History of the Church
In 959AD the Abbot of Westminster was granted land in the village of Hendon, and it is thought that a Saxon church must have existed on this site since at least that date. The Domesday Book of 1086 records the existence of a priest in Hendon, probably supplied by Westminster Abbey, and the foundations of this Norman church lie beneath the chancel of the Lady Chapel, and its font is still in use today.
The church was re-consecrated in 1220, and in 1285 the living of the parish was resigned by the Abbot of Westminster to the Bishop of London. At various stages during the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth the centuries the church was enlarged. In the fifteenth century the nave roof was heightened by the addition of the clerestory, and the tower was built. The Sacrament Chapel, in the north-eastern corner of the church, was built in the early sixteenth century.
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries galleries were built in the north and south aisles of the church and at the west end to increase the church’s capacity.
Hendon grew rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and between 1913 and 1915 the church was doubled in size by the construction of a new nave and south aisle, replacing the old south aisle.
A Tour of the Church
As you enter the church by the south door move towards the font ahead of you, where our tour begins.
The Norman font is a fine example of its type. Intersecting arcades are carved on all four sides on the font; the carving becomes cruder as one moves clockwise round the font from the north side, perhaps demonstrating the carver’s fatigue, or his need to alter the spacing between each arcade to ensure the last joined with the first! In 1930 two small pillars were discovered, which were thought to have once supported the font. Local stonemasons made two matching pillars and a large central support, and in 1930 the font was raised to its current height.
From the font, looking east towards the altar, you get a view of the medieval church. To your right there would have been a south aisle, corresponding with the north aisle on your left; the stone column at the back of the (new) nave shows the extent of the pre-1915 church building.
Behind you is the fifteenth century tower. It contains eight bells, the oldest of which was cast in 1638. In 1959 the bells were augmented from six to eight by the addition of two new trebles. The tenor, the heaviest bell, weighs ¾tonne.
The clock dates from 1759 and is still wound by hand twice a week. The blue clock face is on the south side of the tower. The tower is surmounted by a golden weather vane in the form of a lamb and flag, the emblem of Hendon.
Moving forward you come to the chancel arch of the old church. Before the Reformation there would have been a rood screen above you, separating chancel and nave.
On your left is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which came from the former mission church in Holders Hill, St Mary Magdalene’s. Beyond this statue, on the north wall, can be seen the remains of the Royal Arms of James I, dating from 1660.
Moving east you enter the chancel of the old church, now the Lady Chapel. Early 13th century columns with carved capitals are visible either side of the former high altar, which were discovered in 1930 by the then-Vicar, Norman Boyd. A three-decker pulpit was erected in 1862 where the altar now is, to celebrate fifty years of the Revd Theodore Williams’s incumbency. Williams was not only Hendon’s longest-serving vicar, but also one of the most controversial, owning shares in the slave-trade, putting him at odds with distinguished parishioners William Wilberforce and Stamford Raffles. To the right of the altar there is medieval piscina. Either side of the east window of the Lady Chapel can be seen the line of an earlier east end arch, cut through in 1409 for the installation of a large east window. The ceiling above you was decorated in the gothic style in 1904.
To the left is the North Chapel, built in the early 16th century. This chapel houses some of the most notable monuments in the church. Sir William Rawlinson, who reclines in splendour against the north wall, was Sergeant at Law and Keeper of the Great Seal, and lived at Hendon House. This monument was erected in 1705. High up to the right of Rawlinson is the elaborate monument to Edward Fowler, Bishop of Gloucester, who died in 1714 and is buried in the churchyard. The massive black marble tombstone of Sir Jeremy Whichcot which stands between this chapel and the Lady Chapel dates from 1677.
The North Chapel would have been the Lady Chapel to the pre-1915 church, evidenced by the Charles Kempe window in the east wall with the Virgin and Child at its centre, and the elaborate ceiling on which is stencilled the Angelus—the traditional memorial of the Incarnation. The extensive reredos, which covers most of the east wall of this chapel, is by G F Bodley (1827-1907). This chapel became the Sacrament Chapelafter the 1915 extension, and the aumbry in its south wall contains the Blessed Sacrament. The wrought iron gates to this chapel were, before 1915, the gates to the south porch. From the Sacrament Chapel can be seen the entrance to the former rood loft.
Between 1913 and 1915 the south aisle gave way to a new nave and south aisle designed by Temple Moore. Moving into the new chancel you will step over the grave of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore. The chancel contains altar fittings by Charles Nicholson (1933), above which is the Te Deum window, installed in 1920 and dedicated to the men of Hendon who gave their lives in the Great War. Note that, in the bottom left hand corner of this window, St Edward the Confessor holds Westminster Abbey—a reminder of the origins of this church. To the right of the high altar is a screen and sedilia, also by Nicholson.
Above the pulpit is a stone carving of the crucifixion, again by Nicholson, covering the other entrance to the former rood loft. At the eastern end of the south aisle is the organ, built by Peter Collins, and completed in 2000. The space behind the organ was, for a while, a children’s chapel dedicated to St Sebastian.
Moving back into the new nave one feels the expansiveness of the church as a result of Temple Moore’s extension.
The new south porch, through which you leave, incorporates much of the 13th century porch transplanted in 1915. On the exterior of the church, above the south door, is a statue of the Virgin Mary, holding the Christ-child, by Josephine de Vasconcellos, completed in 1939, but not installed until after the Second World War.
The Panoramic Museum website gives a virtual tour of St Mary's Church. Click here to see it.
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