The Assumption, Warwick Street

On this Feast of the Assumption we learn about one of the oldest Catholic churches in London, hidden behind Regent Street, from their website

“The church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory is located on Warwick Street in Soho. At a time in England when Catholic churches and chapels were not permitted, foreign embassies had the right to have their own chapels, and the Portuguese Ambassador had a chapel constructed at the back of his house. When the Portuguese moved out, the lease was taken over by the ambassador of the Bavarian sovereign. The embassy was occupied in Golden Square until 1788, so it was the Bavarian ambassador’s chapel that was destroyed during the Gordon Riots in 1780.

The current church was built in 1789 – 90 on the site of the Bavarian chapel. With the patronage of the Elector of Bavaria, the bishop appealed for funds for the erection of a new church. Building began in the spring of 1789 to a design by architect Joseph Bonomi, and the new church was opened the next year.

Catholic life in England developed steadily during the first half of the nineteenth century. Mrs Fitzherbert, morganatic wife of the Prince of Wales (later George IV), worshipped regularly at the church. Saint John Henry Newman, when a boy, was taken to the church by his father. He later wrote: “All that I bore away from it was the recollection of a pulpit and a preacher and a boy swinging a censer”. The church developed a strong musical tradition early on and became well-known for its musical excellence. In 1875, the sanctuary was remodelled according to a design by John Francis Bentley – later the architect of Westminster Cathedral. An apse was constructed and decorated with marble and mosaics.

Warwick Street’s location in the heart of London’s West End between Piccadilly Circus and Soho imparts a special character. Surrounded by both great wealth and extreme poverty, it is a destination for pleasure-seekers and revellers as well as an assembly place of the lonely, the addicted, and street-sleepers. The church remains open throughout the day and offers welcome and consolation to all.”