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Old Bishop Compton’s vision lives on

07 June, 2019 — By The Xtra Diary

Bishop Henry Compton 

AND so the beautiful surroundings of St Anne’s Courtyard (not to be mistaken with the cut-through St Anne’s Court), which provides such a lovely haven from the hustle and the bustle of Soho.

It is where, of course, the annual Soho Society Fete takes place every June – an event that features the famous Soho Waiters’ Race.

This year it takes place on June 30, and the society is looking for volunteers to spend a couple of hours setting up, selling raffle tickets, helping out on stalls and generally lending a hand.

And what a history St Anne’s has: Bishop Henry Compton (yes, he is the Old Compton in Old Compton Street) consecrated the ground in 1686 and a church was designed by William Talman – one of Sir Christopher Wren’s apprentices.

Compton (pictured right) was a learned chap who wrote histories, he was also put in charge of the education of princesses Mary and Anne.

A practical fellow as well, he was responsible for a wide-ranging survey of England and Wales in 1676, which became known as the Compton Census. He was a Renaissance expert, and also served as a soldier; he was up to his eyes in the politics of the period, being one of those who invited William and Mary to England and start the Glorious Revolution.

But his real love was botany, and he sought to create beautiful gardens in the churchyards under his care after he was appointed the Bishop of London in 1675.

Talman’s St Anne’s soon became known for its outstanding choirs and organists.

But fate dealt this lovely church a bad hand. If you look at it today you can see a tower that was added in 1803 when the original had become dangerous.

Sadly, it is the only remaining part of the old church that survived the Blitz.

The bomb site land was used as a car park for many years, until the great Sohemians of the Soho Society stepped in.

In 1991 part of the land was used for social housing and businesses, while the funds raised were used to build a community space and a chapel.

It feels like helping the society celebrate its fete every year keeps alive the idea that Old Compton had, that this parish needed a church at its heart, with some outdoor space so we can get down with nature.

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