History and description
The church was founded in the twelfth century by Benedictine monks, so that local people who lived in the area around the Abbey could worship separately at their own simpler parish church, and historically it was within the hundred of Ossulstone in the county of Middlesex. In 1914, in a preface to Memorials of St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, a former Rector of St Margaret's, Dr Hensley Henson, reported a mediaeval tradition that the church was as old as Westminster Abbey, owing its origins to the same royal saint, and that "The two churches, conventual and parochial, have stood side by side for more than eight centuries — not, of course, the existing fabrics, but older churches of which the existing fabrics are successors on the same site."
St Margaret's was rebuilt from 1486 to 1523, at the instigation of King Henry VII, and the new church, which largely still stands today, was consecrated on 9 April 1523. It has been called "the last church in London decorated in the Catholic tradition before the Reformation", and on each side of a large rood there stood richly painted statues of St Mary and St John, while the building had several internal chapels. In the 1540s, the new church came near to demolition, when Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, planned to take it down to provide good-quality materials for Somerset House, his own new palace in the Strand. He was only kept from carrying out his plan by the resistance of armed parishioners.
In 1614, St Margaret's became the parish church of the Palace of Westminster, when the Puritans of the seventeenth century, unhappy with the highly liturgical Abbey, chose to hold their Parliamentary services in a church they found more suitable: a practice that has continued since that time.
The north-west tower was rebuilt by John James from 1734 to 1738; at the same time, the whole structure was encased in Portland stone. Both the eastern and the western porch were added later by J. L. Pearson. The church's interior was greatly restored and altered to its current appearance by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1877, although many of the Tudor features were retained.
By the 1970s, the number of people living nearby was in the hundreds. Ecclesiastical responsibility for the parish was reallocated to neighbouring parishes by the Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret Westminster Act 1972, and the church was brought under the authority of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey.
An annual new year service for the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain takes place in the church in October, and in 2016 Bishop Angaelos gave the sermon.
The Rector of St Margaret's is often a canon of Westminster Abbey.
St Margaret's, Westminster interior, 2016
Notable windows include the east window of 1509 of Flemish stained glass, created to commemorate the betrothal of Catherine of Aragon to Henry VIII. This has had a chequered history. It was given by Henry VII to Waltham Abbey in Essex, and at the Dissolution of the Monasteries the last Abbot sent it to a private chapel at New Hall, Essex. That came into the possession of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, the father of Anne Boleyn, then Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, next George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, after him Oliver Cromwell, from whom it reverted to the second Duke of Buckingham, next General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, and after him John Olmius, then Mr Conyers of Copt Hall, Essex, whose son sold the window to the parish of St Margaret's in 1758, for four hundred guineas. The money came from a grant of £4,000 which parliament had made to the parish that year for the renovation of the church and the rebuilding of the chancel.
Other windows commemorate William Caxton, England's first printer, who was buried at the church in 1491, Sir Walter Raleigh, executed in Old Palace Yard and then also buried in the church in 1618, the poet John Milton, a parishioner of the church, and Admiral Robert Blake.