St. Mary’s Church is one of the two Churches in the Parish of Putney, the other is All Saints’ Church on Putney Common. The Parish of Putney is within the Wandsworth Deanery, the Kingston Episcopal Area and the Diocese of Southwark.
The Parish is the fourth largest in the Diocese, serving some 20,000 people in an area bounded by East Putney Station in the east and Beverley Brook in the west, the River in the north and Tibbett’s Corner in the south.
The first mention of a church in Putney was in 1292, and later in the Register of Robert Winchelsea, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1302, when an ordination took place in the parish, but it is not certain exactly when a church was first built here.
The ancient parish of Putney once covered the area between the Thames to the north and Tibbet’s Corner (on Putney Heath) to the south. The westerly border started at Beverley Brook, the easterly one at Deodar Road. The parish was reduced in size by the creation of separate parishes at Roehampton (1845) and Putney Park (1932).
For many years, Putney was a peculiar of the See of Canterbury, the Archbishop being also Lord of the Manor. It transferred to the See of London in 1846, to Rochester in 1877 and has been in the Diocese of Southwark since 1905.
The parish has two churches: St Mary’s and All Saints.
Famous Putney Figures
Nicholas West (1461-1533): born in Putney. Educated at Eton and Cambridge. Doctor of Law. Protégé of Sir Thomas More. Chaplain to Henry VII. Dean of Windsor 1510-1515. Consecrated Bishop of Ely 1515. One of Henry VIII’s ambassadors and advisers. Sided with Catherine of Aragon in royal divorce dispute and died out of favour at Ely.
Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540): born in Puntey.Chancellor of England 1533. Earl of Essex. Henry VIII’s agent in the dissolution of the monastries. Lost favour through his part in disastrous marriage of Henry to Anne of Cleaves. Executed at Tower Hill.
Edward Gibbon: historian. Baptised at St Mary’s, 1737.
Samuel Pepys: mentions St Mary’s in his diary for 1667, when he attended a service where he heard a “good sermon” and where “I saw the girls of the school, few of which were pretty”.
Charles Dickens: made Putney Church the setting for David Copperfield’s marriage to Dora Spenlow.
A Short History Of All Saints
A survivor of two World Wars, two arson attacks and a dose of dry rot. All Saints’ stands physically and spiritually rejuvinated. Built between 1873 and 1874 on land donated by Earl Spencer, the foundation stone was laid by HRH Princess Christian of Schleswig – Holstein on April 25th, 1874.
As Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon, Earl Spencer believed Putney’s rising population required another church in the parish.
Designed by William Morris and Edward Burne – Jones, the current rude health of this grade 2 listed masterpiece belies a chequered past. For most of the period from 1977 to 1989, the daughter church to St. Marys, capable of seating 511 worshippers, was on “Life support,” the 8 o’clock being the only Sunday service with an average congregation of just over 20.
Licensed reader Ian Yearsley said its future was seriously in doubt under the
Revd James Fraser, vicar of Putney from 1970 to 1991.
“His whole energy was concentrated on St. Mary’s. He did not have the vision to take in three churches (including St. John’s). It was a big task and he came to the conclusion to run St. Johns and All Saints’ down.”
St. John’s was sold to the Roman Catholic community in 1977 to help pay for the restauration work to St. Mary’s which had been gutted by fire in June 1973. Plans for All Saints’ ranged from a cosmetics warehouse to an arts centre and a library.
“Eventually James Fraser was persuaded to allow full family services once a month. That was the start of the All Saints’ renaissance.” He added.
The first family service took place at All Saints on May 7th, 1989 and services were then held on the first Sunday of each month. Regular weekly services only resumed in October 1993. The combined energies of the Revd. Jonathan Draper and curate Sally Theakston were responsible for rapidly building up congregations.
Not long after Sally’s arrival in January 1993, All Saints’ was subjected to its second but more serious arson attack. Police caught the arsonist at two o’clock one morning moments after he ignited oil in the boiler room.
Licenced Reader Graham Shaw was first on the scene and crawled into the church amid billowing black smoke to locate the seat of the fire.
“Five minutes later and the church would have been ablaze.” He said.
The smoke damage was extensive compared with the previous incedent in the 1970’s when lighted rags were pushed under a door.
“The boiler room fire was really the catalyst for the refurbishment.” He added.
