St Mary’s is one of a group of churches built in the early nineteenth century to serve newly developed residential areas in London and other cities. Such churches are known as Waterloo Churches, because their construction was financed by a fund set up by the government in thanksgiving for the victorious end of twenty years’ of war against the French Revolution and Napoleon.
The new parish of St Mary Bryanston Square was carved out of the historic parish of St Marylebone, which was no longer able to cope with the vastly increased population in its boundaries. The architect of the new church was Sir Robert Smirke, best known for designing the British Museum as well as other public buildings, such as the old Customs House, which still stands in Lower Thames Street. He designed very few churches, his only other one in London being St Anne’s, Wandsworth. The Bishop of London consecrated St Mary’s on 7th January 1824.
Smirke used his favourite Greek revival style to build a plain brick box, only ornamented externally by a semi-circular stone portico of six Ionic columns on the south façade, surmounted by an oddly proportioned pepper pot tower. The upper rows of windows are round headed while the small lower windows are square. Originally glazed in plain glass, they were re-glazed with coloured or stained glass during the mid Victorian alterations.
Since 1875 there have been no further changes on a similar scale. In the early 60’s the old solid fuel heating system was replaced by
electric heaters attached to the fronts of the galleries, which proved an expensive and ineffective means of heating this large space. Up until 2000, the only other alterations have been of a temporary and experimental nature to create space at the front of the chancel in line with modern liturgical usage, and to provide an area for circulation at the back of the church. The external view of St Mary’s from the south was much enhanced when Wyndham Place became a pedestrianised precinct in 1977, and at night it is further improved by the floodlighting installed and financed by the City of Westminster.
Our major project to reorder and refurbish St Mary’s began at the end of 2000. Our remit was to preserve the existing structure and restore the church to its former glory while making it more accessible and appropriate for present day use. We undertook urgent repairs, excavated and developed the lower floor to provide a large meeting area, and two smaller meeting rooms.