There has been a church building on this site for nearly a thousand years; excavations during the 19th century unearthed solid blocks of stone and ornamental work suggesting that a Norman building stood here. No pictures of that original structure survive.
This was the only church in a large parish that stretched from the Thames at Brentford, north towards Wembley, west beyond Southall, and east to Acton and Bedford Park. Richard Smart, who was the vicar of St Mary’s at the end of the 16th century, compiled a census which recorded a total of 427 inhabitants in this whole area. Through the parish passed the only two roads from London to the West. They were the trade routes, and it was not uncommon for travellers to stop for refreshment at the parsonage and rest their horses.
During the Civil War of 1642, the building suffered so badly at the hands of Cromwell’s troops that in 1650 a parliamentary survey described St Mary’s as ‘ruinated and lying open since the plundering’. Soon afterwards came the Plague, with great loss of life. After years of neglect and deterioration, the medieval church was pulled down in the late 1720s and a plain and simple Georgian building erected, complete with a new peal of bells. It is that new building, opened on Trinity Sunday in 1740, which forms the core of what still stands here today.
However Ealing’s population grew rapidly with the arrival of the railway in 1838. The village became a respectable town. St Mary’s still had an important role in the community, which included overseeing the workhouse, providing schools, maintaining law and order, improving roads and street lighting, distributing alms, and collecting taxes. Brentford became separated from Ealing, and parishes became smaller.
By 1860, Ealing’s community believed the time had come to create a much more imposing church. The congregation at St Mary’s were all too well aware that the newly erected Christ Church was attracting many worshippers, and that the existing church building ‘did not call forth feelings of reverence’. It was also too small for the growing population.
What the Victorians did for us!
So the architect S.S. Teulon transformed the simple village church into a huge ‘Byzantine shrine’. He did this, not by demolishing the existing church, but by greatly enlarging it, and decorating it with vibrant colours. Parish records reveal how even in those days the congregation had to struggle to find the money. Some of his ideas, including the proposed for a tall spire, had to be dropped.
On 30th May 1866 the new building was consecrated by Bishop Tait, who commented that ‘St Mary’s had been transformed from a Georgian monstrosity into a Constantinopolitan basilica’! You may think otherwise!
Post-Teulon additions to the building
Further works were carried out after Teulon’s transformation and the vestry on the north side was extended in 1887. The organ was rebuilt and much enlarged in 1927. And the whole church was extensively refurbished and redecorated in the mid-1950s. The lounge was added to the south in 1959 and extended to form ‘The Polygon’ in 1978.
The most recent works had their origin back in 1984, when the Parochial Church Council decided that the only way to restore St Mary’s was to undertake a total refurbishment of both the outside and the inside of the entire building. The following year a full-scale survey was carried out, which highlighted the need for urgent work to be carried out on the tower, nave, chancel and roof, as well as the interior. The exterior work was undertaken in 1988.
In 1991, plans for the internal re-ordering were presented to the congregation and the first phase, the improvements to the West entrance of the church, were financed and carried out in 1993.
The re-dedication by the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, on Trinity Sunday 15th June 2003, marked the fulfilment of almost twenty years of planning, praying and fund-raising. The restoration of this historic building is a remarkable story of the amazing goodness and faithfulness of God.
Scope of the work
Whole interior redecorated, in colours which respect the existing brickwork and give a vibrant welcome.
Lighting completely redesigned, to enable different areas to be used for different types of worship and to highlight the architecture of the building.
Pews in the nave replaced by pew benches which can be moved when required.
Nave re-floored in York stone, with under-floor heating.
New central worship area created at the chancel steps to provide a more fitting space for the central acts of worship.
New electronic organ to replace pipe organ.
New sound system.
Reordering the chancel to enable it to be used for smaller services.
Refurbishment of vestry and other rooms at the north-east corner.
Two new rooms beneath the gallery at the west end with glazed screens – one of these is now used for babies and toddlers during services.
Repairs to the exterior.
Ramps to the west end door and to the chancel to make the whole building accessible to all.
The inside of the church had not been redecorated since 1954. The colour scheme of cream and blue was in a style which conflicted starkly with the original Victorian decoration scheme. The paintwork was showing its age. A major problem was that the lighting and heating, which also dated from 1954, had reached the end of its life. The pews were unsatisfactory, inflexible in their layout and the varnish was breaking down. There was dry rot in the baptistery.
Overall, the general atmosphere was not particularly conducive to worship, nor welcoming to newcomers. There was not enough space for youth work and the arrangements for babies and toddlers were not ideal.
St Mary’s applied in 1995 for legal permission (a ‘faculty’) to carry out the scheme. St Mary’s is a Grade II* listed building and one of the best surviving works of Teulon. It was important for the scheme to respect the building as part of the heritage and give us a flexible space and the facilities needed for worship, mission and community use in the 21st century. The Diocese, English Heritage, the Victorian Society and the London Borough of Ealing were among those who contributed to the discussions. The faculty was granted in 1999.
The initial estimate of reordering costs was a minimum of £700,000. A gift day was held in the summer of 2000 and an astounding and generous £500,000 was pledged by members of the congregation past and present. As this was not enough to cover the cost there followed more prayer and discussion to decide what could and could not be carried out. A date was fixed for another gift day. Just two weeks before this, a wonderful answer to the Church’s prayers arrived. The vicar received notice of a very large bequest.
Mrs Helen Price, a former member of the congregation, had died 5 years earlier. Except for a number of legacies and bequests, she bequeathed the remainder of her substantial estate “for the benefit and maintenance of St Mary’s Church Ealing”. This enabled the church to meet the increased building costs – more than double the original estimates – in full. There is a memorial tablet to Helen Price’s generosity on the interior West wall of the restored building.
Killby and Gayford, main contractors.
Ronald Sims, architect at original design stage.
Clive England (Thomas Ford and Partners), lead architect completing design.
Philip Morphy (Thomas Ford and Partners), job architect at building stage.
Cook & Butler (quantity surveyor).
Bruce Kirk (lighting).
Geoff Boswell (sound).
Luke Hughes (furniture).
Charles Mynors, member of St Mary’s who co-ordinated this team.