About the Church
In 2006 St Stephen's celebrated its 150-year anniversary. The following is an abridged article written for a special edition magazine which was produced by the congregation and distributed around the parish.
Like a cat running low on its nine lives, St. Stephen's church building is a survivor of near misses. Having withstood years of neglect, near demolition, a Volvo crashing through its front doors and major subsidence of one of its main pillars, it is somewhat surprising to see it standing before us, in fairly good order, fairly vertical and very much alive.
In 1855 a developer saw the opportunity to provide housing for wealthy merchants associated with local commerce and built the Crescent terrace to the west of the church. A major amenity or selling point for a development at this time was to have a grand church located at the heart of the community. St. Stephen's was such a church and paved the way for the success of the surrounding housing growth. Due to the construction of the Crescent and acute angle of the two merging roads the church is unusually sited with its altar at the west end rather than the traditional east.
Over time the church fabric has changed both externally and internally. In 1900 the original squared off chancel on the west elevation was rebuilt as a larger curved apse which accounts for the encroachment on the pavement. The most obvious difference to its original design is the lack of a spire at the top of its steeple. This was removed after the war when it was deemed to be unsafe.
In 1952 consideration was given on whether to restore the spire. Complete reconstruction would have cost £28,000. But the Parochial Church Council decided on the cheaper option of pulling the spire down and replacing it with the present battlemented parapet and pinnacles at a cost of £13,000. Thus the building strode on to its modern appearance.
During the 1980s the church had declined both in attendance and physical structure. It was in such a poor state that a detailed report was prepared in which one recommendation included demolition and in 1991, after a fall of masonry from a column; the building was declared unsafe and closed. The future was uncertain but the potential was obvious: it was a fine traditional building standing at a focal point of the townscape in need of a vision.
Reports from both architect and surveyor confirmed the structure sound but estimated that £1.1 million needed to be spent. Local residents' associations, Westminster Council and English Heritage all expressed enthusiasm for a refurbishment project albeit veiled in a degree of scepticism.
In May 1994 the Bishop confirmed that the church would be reopened and that a new vicar had been appointed. Rev Tom Gillum, a former curate at Holy Trinity Brompton, was chosen and was vicar of St Stephen's for 10 years.
Essential repairs and maintenance continue to be extensive, nevertheless this does not hinder thoughts of future building development. Early plans have been discussed to convert under utilized areas within the church to greater use. So the evolution of the building continues and, despite its chequered history, St. Stephen's is still vibrant and standing.
Today the church has an active congregation of around 100 and is filled with optimism for the future under the leadership of Rev Jeremy Allcock.