Saturday, 21 July 2012

St Leonard, Aldrington, Hove

St Leonard's is an ancient foundation, now much rebuilt and in a firmly suburban setting, and effectively in Portslade. The main offices of the Diocese of Chichester sit alongside.


Originally an Anglo-Saxon settlement, Aldrington is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Eldretune but there is no mention of a church. The predecessor of the present building was erected in the 13th century, but a gradual decline of the settlement - hastened by severe storms in 1703 and 1705 - meant that by 1800 there were just two people in the parish and the church was largely ruinous (the roof having collapsed in 1738). 18th century drawings show it as a single celled building with lancets and a tower.

The arrival of the railway in nearby Portslade in 1840 stimulated a slow process of suburban development, and the church was rebuilt in 1876-8 by Richard Herbert Carpenter (1841-93). He largely followed the pattern of the original building, although the roundel above the two east lancets was replaced by a sexfoil.

Further suburban development necessitated another expansion, consisting of a nave and baptistery to the north (1931) with a new chancel (1936), both by Milburn Pett. This effectively relegated the original church to a south aisle, with an arcade of square piers inserted between. A planned north aisle was never built, and the 'temporary' brick facings on the exterior of the north wall contrast with the neat knapped flints elsewhere. The arcade has, in recent times, been partitioned so the nave and south aisle now form two separate spaces.

The church

The church sits in a pretty and overgrown churchyard (the noticeboard explains that this is intended to foster a wildlife reserve). The carefully knapped flint walls betray its relatively modern origins, but the shingled broach spire, lancets and pretty carved porch give it a pretty, rural feel.

The interior is something of a surprise after this introduction, as the nave and chancel are wide and bright and contrast sharply with the original church, although they are still nominally in the Gothic style. Pevsner didn't like Pett's work at all, describing it in the Sussex volume of the 'Buildings of England' as "very horrible".  The chancel has an elaborate sedilia and piscina in a Decorated style, with three lancets in the east. On the outside of the east wall of the chancel is a stone commemorating the extension in 1936 - surprisingly to modern sensibilities - laid with full masonic honours.

Furnishings are all modern, with some Clayton and Bell glass in the south aisle (the original church).

St Leonard's, New Church Road, Hove BN3 4ED

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

St Mary, Wimbledon, Greater London

Situated on the edge of Wimbledon village, St Mary’s is the original parish church and has a history dating back to Domesday.


Mentioned in the Domesday book, the original (and probably wooden) church was rebuilt in stone in the 13th century. An 18th century print shows it as a pleasingly rustic building, with a wooden bell turret and spire, but this little church was only 44ft long and 36ft wide.

In the 16th century, Wimbledon became the home of Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, statesman and chief advisor to Elizabeth I. His son Thomas built a manor house adjacent, and in 1626-36 Thomas's third son, Sir Edward Cecil, built the Cecil Chapel as a mortuary chapel.

The church was enlarged in 1786, effectively being rebuilt west of the chancel arch, in a plain but handsome Georgian style. With the arrival of the railway in the 19th century, Wimbledon began to expand rapidly as a suburb and further enlargement of the church was required. Sir George Gilbert Scott was commissioned to undertake the work, which was completed in 1843. He extended the nave, erected the tower and spire, inserted new galleries and completed a new roof, all in the neo-Gothic style. He also encased the earlier Georgian brickwork in knapped flint with stone dressings.

The Church

Surrounded by trees, the church's picturesque setting evokes the country rather than the city, and the slender spire which surmounts the west tower is a landmark over Wimbledon Common.

Inside, the aisled nave of 5 bays leads to a two bay chancel. Now whitewashed throughout, it is hard to distinguish the various stages of the building. The oldest parts are the south and east walls of the chancel, which date from the 15th century; the Cecil Chapel survives intact beyond the Warrior Chapel, added in 1920 as a memorial to those who died in the First World War.

Most of the fittings date from the 19th and 20th centuries, but the Cecil Chapel has an intact 15th century stained glass window depicting St George as well as Sir Edward's tomb. A number of other memorials are of interest, one of which survives from 1537; another commemorates Sir Richard Wynn MP (d. 1649), treasurer to Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. A modern brass in the chancel commemorates Sir William Wilberforce, the slave trade abolitionist. More interesting memorials crowd the surrounding graveyard.

The church has a busy parish life, with children’s and youth groups and services every day except Monday and Saturday.
30 St Mary's Road, London SW19 7BP