About St. Stephen's

St Stephen's, Hampstead, designed by the noted architect Samuel Sanders Teulon (1812 - 1873) is considered by many to be one of the finest Victorian churches built in the Gothic style. Teulon was responsible for 113 other new churches during his lifetime, but it is St Stephen's that he considered his masterwork, referring to it as his "mighty church".

The story of St Stephen's begins in 1864 when Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson, Lord of the Manor, offered Hampstead Green as the site of a new church. Teulon accepted the commission to design the building, and over the next three years, funds were raised by donation and subscription to meet the building's estimated cost of £7,500.

Building work began in January 1869 and proceeded at speed. The foundation stone was laid in May, and work was advanced enough for the church to be consecrated by the Bishop of London on 31 December the same year. Within three years, the building had been completed - at an estimated total cost of £27,000, the most expensive of all Teulon's churches.

For the next hundred years, St Stephen's was a centre of worship, accommodating up to 1,200 parishioners each Sunday. But, situated as it is on a steep slope, the building was always prone to subsidence, and in the late 1960s, concern grew about its structural safety. Although experts were divided on the issue, the combination of high maintenance costs and a declining congregation led the Diocese of London to declare St Stephen's redundant. The building closed for worship in 1977.

Initial proposals for the future of St Stephen's included a conversion to residential flats, and even demolition to make way for a car park for the adjacent Royal Free Hospital. In the late 1970s, though, English Heritage awarded St Stephen's a Grade I listing, safeguarding the building from demolition, but providing no guarantee of future use. While arguments raged, St Stephen's fell slowly into decay.

For more than 20 years, St Stephen's stood empty and boarded up. Vandals and squatters moved in, leaving their mark on the building in the form of graffiti, broken windows and stolen fittings. Various schemes for the building came and went, until 1999, when The St Stephen's Restoration and Preservation Trust was awarded the lease, with the objective of restoring the building to life.

After raising a total of well over £4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, local businesses and individual donors, the Trust has undertaken three phases of major building work to restore the building to a useable condition. New space has been created in the crypt, which will be let out to provide a regular income for the building. Meanwhile, the magnificent ground floor will be made available to the community as a unique venue for theatre, music, exhibitions and conferences - opening with Antic Disposition's new production of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' in March 2009.

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