Viewpoint: The shocking conversion of a Mayfair church

  • Anthony Bailey OBE

Beer barrels on the Sanctuary

Beer barrels on the Sanctuary

It always saddens me when I see places of worship - of any faith - being remodelled for other purposes as a result of changes in demographics, a drop in public worship or growing secularism in some societies.

That being said I have seen some wonderful examples of places of worship duly transformed into community outreach centres, homeless shelters, schools and nurseries and public housing. These seem in many ways not in conflict with a building's previous use.

Yet to see and visit such a site as the former St Mark's Anglican Church in Mayfair's North Audley Street really shocked me.

Now known as Mercato Mayfair, not only has it been turned into a series of bars and fast food restaurants but actual altars and chapels are used as part of the furniture of those bars together with religious imagery. This includes memorials for the dead, which are used as commercial or entertaining back drops. None of these beautiful decorations have been covered up or removed to a place where they can be given the due relevance and respect they deserve.

To see beer barrels on the sanctuary and altar was really quite shocking and baptismal fonts used as ice buckets, drinking stands and a cycle store.

Owned by the Duke of Westminster's Grosvenor Estate, having ceased to be an active church in 1974, St Mark's was for many years known locally as the American Church in London, due to its close proximity to the then US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. Distinguished visitors to the church included US President Dwight Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt.

St Mark's was the venue for the society wedding of George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood in 1949 which was attended by King George VI and other members of the Britain's Royal Family. A wedding anthem specially composed and conducted by Benjamin Britten was performed at the service too the local history book tells me. A great black and white video of this royal wedding can be found at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7-tDM_NVE8. Harewood was the elder son of the 6th Earl of Harewood and Princess Mary, Princess Royal, the only daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. Harewood was the eldest nephew of both King Edward VIII and King George VI and was a first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II.

I left disappointed to find here in Britain, scenes that would not have been out of place in the USSR or communist Albania, where places of worship were forcibly closed and used for all manner of things.

(Anthony Bailey first published this piece on his Facebook page www.facebook.com/anthony.bailey.92123 - with several more pictures. We've reprinted here with his permission)


Tags: Mayfair, St Mark's Anglican Church, Anthony Bailey, Mercator

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