Saturday, 20 July 2013

St George, Esher

St George's is a delightful church tucked away in the centre of Esher. Now in the care of the Churches conservation Trust, it is a rare example of a post-reformation Tudor church with Stuart and Hanoverian fittings, and had important royal connections in the 19th century.

There has been a church here since at least the 13th century, but the present church was rebuilt in the 1540s, one of the first after the Reformation. The nave and chancel date from the period, and the oak roof beams are original. The woodem clock turret was added in the 17th century.

The Newcastle Pew - effectively a semi-private chapel - was added in 1725, for Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle, from Claremont, and his brother Henry Pelham of Esher Place. It is technically a chamber-pew, and the opening has a classical pediment of Corinthian columns. The carved reredos behind the altar also dates from this period. The north aisle and galleries were inserted in 1812. 

Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV (and heir to the throne until her death in 1817), her husband Leopold, first King of the Belgians, his niece the young Princess - later Queen - Victoria, with Prince Albert and their family, all worshipped at St George’s during the 19th century.

The church is now empty of pews, and is notable for a fine collection  of monuments. In the north aisle is the memorial to Queen Charlotte, given by the Duchess of Albany in 1910. A plaque on the west gallery commemorates Sir Thomas Lynch, created Governor of Jamaica in 1671. He was a successful sugar planter and introduced cane sugar to Britain. His wife, Lady Vere Lynch (d. 1681), is depicted in the oil painted memorial in the chancel. There are many memorial hatchments, and a fine triple-decker pulpit.

The church is open for visitors on summer Saturdays 11am-3pm, with a key available at other times Mondays to Saturdays during office hours.

4 Esher Park Avenue, Esher, Surrey KT10 9PX

Thursday, 11 July 2013

All Saints, Kingston-upon-Thames

All Saints dominates the centre of Kingston, lending a traditional feel to the centre of the modern borough, which was once a thriving and important market town.

The town's name derives from its association with the Saxon kings of Wessex: king Egbert held a council here in 838 and several Saxon kings were crowned here in the 10th century, among them Edward the Elder, Athelstan, and the infamous Ethelred the Unready. There must have been a church here then, but the present church was begun in 1120 by Gilbert, Sheriff of Surrey.

Much altered since, the oldest parts of the structure are the four 13th century crossing pillars, which encase earlier Norman work. The nave was widened in the 14th century and the Holy Trinity Chapel was added in 1477. The St James chapel - now the baptistery - was also added in the 15th century, with its fine three-bay arcade. Adjacent to the south transept outside are the scant remains of the Saxon chapel of St Mary, demolished in the 18th century.

The tower - which originally had a spire - was damaged by lightning in the 15th century and not rebuilt until 60 years later. The tower was rebuilt again in brick in 1708 and refaced in 1973. The exterior and windows were substantially renewed in the 19th century.

The interior is characterised by having a central altar under the crossing, moved there in 1978-9. Although largely Victorian in feel, the abundance of earlier monuments provides most of the interest: the tomb chests in the Holy Trinity Chapel may include those of its benefactor, Robert Mylam (d. 1498); there is a brass to Katherine Hertcombe (that to her husband John, d. 1488 is missing); an extraordinarily fine pair of brasses in the baptistery to Robert (d. 1437), a local lawyer, and Joanna Skerne, his wife and an illegitimate daughter of Edward III. Adjacent to that is the magnificent Jacobean monument to Sir Anthony Benn (d. 1618) in his lawyer's robes. There is also a restored mediaeval wall painting of St Blaise in the south transept.

The church is currently undergoing a major restoration, which should be completed at the end of 2014.

The Market Place, Kingston-upon-Thames KT1 1JP

Christ Church, West Wimbledon

Christ Church is a rather homely  and rustic example of Victorian Gothic revival, by the architect Samuel Teulon, a well known builder and restorer of churches.

