The History of All Saints’ Church

It was at a public meeting, held in 1868, that the idea of a new church in Putney was born. The purpose of this church was to provide the poorer people of Putney with a church of their own, where all seats were free and unappropriated, and the expenses of worship defrayed, not by pew rents (the normal practice at St Mary’s and St John’s Churches), but by collections at every service.

All Saints’ Church, a grade II* listed building, was built on land donated by Earl Spencer, and consecrated in April 1874. The building was a collaboration between the architect George Street (1824–1881) and the designers Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898) and William Morris (1834–1896). The result being a fine example of a late Victorian Arts and Crafts church, with decoratively painted ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. Morris & Co. made all but two of the windows (to the right of the east window). The fact that in the 1850s, Street was Morris’s first architectural mentor, provides a particularly interesting context for the church’s windows, indeed this is Street’s only London church with stained glass by the Morris firm. The commission may possibly have been very welcome, coming as it did, at a time when Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (known as ‘the Firm’) was wound up, and renamed Morris & Co., with Morris as sole proprietor.

Peter Cormack (previously Deputy Keeper of the William Morris Gallery) suggests that as Morris was living in Hammersmith from 1878, it would seem quite likely that he would have taken a close interest in the sequence of glazing commissions at All Saints’. Burne-Jones lived in Fulham, so he may also have been more directly involved in the work than was possible for windows in distant locations.

It appears that apart from the decorative brick patterns and contrasting stonework, the church was rather plain originally due to limited funds, with the plan, that further works would be carried out as funds allowed. Over the next 30 years, internal decoration was executed, and stained glass was installed over a 78-year period, and it is therefore so surprising that the church has a sense of unity – prophets on the north side and virtues on the south. The aisle windows look as if they were made during the same year, but in fact they were manufactured and installed over a 40-year period.

The windows are the most extensive glazing scheme by Morris & Co. in any London church. Most of the cartoons (original drawings) for the windows were created for buildings elsewhere (seven were taken from designs drawn in 1874 for a church in Calcutta). All but two windows are the work of Morris & Co., the majority being drawn by Burne-Jones, and six by Morris himself. The windows pre-dating 1896 would have been designed (i.e. colour of glass, painted detail) by William Morris, Burne-Jones having drawn the figures.

The reredos was designed by George Street, and painted by John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope.

At present, little is known about who designed the painted ceiling, however there are two signatures on the ceiling panels (east of the nave) documenting the completion dates of the painted interior of the main body of the church: A Powell 11 Oct 1893 & D Powell 1893. This was followed by the decoration of the chancel and sanctuary vault at the turn of the century.

During the 1970s and 1980s All Saints’ Church experienced many difficulties, and there was even talk of using the church as a storage unit, but all this suddenly changed following the arson attack on St Mary’s Church in 1973. It was then that All Saints’ began to play a major role within the parish, and since then it has continued to grow and develop. In 1993 a decision was made to hold weekly Sunday family services at the church, and fundraising for a major refurbishment project soon followed (completed in 1998). In 2003, the Parish of Putney became a Team Ministry, with the two churches operating separately within the parish.