margaret; Holy Innocents (two panels); St Aidan; St Hilda; St John; St Stephen; St Edmund; St Oswald; St Augustine.

South nave arcade (west to east). Angel; Ancilla Domini (the Annunciation); Filius Dei (Nativity scene); Verba Christi (Sermon on the Mount); Dolor Animae (Agony in the Garden); Via Crucis (Christ bearing the Cross); Angel with scroll.

Arch above west gallery. Six roundels illustrating the six days of Creation.

West porch. The Good Shepherd, in the tympanum over the west door, embellished with gold mosaic. This is the only external sgraffito.

Stained glass

Apse. The three round-headed windows (Plate 124c) are each filled with a figure under an architectural canopy in a representation of the Transfiguration – Christ flanked by Moses (left) and Elias. Little is known about these windows, which are of good quality and have been attributed to Clayton & Bell. (fn. 42) They were the gift of the first minister, William Harness, made partly in memory of his brother, who died in 1856, and must have been in place before William's own death in 1869. (fn. 43) The faintly Romanesque treatment of the canopies is appropriate in this architectural setting, if unexpected; Gothic would have been more usual.

Clerestory. The glass here was designed by Heywood Sumner to complement his sgraffito work (Plates 123c, 124b). Sumner himself thought the windows were too small and high up to be suitable for figure work, and he filled them with plant and tree forms of an almost domestic character. Religious imagery is confined to small emblematic roundels, although these are not present in every case. Re-glazing began at the east end and kept pace with the progress of the rest of the decoration.

West wall. All the glass is by Heywood Sumner, who exhibited the cartoon for the wheel window at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of February 1903. Executed in Prior's glass, the wheel window contains an image of the Lamb of God in the central roundel, surrounded by twelve angels with inscriptions from the Te Deum (Plate 124a). (fn. 44) The small windows of the west front contain slightly sentimental figures of children with the text 'Suffer Little Children to Come unto Me', and angels' heads peeping out from folded wings with the words of the Trisagion (Plate 124b).


Memorial to William Wilson (d.1908), by Frank Derwent Wood, in the form of a reredos of three panels let into the alabaster dado of the apse. The central panel, inlaid on a marble ground with an oval in lapis lazuli and a vine in Mexican onyx, is flanked by carved white marble reliefs, in the early Renaissance style, of the Annunciation (Plate 94b) and a Pietà. (fn. 45) Wood exhibited the Pictà at the Royal Academy in 1910.


  • 1. John Elger, who believed that a church would benefit his development, gave £300. This was the second largest private donation, exceeded only by the £500 from Henry Thomas Hope, the MP and patron of architectural art.
  • 2. Vulliamy's design, a close adaptation of the early medieval campaniles at Murano and Torcello near Venice, seems uncannily to anticipate the work of Charles Harrison Townsend, who made important later alterations at All Saints'; indeed, the campanile has understandably been attributed to him.
  • 3. Spence also designed a scheme (unexecuted) for decorating the roof and upper parts of the nave at another local church, Christ Church, Victoria Road, South Kensington.
  • 4. These include the font, the reading-desk, and the pulpit. The organ, made redundant because Orthodox services are sung unaccompanied, was re-installed at St John's, Mare Street, in Hackney.
  • 5. CERC, Church Commissioners' file 15834/2.
  • 6. Ibid., file 33082/1.
  • 7. WCA, Acc.943/4.
  • 8. B, 8 April 1843, p. 112.
  • 9. PRO, CRES2/650: CERC, Church Commissioners' file 15834/1.
  • 10. PRO, CRES2/650.
  • 11. Ibid: Ecclesiologist, Aug 1849, p.64: CERC, Church Commissioners' file 33082: BAL, Drawings Collection, V7/19.
  • 12. CERC, Church Commissioners' file 15834/1.
  • 13. Ibid., file 15834/2.
  • 14. DSR 1848/193: Richardson, op.cit., p.45.
  • 15. CERC, Church Building Districts, Orders in Council, vol.6 (1848–52), p.96; Church Commissioners' file 15834/2.
  • 16. PRO, CRES2/650.
  • 17. LMA, MBO 73 (case 402), pp. 16–17: Ecclesiologist, loc.cit.
  • 18. Richardson, op.cit., p.44.
  • 19. Gwent RO, D361 F/P10–6.
  • 20. CERC, Church Commissioners' file 15834/2.
  • 21. BAL, Drawings Collection, R. L. Roumieu drawings |5| 1–2.
  • 22. Alistair Service, 'Charles Harrison Townsend', in Edwardian Architecture and its Origins, ed. A. Service, 1975, p. 163.
  • 23. BN, 5 April 1872, p.283.
  • 24. GL, MSS 18319/8, 39: DSR 1885/171.
  • 25. MBW Mins, 25 Sept, 2 Oct 1885, pp.376–7, 409: GL, MS 9531/39, p.134.
  • 26. BN, 5 April 1889, p.472.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. GL, MS 18319/8; The Studio, vol.12, 1897, p.118.
  • 29. GL, MS 18319/39.
  • 30. DSR 1892/1.
  • 31. B, 21 Nov 1891, p.381.
  • 32. Ibid: F.Hamilton Jackson, 'The work of T. R. Spence, Designer, Decorator, and Architect', in The Magazine of Art, 1903, pp.81, 83.
  • 33. Richardson, op.cit., pp.62, 71.
  • 34. GL, MS 18319/135.
  • 35. Richardson, op.cit., pp.75–6, 126, 140.
  • 36. GL, MS 18319/75: Richardson, op.cit., p.147.
  • 37. BAL, Drawings Collection, V6/29.
  • 38. Richardson, op.cit., pp. 135–6, 138: PRO, IR58/91020/190.
  • 39. CERC, Church Commissioners' file 33082/5: GL, MS 19224/21.
  • 40. Cathedral web site.
  • 41. Information provided by M.P.Mandrigin.
  • 42. Information provided by Sarah Brown.
  • 43. Richardson, op.cit., p. 44.
  • 44. B, 17 Jan 1903, p.8: The Studio, vol.28, Feb 1903, pp.118, 123.
  • 45. Richardson, op.cit., p.121.
  • c1. Paint scrapes taken during restoration work in 2005 revealed that the columns had been 'marbled' to imitate porphyry. This has now (2006) been re-instated. The original marbling must have taken place after the Ecclesiologist’s visit in 1849. The reference to the columns being 'polished to imitate marble' comes from The Memorials of the Hamlet of Knightsbridge (1859) by Henry George Davis, published posthumously two years after his death in 1857.