Like many churches in the area, the need for additional places of worship was stimulated by the arrival of the railway in 1838, and an appeal for  funds for a church at the top of Copse Hill - until 1925 a countrified lane - was launched in 1857. The church was dedicated in 1859, a south transept was added in 1860 and the nave extended westwards in 1881 by Charles Maylard.

The exterior is of Kentish ragstone with Bath stone dressings. The church has an aisled nave of six bays, a south transept, and north and south porches, but the dominant feature is the massive but squat crossing tower with a pyramidal cap and conical stair turret, which gives a rustic, Germanic appearance. Inside, there is a fine hammerbeam roof with arched braces and traceried spandrels. The windows have geometrical and decorated tracery: the east and west windows have five lights and are particularly attractive.

The church is the centre of a busy parish life with an active junior church.

16 Copse Hill, London, Greater London SW20 0HG

Saturday, 6 July 2013

St James, Piccadilly

St James’s is a famous landmark on Piccadilly, and an excellent of the work of Sir Christopher Wren.

The church was built in 1872-84 on land set aside by the Earl of St Albans, to serve the growing population of the area after the laying out of St James’s Square. Wren’s designs had made provision for a steeple (tower and spire) at the west end, which turned into something of a saga, as the foundations were inadequate and cracks appeared as the original spire were being added. After remedial work, settlement stopped, but not until the original spire had been taken down and replaced.

The church had only relatively minor alterations and restorations in the succeeding years, but was badly damaged by bombing in May 1940, when incendiaries burned the roof. Fortunately, some of the best fittings (including carvings by Grinling Gibbons, and the organ) had been specially protected. It was restored in 1947-54, although the tower was reduced in height.

The church is of brick with Portland stone dressings, with large round-headed windows. The interior is whitewashed with the decorative plasterwork picked out in gold. The nave has galleries on three sides, with a barrel-vaulted roof supported on Corinthian columns, with side vaults for the windows.

The celebrated reredos has carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The font – installed in 1686 – is also attributed to Grinling Gibbons, and has a stem representing the Tree of Knowledge (complete with snake) and the figures of Adam and Eve either side. William Blake as baptised in the font in 1757.

The church has a wide reputation for social justice and inclusion with daily services. It is also a popular concert venue. There is a small but tranquil church garden to the west of the tower, and the forecourt has been home to a market since 1981, with food, antiques and crafts sold on different days.

197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL

St Mary-at-Hill, London

Tucked away on Lovat Lane, St-Mary-at-Hill is one of London's oldest churches. Although much rebuilt, it has a surprisingly light and spacious interior.

The church is first mentioned in 1177, but may have existed as early as the 11th century, being on the route from Billingsgate Quay to the City. The steep rise from the river gave the church its name 'St Mary on the hill'. It had close links with the nearby fish market at Billingsgate, and the famous composer Thomas Tallis was organist here 1538-9.

The interior of the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire in 1666, but, under the guidance of Sir Christopher Wren, it was rebuilt and reopened by 1677.

The original surviving north and south walls were retained, as well as the brickwork of the tower, but the church was extended to the east and new windows inserted. The new interior had a coffered dome and barrel vaults in a Greek Cross pattern, supported on four large Corinthian columns. The tower was replaced by the present design in 1787-8, and the interior was modified in 1848-9 with new ceilings and plasterwork, and two new windows, cut into the chancel vault.

Surviving the Blitz in 1940, the church - which until then had 'the least spoiled and the most gorgeous interior in the City' according to Betjeman - succumbed to fire in 1988, which gutted the interior. The restoration retained the organ and the 17th century woodwork at the west end, but the pews were replaced by chairs and the reredos by the present large curtain.

The church does however retain some interesting wall monuments, as well as the fine William Hill organ installed in 1848. It is now much in demand as a concert venue. The parish services are held on Wednesday lunchtimes, with a Lutheran congregation on Sundays.

 Lovat Lane, London EC3R 8EE