Martians aside, there’s been a church here since at least the 1180s, and although most of it was rebuilt in the 1880s by a brewer, the church tower survives from when it was built in the early 1400s — making it a good 600 years old. The dedication to St Nicholas, who long before handing out Christmas presents, was also the patron saint of sailors and fishermen, is common practice for riverside churches, where the parishioners were dependent on the river.
The church is also slightly unusual in that it’s rather short in length as there’s a road right behind the back, so inside the seating area for the congregation looks rather square than the long nave that would be expected in most churches.
The entrance is on the north side of the church, so if coming from the riverside, you need to walk all the way around the church to get inside. That, and the fact that it’s set back a bit behind a high wall may explain its obscurity from riverside ramblers.
But a visit inside is amply rewarded.
Before you do go inside though, stop by the entrance porch and see if you can see a cross on the weatherworn grave marker hanging by the door. According to a sign next to it, the cross is so worn away that it can’t be seen, but some people claim to have seen it. Maybe if the light is particularly heavenly, but on my visit, it was overcast and rainy, so no phantom crosses for me.
The church is built of courses of squared Kentish ragstone masonry in the Perpendicular style. It has a stone coping with a copper roof, and inside there’s a pleasingly ordered stone columns for the gothic arches and simple unadorned walls. Above, rich Victorian stained glass delivers the decoration, and do pay attention to the encaustic tiles on the floor.
It’s all very much what you would expect from a good Victorian church in a relatively wealthy parish. For the 1880s rebuilding, the Duke of Devonshire gave £1,000, but most of the cost was paid for by Henry Smith of the nearby Griffin Brewery company, Fuller, Smith & Turner.
There are some memorials from the previous church, including a splendidly carved Tudor memorial to Sir Thomas Chaloner, with a stone carved curtain held open to reveal him and his last wife kneeling in prayer over a skull. And easy to miss right by the door is an unusual tiled cross mounted in the wall.
At the moment, there are some display cases showing off some of the less well-known burials in the graveyard outside, which is a nice touch as most visitors seeking the graveyard will be here for just one man – William Hogarth.
Oh, and the link to Quatermass and the Pit? This is the church where the drill operator, Sladden, having been overcome by the martian energy flees Hobbs End and races to a local church — St Nicholas Chiswick.