History

MR STREET, ARCHITECT AND CHURCHMAN

George Edmund Street (1824 - 1881) was a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott and became, himself, another of the foremost practitioners of the Gothic Revival in England. If his best-known secular work is the design for the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand in London (where his statue may be seen) he nevertheless devoted most of a very busy life to ecclesiastical commissions. Several of these were for Anglican congregations on the Continent of Europe. Examples of his work can be seen in Switzerland, Lausanne, Vevey and Pitirren; in Turkey, in the recently reopened Crimean Memorial Church in Istanbul; and in Italy, in Genoa and Rome. Street also designed major American Episcopal buildings in Paris (their Pro-Cathedral of the Holy Trinity); and in Rome (St Paul's-within-the-Walls).

The architect's devotees in England may look for his churches in London in the shape of St Mary Magdalene, Paddington, and St James the Less, Westminster, among others. At Bournemouth there is St Peter's; at Eastbourne, St Saviour's; in Liverpool, St Margaret's, to name some of the chief. For the Anglican sisters at East Grinstead, Street created the plans of their convent without fee, as he did also for the parish church of the village where he made his home. It is good to observe, in addition (in our context)) that his churches were created from a sense of conviction. Street was a devout Anglican, and "throughout his life he took an active interest in the affairs of the chief high-church organizations". He was made President of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1881. This honour came less than a year before his death, when he was given the ultimate earthly privilege of a funeral in Westminster Abbey.

Let us now discover how he set himself to answer the needs of the future All Saints' in Rome, his last commission. It was a church he was never to see, for his death came shortly before the foundation stone was laid. The work was supervised by his son, Arthur Edmund. In February 1872, no doubt in answer to first overtures from the committee of the English Chapel, the architect communicated his views "as to the kind of church suitable for the Roman climate". In less than a month, he came to Rome in person to meet the building committee. That committee seems to have left no minutes of their particular deliberations, but it is instructive to read in our general records that "it seemed generally agreed that English Gothic was not appropriate" for Rome. No other building in Rome resembles All Saints' in its English, Gothic Revival brick. St Paul's Church, by the same hand, was based on S Zeno Maggiore in Verona, and in its external stripes, with a tall campanile, it has an Italianate feel. (Street had written a book in 1855, after visiting northern Italy, called Brick and Marble Architecture). S Maria sopra Minerva, near the Pantheon, is often erroneously referred to as "the only Gothic church in Rome"; but apart from its grand nave arcades, and other detail, it has Renaissance aisles and chapels and a severely plain stucco exterior.

All Saints', it has been said, "might not be out of place in Maida Vale or Manchester". And if this sounds like a rather back-handed compliment, let it be added that the same commentator, in a BBC feature on the Chaplaincy in the mid-1960s, said that our church was "a dignified and scholarly building, the interior, in particular, being excellent of its kind". That seems a very fair appraisal in one sentence.

As late as January 1874, the architect was still discussing possible sites for All Saints' with the committee; and a word is due here to explain why the matter of a new site had arisen at all. The obligation to quit the old Granary Chapel outside the Porta del Popolo was laid upon the committee by the Comune, or Municipality, of Rome. They wanted to demolish in order to enlarge the piazzale for amenity and traffic purposes. This was eventually done, and no trace of the old chapel is left: a tobacco vendor's kiosk and bar occupy roughly the site, north-west of the gate.

One of a series of rather short-term chaplains, the Revd Arthur Shadwell, who had been appointed in 1869, saw the need to make moves towards the provision or building of a new church. A statement was authorized to go into the London newspapers appealing for subscriptions.

Some disaffected worshippers at the Granary Chapel banded together under a Dr Gason and set up a rival congregation for Church of England services, apparently aided and abetted by one Bishop Alford, of the Anglican diocese of Victoria (Hong Kong). Soon after 1870, in the new freedom available to non-Roman Catholics after the unification of Italy, they engaged Antonio Cipolla to design a place of worship whose modest classical façade looked across piazza San Silvestro to what is now the central Post Office. It was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and had been made possible by virtue of the handsome response to the dissidents' appeal in the British press. Only about forty years later, however, the city fathers required the church to be demolished to make way for an enlargement of the square. A fresh site had to be found.

This was obtained in what vas then called via Doganli (now via Romagna) in a district of Rome which was fast developing on hitherto open land inside the Aurelian walls, towards Porta Pia. The new Holy Trinity, designed by an architect called Fisher, was a handsome enough building in a Romanesque style of brick with stone detail. Ironically, the silver trowel with which Sir Rennell Rodd (British Ambassador of the day) laid the foundation stone on 28th April 1913 is still in the possession of All Saints'. So are the service registers. These witness to a fairly thriving life in earlier days, and to acts of cooperation with All Saints' - a link encouraged by the Bishop of Gibraltar many years after his predecessor had disapproved of the split. However, with numbers at worship reduced to about two dozen, Holy Trinity held its last services on 18th April 1937; and a book of 1945 reported it "lost among greenery, vandalized and closed for worship years ago." In about 1948, the site was sold for development, the church demolished, and offices built where once the English Anglicans had their Other Home in Rome.

In 1875 there began the lengthy ministry in Rome of the Revd (later Canon) Henry Watson Wasse. He was to see through the whole project of the new church, and would remain to enjoy some of the spiritual benefits of Street's building until his death in office in 1891.

When the architect came to Rome in 1876, his plans seem to have been for adapting and improving the Granary Chapel premises. The cost would be 10,000 pounds Sterling, or 2,000 less if the proposed tower were deferred. No decision was taken by the committee, but they expressed themselves "unanimously pleased" with the designs, and decided to have them framed and displayed.

Matters were greatly affected by the decision of the Comune di Roma to pierce additional arches on either side of the tall gateway of the 1560s. It had last been altered in 1655 to honour the entry into Rome of Queen Christina of Sweden, who had abdicated her throne on exchanging the Reformed faith for the Roman Catholic. And here was the Anglican's building blocking the new carriageway! The Chaplain warned members of the chapel committee that there would be no point now in pursuing the idea of having Mr Street improve the old chapel; but that a formal demand should be made to the Comune to rebuild on the chapel site, so as to obtain a formal refusal. This would then precipitate the Anglicans' just claim for an exchange of sites. The ruined convent on the corner of via del Babuino and via di Gesu and Maria was offered by the Commune; and despite the disinclination of Chaplain, committee and others locally to accept this, hoping by delay and dissent to oblige the Commune eventually to pay major compensation for the old chapel and its site, SPG intervened and accepted the exchange. In February 1880, Mr Street informed the Chaplain that SPG had requested him to forward plans for the demolition of the old convent ruins.

This text was adapted from the history of All Saints' Church, Rome by David Palmer (Rome. July 1978, Augusts of 1979, 1980 & 1981).