This large but at a glance seemingly ordinary church in Kensington has a wonderful feature — a cloister like covered walkway to the entrance.
There’s been a church on this spot since around the 1260s, with the first vicar recorded for a church on the site in 1262. The current church is the fifth on the site after previous buildings were torn down and larger churches built in turn to cope with the growing population.
In 1866 the old church was found to be unsafe and in 1867 the parish commissioned none other than George Gilbert Scott to design their new church. Rather than repair, he recommended the demolition of the existing church to take advantage of the site at the road junction.
Demolition started in 1869, with the current church sufficiently completed to be consecrated in May 1872, although construction would continue until 1879.
The design of St Mary Abbots church is said to be influenced by Scott’s earlier work on Dunblane Cathedral – its west front’s tall window and carved tympanum are similar to those in the Cathedral. The 85-metre high spire was influenced by that of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. It’s also said to be one of the tallest church spires in London.
Although a new building, they kept quite a bit of the fixtures and fittings from the old church, although some WW2 damage removed them, and the original roof which is a post-war replacement. It looks almost as if the roof is green-tiled, which is certainly an unusual effect.
There are some pretty impressive monuments in here, most from the older church, so they are not along the walls, but around a side corner by the altar. The Right Hon Lady Charlotte Rich has a monument of the scale you would expect for someone called Lady Rich. Something else that’s rather nice in here is a scale model of the church, made from matchsticks. According to a sign by it, it was made by Mr R Smith and presented to the church in December 1963. It’s made from 41,300 matches.
However, what’s very unusual and really makes this church worth visiting is the arcaded cloister that was added in 1889-93 to the side entrance, and which runs around a corner to the main road. This was added by George Gilbert Scott’s second son, John Oldrid Scott.
It’s delightfully atmospheric, and I am sure will have been used in a spooky film at some point. Just imagine the great lanterns casting light beams through the winter fog that drifting in through the open windows. Even the heavy wooden doors at the end that lead into the church look like they belong in a castle.
The church is currently open Mon-Sat 10am-2pm for visitors, at other times for services. You can go in through the double doors at the end of the church which is its official front door, but why not go in from the main road junction, and through that remarkable cloister entrance?