The original All Saints church which dated back to the eleventh century was known as All Saints in the Jewry, standing as it did in the early medieval Jewish quarter on St John’s Street. The churchyard of the original church is now known as All Saints Garden and contains a memorial cross designed by Basil Champneys in 1882. The church was rebuilt several times on the same site but by the nineteenth century it was too small for the growing congregation and it was decided to build an entirely new church on a still somewhat constricted plot on Jesus Lane, given by Jesus College. Initially, Gilbert Scott was the preferred architect for the new All Saints but in the end it was one of Scott’s former pupils, George Frederick Bodley who got the commission. William Bell & Sons built the church and it was consecrated on the 30th November 1864. A further phase of work was carried out 1869-71. The total cost was £7,444. Apart from the canopy of honour, which was decorated by Morris in 1864, the walls and roofs in the nave, south nave aisle and chancel were painted by Frederick Leach in 1871 and 1878-9 and then partly repainted and added to by his son, Barnett McLean Leach, between 1904 and 1905. Barnett McLean Leach also repainted Wyndham Hope Hughes’ tempera painting of Christ in Majesty on the chancel arch.
In 1870, the Cambridge Chronicle wrote, ‘Great praise must be given to Mr F R Leach, our fellow townsman, who is carrying out these works, for it is no small credit these days to be able to work out such details in free hand drawing . . . The whole scheme of decoration and designs are under the superintendence of Mr C E Kempe, MA of London, who has also given his personal attention to their accomplishment’. High on the rear wall in All Saints, the wall paintings have been signed in 1871 by F R Leach, D D Parr and J Swainland.
In the All Saints Parish Magazine of 1878, Bodley explained the inspiration and motivation for his decorative scheme in All Saints:
“There is no doubt but that our old English Churches were invariably coloured, almost throughout and certainly in principal parts. The earlier system was to have the walls more or less decorated with red and yellow, etc. on a white ground, while the windows were filled with dark stained glass. The later, and more developed Gothic styles, adopted the system of darker and richer painting on the walls, while the glass was made delicate and silvery in tone, much white being used . . . The interior of an old Church was treated with the same intention, so to speak, as we treat the rooms in our houses. They were made as beautiful in colour and furniture as possible according to the means at command. Refinement and richness were aimed at.”
Michael Hall, George Frederick Bodley and the later Gothic Revival in Britain and America (Yale, 2015)