St Anne, Soho

Above: View looking east across the churchyard at the remaining 19th century spire and the 20th-century redevelopment.

Until 1678, the land that we know as Soho today was part of the large parish of St Martin in the Fields. A new parish was created from the old one, called St Anne. The church was built 1680-86, designed by William Talman, executive architect to Sir Christopher Wren. The church has a tall tower which has no connection with Wren’s original church because it was added 1801-03, designed by SP Cockerell. The four small clocks mounted it what appears to be a separate unit give the tower a rather strange appearance.

Reasons for the naming of some of London’s churches are sometimes related to the fact that some of the monarchs have, by chance, had names that are the same as a famous saint. This church is a good example. It is dedicated to St Anne because the Bishop of London, Henry Compton – who raised funds for a local parish church and consecrated it on 21 March 1686 – had been tutor to Princess Anne before she became Queen. The nearby Old Compton Street is also named after Bishop Compton.

During the Second World War the church received a direct hit during the blitz on the night of 24 September 1940 and the building, apart from the tower, was destroyed. For many years after the destruction, the site remained derelict and was used as a car park. It was not until 1990 that a new foundation stone was laid by Princess Anne, Princess Royal, for a new development made up of a new church and community hall, meeting rooms and social housing. The project was completed in 1991.

In spite of much of the land being occupied by small businesses, offices and shops, Soho is home to about 3,000 residents. The church of St Anne has a Rector who is responsible for the spiritual side of the work as well as taking the Sunday services.

To the west of the church is the original churchyard. At one time the remains of tree trunks, hollowed out for water conduits were on show in the old churchyard. These had been discovered under the ground and had probably been in use in the 18th century as an early form of water supply to the area.

Beside the entrance to the present church in Dean Street is a stone plaque, mounted on the wall, inscribed with information about St Anne’s Watch-house. During the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common to have a watchman on duty each night at a churchyard to prevent body-snatching.

The modern entrance to the church is from the east end of the site – beside Dean Street. The tower stands at the western end, beside the large churchyard which has its main entrance from Wardour Street. The churchyard is now used as a public park – known as St Anne’s Gardens. The church premises are open on most weekdays when the public can visit the building and see various photographs of the church in earlier times. The churchyard being a public park is open every day.

-ENDS-

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