St Mary Magdalene is a Grade 1 listed Church located in Westbourne Green, Paddington in the City of Westminster. Completed in 1878 by the celebrated Victorian architect George Edmund Street (1824-1881) it is considered one of his finest churches. The building has an almost completely intact internal decorative scheme of the highest quality, including the later addition of the Chapel of St Sepulchre in the undercroft by Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960) and additional architectural contributions by Martin Travers (1886-1948).
In the ownership of the Church of England, it continues to be a site of worship to a small but dedicated congregation and provides occasional social space for the local community. It also serves the adjoining St Mary Magdalene’s Church of England School. Its atmospheric interiors are also a regular venue for film and photography shoots. However, despite its importance as an exceptional High Victorian Neo-Gothic Church, it lacks basic visitor facilities. More troubling, it has been on English Heritage’s ‘Heritage at Risk Register’ since 2005.
A the time the Church was built, Westbourne Green was a mass of dense buildings providing affordable, albeit poorly constructed, accommodation to a growing worker population. In Westbourne Green this mainly consisted of economically deprived families. The construction of the Church of St Mary Magdalene was a direct response to the growing population and dire poverty.
Motivated by the zeal of its first priest and the talent of its architect, the church was a statement of faith in the improving power of religion and good design. On some Sundays it attracted more than 400 worshippers.
The church survived World War II unscathed but post-war optimism did little to improve the lot of the poor in Westbourne Green. By the middle of the twentieth century the houses surrounding the church were declared unfit for purpose and demolished as part of slum clearance leaving the Church as a unique but now free standing and isolated building in a new social housing estate.
The St Mary Magdalene project seeks to reverse this trend of increasing isolation and decreasing significance through restoring the fabric of the Church, adding a new Heritage and Learning Centre and running programmes across the two buildings that attract and serve all elements of the local community.