Spires and Crosses: Off the Tourist Trail, London's Little-Known Churches Await Your Discovery
The following is part one in a series in the weekly Spires and Crosses column on historic or otherwise interesting churches in London that few, if any, tourists know exist.
Hidden away on a handsome side street in London's upscale Marylebone neighborhood is a little piece of Sweden.
The Ulrika Eleonora Parish of the Church of Sweden, or more simply the Swedish Church in London, at 6 Harcourt Street is a world removed from the hustle and bustle of nearby Marylebone and Edgware roads.
The royal coat of arms immediately below a trio of lancet windows and above the main entrance, a Gothic Revival-style porch, is easily overlooked. After all, London is full of buildings with heraldic emblems. Only the Swedish flag with its Nordic cross signifies that this Edwardian-era building is something different. (The church's simple spire wasn't easy seen when I was walking down the sidewalk.)
Built between 1910 and 1912 — different sources cite different years — under the execution of architect Herbert Hardy Wigglesworth to the designs of Axel Hägg, the church's architecture is considered a blend of the Arts and Crafts and Gothic Revival styles. A contemporary report from the New-Church Messenger put construction costs at $100,000, which would be over $2.4 million in today.
Once through the porch one finds a small vestibule at street level with an elegant stairwell that leads up to the the second floor, where a small narthex has been created in the space atop the stairs and outside the wooden double doors that open to the nave.
Entering the nave, directly under the organ loft, I found a small but tidy space. There certainty wasn't any clutter.
While the architecture is medieval-inspired and clearly well executed, nothing immediately stood out until the double-decker wooden pulpit and altar came into focus.
These furnishings, along with the baptismal font and brass chandeliers, were taken from the congregation's first church, a circa 1728 brick structure in Wapping, near London's Docklands, that would have been similar to Sir Christopher Wren's famous churches. Sadly missing are the Georgian box pews that were in the original church.
Like many Protestant churches, the walls are white and have little ornamentation. The windows, which are partially stained, aren't particularly notable. Yet the simplicity and minimalism of the church's interior is what makes it so attractive — particularly since there is nothing to overshadow the beauty and fine craftsmanship of the pulpit and altar, which is, of course, where the word of God is preached and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper or Eucharist is celebrated.
If you go
The Svenska kyrkan i London (literally translated as the Swedish Church in London) is open most days, though you may have to enter through the parish hall. The church also runs a café, complete with Swedish language newspapers and delicious authentic Swedish cinnamon buns, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Wednesday, it's open until 7 p.m.
Spires and Crosses is published every Sunday.