Old churches can look quite delightful when lit up at night, and now a church that some say was the cradle of English Parliamentary democracy has been floodlit at night.

St Mary’s Church in Putney High Street, and overlooking the River Thames is now bathed in light during the hours of darkness after low energy floodlights were installed to illuminate its bell tower and west chapel.

Funding for the floodlighting came via a levy taken by the town hall from property developers in the area. It is part of a wider package of measures worth around £640,000 that is being drawn up to improve the high street.

There has been a church at this location since medieval times with records of it dating back to at least the 13th century and it has always been the parish church for Putney.

The parts of the medieval church which survive today are the tower, some of the nave arcading (mid-15th century) and the Bishop West Chapel, built in the early 16th century. There has been a clock in the tower since the 17th century, although the present clock is a 20th-century addition.

After seizing the City of London from Presbyterian opponents in August 1647, the New Model Army had set up its headquarters at Putney, and St Mary’s Church was the site of the Putney Debates on the English constitution.

Members of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, waiting near London to maintain pressure on Parliament, sat in St Mary’s discussing the nature of the society that they wanted to see emerge from the civil war and formulated the first known account of a doctrine of male suffrage in Britain.

Cromwell was opposed to the idea of “one man, one vote”, and disinclined at the time to the overthrow of the King, but the debate was cut short by the escape of King Charles I.

Although it played a small part in the Civil War, it was an important one as it pitched the “radical” notion of universal suffrage for all men (not women obviously) against the entrenched views that only educated landowners were worthy enough to be allowed to vote in parliamentary elections, a view that was to remain in place for another couple of hundred years.


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