St. Mary's Church, Walthamstow

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St. Mary's Church, Walthamstow

Coordinates: 51°35′2″N 0°0′40″W / 51.58389°N 0.01111°W / 51.58389; -0.01111

St. Mary’s Church, Walthamstow is in Walthamstow Village, a conservation area in Walthamstow, London. It was founded in the 12th century and is still a working church. It retains over one hundred and fifty brasses and monuments, the oldest dating from 1436, though all that now remains of the original Norman church is some pillar bases and the chisel marks on them.


The 12th century church measured about 15m. by 8m. (46 feet by 24 feet) with a sanctuary or chancel of unknown size at the east end. This area is now surrounded by the columns of the nave as far eastward as the original chancel arch where the steps are now. It was probably built of flint rubble.

It is believed that the north aisle was added in the 13th century and the south aisle was added in the 14th century. Both extended eastward only as far as the chancel arch. In the 15th century the tower was built and, although it was constructed of Kentish Ragstone, it was in constant need of repair. The chancel was also extended eastward.

In 1535 George Monoux, Alderman of London and Master of the Drapers' Company, repaired the north aisle and built a chapel on the east end of it. This extended eastward alongside the chancel. At the same time, Monoux demolished the top 40 feet of the tower and rebuilt it in Tudor brick, adding a circular stairway in the south-east corner. In the same year, money from Robert Thorne (a wealthy London merchant who, like Monoux, originated from Bristol and became Lord Mayor of the City of London) was used to completely rebuild the south aisle and to add a chapel on its eastern end.

Galleries were added in the 18th century, the first being that at the west end in 1710. In 1819 the galleries were carried through to the west end; the walls at that end were raised; the old windows were bricked up and the present ones cut. In 1843, the rest of the walls were raised, the present windows cut and the pillars of the nave were lengthened and cut to their present shape. Their wide bases, complete with chisel marks, are all that is left of the Norman church. A rose window was inserted in the East end. In 1876 the galleries were 'thrown back' from the pillars i.e. reduced in width by one half, the plaster ceiling removed and a roof of stained wood installed. The box pews were removed and replaced by open benches.

The current pews were installed in the 1920s together with oak panelling to the rear and sides of the church and to the galleries as a First World War memorial.

When the east wall was found to be cracking in 1936 the opportunity was taken to extend the chancel some twelve feet eastward and to build the vestries on either side. The present east window was put in in 1939 but removed very soon afterwards during the Second World War. The choir stalls are of carved oak and were presented by Sir William Mallinson in 1939 in memory of his father.

On 4 October 1940 the south aisle roof was destroyed by incendiary bombs and the gallery on that side was demolished to provide timber for repair. On 8 October 1944, a bomb damaged the north side of the church tower. It was reported that a bomb disposal officer who investigated the scene in the dark could "feel the shape of a bomb and the jagged edge of its fins." The churchyard was closed for two Sundays pending investigations. It transpired that the "bomb" was an old lead coffin, broken open by debris failing from the tower.

During the spring of 1942 all the railings surrounding the churchyard and most of those round the monuments were removed to help the war effort. All that remained were the north and south gates.

Post-war restoration including a new heating system (with a boiler house built outside the north porch) and the moving of the organ console from the gallery at the west end to its present position. The railings outside were replaced in 1955. In the early 1960s the east end of the south aisle was remodelled to create a side chapel.

Between 1995 and 2001, extensive refurbishment took place, which included removing three rows of pews from the back, reflooring and creating a larger entrance area via the west door. While the floor was removed, it exposed some of the crypts that were known to be beneath. During the same works, when the ceiling from the entrance lobby underneath the bell tower was removed, it revealed several large oak beams probably used during the reconstruction of the tower in the sixteenth century. It was decided that these beams would be refurbished and left permanently exposed. The Georgian beams of the south porch roof have also been left exposed. A disabled toilet and refreshment area were installed. The east end has also been reordered.

In 2001, the floor of the chancel was levelled and extended to the columns to provide an open space, two of the choir stalls were retained in the sanctuary and the rest relocated to the west end of the gallery. Communion can now be celebrated at the front of the nave and served on three sides. The pulpit was also returned to its original position and a new set of steps created.

St. Mary's today

St. Mary's is an active church today, with a large multi-cultural congregation and involved in supporting its local community.

The church is now also a music and recording venue, and holds 'St. Mary's Music Festival' in June.