Brief History of the Parish and Church
The Ecclesiastical parish of Hampstead dates from at least as early as 986, although there are no records of a church building until 1312. From that time the life and growth of the church and the community it serves have been inter-twined, with regular demands for more space and reordering (the church term for modernisation) on the one hand as the village grew, and difficulties over raising money and disputes over design principles on the other. The present building dates from Hampstead’s Georgian period and was extended and reordered during the Victorian era.
- The original manor
- The medieval building
- The Georgian church
- Victorian changes
- Meeting modern needs
- Parish multiplication
The original Manor of Hampstead was first documented in a charter granted to the monks of Westminster Abbey in 986. Almost 2,200 acres in size, the manor and the parish cover the same area. This eventually became the administrative area of the Hampstead metropolitan borough council. Centred on the manor house/farm at the junction of the present day Frognal/ Frognal Lane, the manor extended from Childs Hill and Spaniards in the north, to Chalk Farm and Boundary Road in the south; and from Edgware Road in the west, to the Vale of Health and Parliament Hill in the east.
There are no records of a church building in these early days, but it seems likely that the monks would have built some place of worship. The first references to a church begin in 1312 when John de Neuport was priest and in 1333 when a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary is recorded – drawings suggest this may have been a 13th century building but it could be older. The parish records run continuously from 1540, and a list of incumbent rectors can be found in the porch of the present church.
[include drawing of original chapel; caption to read The original Chapel to Blessed Mary]
By the early 18th century the church, part timber and part stone in construction, was in a dangerous condition and could not be repaired any further. It was also too small and plain – seating only 366 when the population was 3,000, and not what the town’s newer residents expected. The trustees petitioned the new lord of the manor to assist them to rebuild it, and he left £1,000 for the new church in his Will. They also petitioned parliament for £2,500, but this was rejected and the money was raised instead from 50 local subscribers.
John Sanderson was chosen as architect and the new church building (now seating some 1,052 people) was consecrated in 1747. The gates and railings from Cannons, the Duke of Chandos’ home, where Handel was organist, were purchased and altered to fit the front of the church. A small organ was added in 1767 and in about 1790 a choir was started (originally of charity children, it became a paid choir of men and boys in the early 19th century).
[insert picture of original church exterior]
But by 1827 the church was again too small to accommodate Hampstead’s growing population (now increased to 8,000) and repairs to the roof and tower were also required. Because of significant internal opposition and competing schemes, it was not until 1843 that a plan was accepted from Robert Hesketh to extend the church 30ft westward and to provide 524 extra seats (at a cost of £3,900). Gas lighting was introduced and in 1853 the first Willis organ was built.
In 1871 suggestions were made either for further extending and beautifying the church or for rebuilding it. There was no money for the latter plan and significant local support for preserving the original tower, so in 1876 a modified improvement scheme was put forward by Alfred Bell. This was approved, and included the addition of new vestries and chancel at the west end (to which the altar was moved), the creation of the present central entrance below the tower, a new gallery at the east end, improved heating, ventilation and lighting, and the installation of new pews and stained glass windows. The refurbished building was consecrated in June 1878, and the new chancel fittings and windows completed soon after.
[Insert picture of new chancel, 1899]
Since then successive generations have added to the church to meet changing needs: the Morning Chapel, now the Chapel of St Mary and St John, where the daily services are said, and new choir and clergy vestries (1911); the parish rooms and kitchen, used by several local community groups as well as our Sunday School classes (1965, 1989 and 2010); better facilities for the disabled (2005); and a separate clergy vestry (planned for 2012).
By the middle of the 19th century the town and its environs had grown so much that the ancient parish of Hampstead was sub-divided to accommodate new worshippers. Initially five new parishes were created: Christ Church, Hampstead (1852); St Saviour, Eton Road (1856); St Paul’s, Avenue Road (1860); St Peter’s, Belsize Park (1861); and St Mary’s, Kilburn (1869).
However, as Hampstead continued to grow, four more parishes were carved out – All Souls, Alexandra Road (1865); St Stephen’s, Rosslyn Hill (1865); Holy Trinity, Swiss Cottage (1873) and, somewhat later, St Luke’s, Kidderpore Avenue (1896).
And four other parishes were formed by sub-dividing the original ten – St Mary, Primrose Hill (1868) out of St Paul’s; Emmanuel, West Hampstead (1885) out of Holy Trinity; St James, West Hampstead (1888) out of St Mary’s, Kilburn; and St Cuthbert’s, Fordwych Road (1888) out of Holy Trinity.
Whilst three churches have since closed – St Paul’s (1956), St Stephen’s (1977) and All Soul’s (1985) – the area of the ancient parish is still visible in the boundaries of the ten modern parishes that were formed out of it. The parish churches that remain are all original, except for Holy Trinity (rebuilt 1978) and St Cuthbert’s (rebuilt 1987).
[Include PDF map of original parish and the ten modern parishes]
“The Manor and Parish Church of Hampstead”, J Kennedy (S Mayle, Hampstead, 1906)
“Hampstead Parish Church: The Story of a Building through 250 years”, Michael H Port (St John-at-Hampstead PCC, 1995)
“The Buildings of England – London 4: North”, Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner (Penguin Books, 1998)
GENUKI – UK and Ireland Genealogy
This page was last updated on April 26th, 2012.