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  • Writer's pictureDoug Chapman, MA

A Brief History of All Saints’ Church in Cambridge

What is All Saints’ Church?

All Saints’ Church is a 19th-century church in Cambridge with a mighty spire and a lovely interior.

Ceiling of all saints church

ChurchSniffer, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

All Saints’ Church History

A dominant presence in the spire-filled skyline of Cambridge, All Saints’ Church is a masterpiece of Victorian style and design. It has occupied its present location since the mid-19th century: the foundation stone was laid in 1863 and the church was consecrated in the following year. The spire and tower were added shortly after, and on completion made the church the tallest building in the city at an impressive 53 metres high. Today, it’s the third-tallest structure in Cambridge and is plainly visible from many vantage points in the area.

The original iteration of this church was known as All Saints’ in the Jewry, and stood near St John’s College. A church had existed on that site for 800 years, but it was demolished in 1865 as it was too small to serve the expanding parish. The garden of the original church can still be seen today and regularly hosts a small arts and crafts market. Land for the new location on Jesus Lane was gifted by Jesus College, selected not only for the space it offered the congregation, but also because it was more conveniently placed for the many worshippers who did not live centrally. The congregation dwindled throughout the 20th century, however, and the church was closed in 1973. It has since been vested in the Churches Conservation Trust.

The church was constructed in the English Decorated style as a conscious recreation of chapels of the central Middle Ages by George Frederick Bodley, a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott. The core of the building is handmade brick; the exterior is faced with Ancaster stone and dressed with Casterton stone. The tower and spire were modelled after 14th-century examples at Ashbourne in Derbyshire. They are decorated with carvings, gargoyles, and spire lights alongside angle buttresses (or supports).

While the exterior of the tower is both well-proportioned and commanding, it’s the interior of the church that’s considered to merit the greater praise. The interior of All Saints’ is one of the foremost examples of the Gothic Revival style in the country, resplendent in colourful stencilled patterns and with an open timber roof. The vibrant greens, reds and golds of the stencil work combine with the majesty of medievalism to create one of the most elegant ecclesiastical locations in the city. Before you leave, make sure to admire the wonderful stained-glass windows and aisle paintings.

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