BRIEF HISTORY OF OUR CATHEDRAL
The beginnings of the King's Weigh House Church, (the original name of the Cathedral) is to be found in the Free Chapel (that is, free from Episcopal jurisdiction) founded by Queen Matilda in 1148, in the vicinity of the Tower of London. With the passing of the Act of Uniformity in 1662, the greater portion of the congregation seceded from the Established Church and became an independent congregation. Soon afterwards they began to meet in an ancient building in Cornhil, where foreigners' goods on entering London were compulsorily weighed on the King's Beam "for the greater security of the citizens." Hence the name of the place, King's Weigh House. The name was retained when the people built their own chapel on the site of the present Monument Station. After more than two centuries occupying various sites in the City, the church moved to the West End and amalgamated with a similar congregation in Robert Street (later renamed Weigh House Street), off Oxford Street, where the present church was built in 1889-91.
The architect of the Natural History Museum, Alfred Waterhouse, designed the church. Comparison of the two buildings in instructive. A masterpiece of compact planning with an oval nave and gallery, the Cathedral seats 900. The round-arched Italianate classical design, using hard brick and buff terracotta, is typical of Waterhouse and is evident also in his better known Natural History Museum. The domed ceiling, a World War II casualty, has been restored. Sir John Burnet, also an architect of many London buildings, adapted the chancel and produced the terracotta framework of the east end, with figures of the Four Beasts of the Apocalypse. He also designed the towering organ which no longer exists. Anning Bell designed the east window glass; the reredos (screen at the rear of the alter) was designed by A. E. Henderson in 1927 and carved by Allan Wyon. Of Waterhouse's original details the embossed column facings, the curved wooden gallery front, and the Art Nouveau window patterns are especially noteworthy. On the ambulatory wall near the northeast entrance is a stone carving of the Holy Family, salvaged from the Saffron Hill Church, the original place of worship of the Ukrainian Catholic community.
The dynamic preacher whose name will always be associated with the King's Weigh House, the Rev Dr W. E. Orchard, was in charge there from 1913 - 1932. He developed within the congregational structure what came to be known in the early 1920s as Free Catholicism, and according to some sources, was himself reconciled to the Catholic faith before he died. In 1940 the building suffered serious bomb damage resulting in the building being requisitioned as a fire watching centre and rest centre. It was not until 1953 that the King's Weigh House was fully restored, by which time the congregation had almost totally declined.
After several years as the Protestant Chapel for members of the United States Navy stationed in London, this historic church closed and its future seemed very uncertain. Dust gathered on the steps and the King's Weigh House looked forlorn and unwanted.
However, in June 1968 it entered upon a completely new phase of existence, having been acquired on behalf of Ukrainian Catholics in this country, under the newly enthroned Bishop Augustine Hornyak OSBM for their Cathedral of the Holy Family of Exile. Necessary internal changes were made in order to adapt it to the Byzantine worship but the structure of the King's Weigh House is the same, its red brick apse glowing warmly, perhaps one might think nostalgically, in the sunshine.
Rev Dr Athanasius McVay