The church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory is located on Warwick Street in Soho. It was built in 1789-90 on the site of a Catholic chapel which was pillaged during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780. The Warwick Street church is attached to a fine house in Golden Square, Soho, built in 1685. This house (number 24) and its neighbour (number 23) were occupied by the Portuguese Ambassador the Marques de Pombal from 1724 to 1747. The Ambassador had a chapel constructed at the back of his house. All Catholic embassies had the right to have their own chapels in a city where such churches and chapels were generally not permitted. When the Portuguese moved out, the lease was taken over by the ambassador from Bavaria, Count Haslang. He represented the Elector of Bavaria, later the King of Bavaria. The embassy was occupied in Golden Square until 1788, so it was the Bavarian ambassador’s chapel that was destroyed during the Gordon Riots.
The current church was built in 1789-90 on the site of the Bavarian chapel by the Bishop of the London District, Bishop Talbot. At the time of the departure of the minister from Golden Square in 1788 the bishop obtained eight- and nine-hundred-year leases of the two vacant houses in Golden Square, together with the chapel and other outbuildings. In September 1788 he assigned the ground behind the houses to six trustees for the erection of the new church. He also obtained the patronage of the Elector of Bavaria and, in the latter part of 1788, he and a committee of twenty-two prominent Catholics appealed for funds for the erection of a new chapel. Building began in the spring of 1789 and the new church was opened on 12 March 1790, the feast of St. Gregory the Great, to whom it was dedicated. The architect was Joseph Bonomi. The connection with the Royal House of Bavaria has been maintained to this day and there is a memorial in the church to the late Crown Prince Albrecht of Bavaria who died in 1955.
During the first half of the nineteenth century there was a steady development of Catholic life in England. Mrs. Fitzherbert, morganatic wife of the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), worshipped regularly at the church. Blessed 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. This tradition has now been revived at the church. In the nineteenth century the music performed was by composers such as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. These days the music is mostly in the English tradition (Purcell, Stanford, Howells) but does not exclude composers of the European tradition from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.
By 1840 Golden Square had ceased to be a fashionable location. Charles Dickens describes it in Nicholas Nickleby as a great resort of foreigners. In 1853 a bas-relief of the Assumption by the Irish artist John Edward Carew was erected above the high altar. When the sanctuary was reconstructed in 1875 it was moved to its present location about the door to the sacristy. The architect commissioned to remodel the sanctuary was John Francis Bentley who was later to design Westminster Cathedral. An apse was constructed and decorated with marble and mosaics. However, the original plan of reconstructing the whole church was never completed. The main body of the church remains as it was when it was built in 1790. The only significant change was the shortening of the side galleries so that they no longer reach the east wall of the church. The original pews in the galleries were left in place. The organ appears to have been built by Lincoln in 1790 and expanded by Green & Blythe in 1804. In 1859 it was further enlarged and rebuilt by Bishop & Starr.
Even today the location of the church, between Piccadilly Circus and Soho in the heart of London’s West End, imparts a special character. It is 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 for street-sleepers. The church remains open throughout the day and offers welcome and consolation to all: the destitute, the visitor and the local worker alike. We are especially pleased to receive visits from so many tourists from all parts of the world.
After the 10.30am Mass on a Sunday everyone is invited to coffee, tea and drinks in the parish rooms downstairs.
At Easter 2013 the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster put the church in the care of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The Ordinariate, formed in January 2011, was a personal initiative of Pope Benedict XVI to welcome former Anglicans into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. There are now some 50 Ordinariate groups across Great Britain served by over 80 priests. The Church in Warwick Street is the central church of the Ordinariate and, each Sunday at 10.30am, Mass is offered according to the Ordinariate Use, which incorporates elements drawn from the Anglican liturgical tradition. Please note that the church at Warwick Street functions as a normal Roman Catholic parish and all Catholics who attend this Mass fulfil their Sunday obligation.
Visitors to the 10.30am Sunday Mass will be struck especially by the excellence of the singing. The Anglican tradition on which we draw at Warwick Street contains much sublime music and each Sunday our liturgy is enhanced by these Anglican musical settings.