A new roof and major alterations through a near – £1m renovation programme in the 1990’s (the total building and fitting cost in 1874 came to £7,809) fully restored All Saints’ health.
Recently, the church saw another landmark with the appointment of the Revd Diane Rees as its first ever team vicar. No one is more delighted than Church Warden Brenda Bowen.
“This is the first time All Saints has had someone of its own to love it.”
A short history and guide to St Mary’s Church, Putney
The Entrance – The Tower – The Nave (North Side) – The Bishop West Chapel – The Nave (East Side) – The Nave (South Side) – The Church Hall – External
There has been a centre of Christian worship on this site from at least the 13th century. 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.
The church was substantially rebuilt in 1836. In 1973 an arson attack gutted much of the church. Rebuilding was not completed until 1982, when the church was rehallowed by the Bishop of Woolwich, on February 6.
Dating from 1982 restoration. Note the Royal British Legion memorial in the window on the west side.
Mid-15th century. Restored in 1845, the 1960s and again in 1982 after the fire. A record of the benefactors of the parish from 1630 onwards is inscribed on the walls of the porch. There is a modern font.
Six bells were installed between 1582 and 1674. They were recast in 1836 and two more added. These bells were recast in 1972. The fire in 1973 meant further recasting and a new peal was dedicated in 1983.
The modern organ was installed in 1982 in a gallery in front of the tower. It is the work of the Danish firm Marcussen & Son. The wall monuments under the tower and in the nave date from the early 17th century.
The Nave (North Side)
Some of the pillars and arches, including some of the angels, are medieval, but both north and south arcades were widened in the rebuilding of 1836. In the restoration of 1982, the altar and the sanctuary were moved to the north side of the church, the pews replaced with chairs, and the orientation of the church turned through 90 degrees.
This arose from a renewed emphasis on corporate worship based on the Holy Communion. It was designed to facilitate the westward-facing celebration of the Eucharist, and to permit the congregation to be seated in a semi-circular arrangement round, and in easy view of, the altar.
The altar table and the corona above it are modern, designed by Ronald G. Sims, the architect of the restoration
The sanctuary floor is paved with 17th and 18th century ledger stones. The stained glass windows, designed by Alan Younger, over the sanctuary also date from 1982
The Bishop West Chapel
Built at the behest of Bishop Nicholas West in the early 16th century. Note the fine vaulting of the ceiling and the two bosses with the bishop’s coat of arms. Originally on the south side of the church. Moved to its present position (in mirror version) in 1836.
To the left of the entrance are again the arms of Bishop West erected by Dr Pettiward in the late 18th century – their earlier history is unknown. On the north wall there is a recess, probably a piscina, and an opening above to take the cruets.
The aumbry and aumbry veil (the latter made by a member of the congregation) are modern, as is the screen to the south side of the chapel. There are 15th- and 16th-century Purbeck marble ledger stones set into the floors.
The Nave (East Side)
The pillars and arches on the north and south sides are mostly of medieval material but in the 1836 rebuilding, the nave was widened. The same rebuilding extended the length of the nave eastward at the expense of the long medieval chancel. What was the 19th-century chancel and sanctuary is now the Cromwell Room.
The Nave (South Side)
The former south aisle is now sacristy, committee rooms and the parish office. On the south wall of the nave is a slate plaque commemorating the Putney Debates of 1647 (see below). This was carved by Freda Skinner, a local sculptor.
The Church Hall
Originally separate from the church, but now part of the building. Note the showcase with a collection of items dating back to medieval times, discovered by the Wandsworth Historical Society’s evacuations at St Mary’s in the 1970s, before the rebuilding started.
There has been a clock in the tower since the 17th century, but the present clock is modern. The churchyard is somewhat smaller than the original. Part of it, running parallel with the river, was expropriated to build the approach way to the first bridge (wooden) across the Thames at Putney in 1729.
This portion was largely restored to the churchyard after that bridge was demolished. However, a larger portion was lost when the current stone bridge was widened and extended eastward in 19311-33.
The church across the river is All Saint’s, Fulham. It dates from about 1130, and is in a different parish and diocese.
The Putney Debates
During the Civil War, the headquarters of Cromwell’s army was briefly located at Putney. In 1647, meetings of the Army Council were held in the then Chancel of the church. These discussions on the future government of the realm were published as the “Putney Debates”.
Although their contemporary impact was modest, they are seen as foreshadowing the arrival of Parliamentary democracy, and may have influenced the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States of America.