The Art House was originally called St Matthews House and is owned by the adjacent St Matthews Church. The Church has enabled the development of the Art House by giving the property to the Art House on a peppercorn rent as well as helping with the redevelopment and refurbishment costs.
In doing this they have continued the remarkable story of St Matthews House.
The House was built by the famous Fr Ommanney, who was priest at St Matthews from 1882 to 1936. Fr Ommanney was driven to bring the good news of the Christian faith to the poor of his parish. And they needed his help – the living conditions were appalling, so bad that St Matthews was built because the cathedral could not keep up with the number of funerals.
Fr Ommanney decided that just burying people faster was not good enough; living conditions for the poor had to be improved. And so he built St Matthews House to provide the first social care in the area – offering food and education and a focus of hope and community. He also lobbied the City Corporation to provide sewage and fresh water.
Fr Ommanney was not just concerned with people’s physical well-being, he was also concerned for their spiritual nourishment. And so he made St Matthews church beautiful with detailed copper work from the Arts and Crafts movements on font and lectern, hand carved choir stalls and icons to give people a glimpse of another life.
The mission of St Matthews House has changed with the times and the Art House carries on the tradition of Fr Ommanney – offering people the opportunity to discover more of their humanity through the process of creating things.