St Mary the Virgin


From before the Norman Conquest, Mortlake's manor house was held by the Archbishops of Canterbury. Edward III granted Archbishop John Stratford a licence to build a church close to the manor house. In 1383 a burial ground was added and Cardinal Archbishop Bourchier presented the church with a font in 1486. It is still in use today.

In 1543, on Henry VIII's order, this church was demolished and a new one, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built 300 yards to the east using stones from the old church. 1543 was also the year in which the doctrine of the new Church of England was set down: it no longer answered to Rome but was headed by Henry himself. So St Mary's was almost certainly the first purely Anglican church with no Roman Catholic heritage. The church measured some 70 feet by 23 feet in 1543, but the story of St Mary's is one of frequent alteration, extension and rebuilding. A gallery was built in the late 16th century. In 1637 further repairs and alterations were made, and it was "beautified". The vestry house was built on the north side of the church in 1670.

St Mary

Considerable repairs and restoration works took place in 1725. The old south aisle was pulled down, and a larger one was built in its place with four windows in the south wall. In 1820, a new gallery at the west end was built These changes gave a total seating capacity of 880. But this was still not sufficient for the growing population of Mortlake. In June 1840 major building works, under the architect Samuel Beachcroft, were begun which would further enlarge the church. The nave and aisle were given flat-panelled painted ceilings and supported by Tuscan-styled wooden pillars. The nave and south aisles were extended eastwards, and a new chancel created. There were now six south-facing windows. An organ was installed in the west gallery. St Mary's could then seat almost 1300 parishioners. With these developments, the last remains of the original Tudor church were destroyed – today only the tower survives from the 1543 church.

St Mary Betts

The furnishing of the church has also changed over the centuries. Before the Reformation, churches did not usually have permanent pews. However, with the rise of Protestantism and the emphasis on the words of the service, rows of pews facing the pulpit became the norm. In the 17th century local families could purchase private box pews which afforded their occupants privacy and protected them from draughts. Subscribers to the 1725 restoration were allocated pews "in consideration of their gifts": those who gave the most, had the best positioned pews.

The rebuilding of 1840 did not prove a great success and further alterations were made later in the 19th century. Stained glass was added to the east window, and heating and gas lighting were installed. Despite this, Walter Furneaux the vicar described the Beachcroft church as "inconvenient, unsightly, dark and ill-ventilated". The drawing by Albert Betts shows the interior in 1899. Christ Church was built in the south of the parish in 1863 to accommodate the expanding population of East Sheen. Its architect, Arthur Blomfield, was then asked to rebuild St Mary's. He produced extensive plans in 1885 but only the chancel was completed, and this did not sit well with Beachcroft's nave and low flat ceiling. In 1904 sufficient funds had been raised to rebuild the rest of the church There was now seating for 550 parishioners. The galleries had gone.

In 1980 the north aisle was considerably altered with the restoration and extension of the vestry house to provide meeting rooms, a kitchen and choir vestry. A parish office was built and the window on the east end of the south aisle was opened up. The 21st century has also seen restoration works. Stonework was cleaned and the heavy oak doors in the west porch replaced by new glass doors.

For more on St Mary's see Leslie Freeman's Going to the Parish, Helen Deaton's talk on 480 years of St Mary's and the history sections of St Mary's own website.