779/18/L7 LEWISHAM HIGH STREET SE13
30-AUG-54 (West side)
CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN
DATES OF MAIN PHASES, NAME OF ARCHITECT: Base of late medieval tower (recorded building dates of 1498 and 1512). Top of tower and body of the church 1774-7 by local architect George Gibson junior. Interior remodelled and chancel built 1881-2 by A W Blomfield. Chancel interior remodelled 1995-6.
MATERIALS: Coursed Kentish ragstone with freestone dressings. The chancel stonework is rock-faced. Slate roofs.
PLAN: Nave, chancel, S portico, W tower, chancel, N vestry, N transept, S chapel, crypt.
EXTERIOR: The principal façade is that to the S, facing Lewisham High Street. The most striking and a very unusual feature is the large tetrastyle portico in the centre of the nave and which is approached up six steps. The columns have stylised leaf decoration and the portico terminates in a plain pediment. The windows of the nave are in two tiers (expressing the interior galleries) and are arranged symmetrically about the portico. Either side of this on the ground floor are small openings under segmental heads while the upper tier has large, plain round-headed windows. None of these windows have tracery. The W tower has, below the clock and belfry stages, work from the medieval church. This has diagonal buttresses, and a plain W doorway. Above this is a three-light Perpendicular window - the `grete new wyndowe' which was glazed under a bequest of one Robert Cheseman in 1498. The medieval tower was of two stages and the now-redundant and blocked belfry windows are still visible. The tower was heightened under the 18th-century building works, given a narrow clock stage and a taller one for the belfry whose openings are single, plain and round. The top of the tower is crowned by an ornamental band with swags above which is a small plain parapet with balls at the corners. The E end of the church is the work of A W Blomfield in 1881-2. It is very tall and uses round-arched motifs, presumably to mirror the simple Georgian openings of the nave but the overall effect is more of a heavy Romanesque character. The E wall has four openings to a crypt and set above a stringcourse halfway up are three tall equal height windows: above these is a round window breaking into a pediment and which has a central circle surrounded by eight part circles. On the S of the chancel is a tall transept with a pediment broken by three equal-height round windows. On the N side of the church is a two-storey pedimented vestry dating from the 1770s campaign: it has windows of the same design as those mentioned on the ground floor of the nave. Against the S wall of the churchyard is a stock brick chimney which presumably is a remnant of a former heating system for the church.
INTERIOR: The interior is the product of a major remodelling campaign in 1881-2 which was grafted on to the Georgian building. The volume of the nave is as it was previously and the gallery fronts were retained but the most striking change is the complex new roof and support arrangements to it and the galleries. Whereas the Georgian church had a plain, flat plaster ceiling, Blomfield placed flat, panelled ceilings over the gallery areas on both N and S, and inserted a low-pitched roof over the area of the nave in between. The cast-iron supports to the galleries were removed and replaced by wooden posts which rise through two storeys to support the roof at the junction between the flat and the pitched areas. The posts are used as the uprights for seven-bay arcading along the nave and have round-arches placed between them. The pitched area of the roof has tie-beams above which there are arch-braces to the principal rafters. The galleries are supported on tie-beams between the outside walls and the vertical posts. The exterior and interior rhythms of the nave do not correspond because the exterior has four bays whereas the interior, as divided by the timber arcading, has seven. There is a tall round arch to the chancel with a moulded head and rectangular responds. There are similar arches to the N transept and the S chapel except that the arches rise from corbels. The roof over the chancel is semi-circular and divided into square and rectangular panels. The present appearance of the chancel is due to a remodelling in 1995-6. A new altar stands under the chancel arch on newly-inserted steps. Behind are further steps and behind these a wall. The space between the wall and the E end is used as a small chapel. The floor level of the entire interior is considerably above the level of the churchyard and was raised during the 18th-century building works: this accounts for the flight of steps at the W end down into the base of the medieval tower.
PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: Apart from the monuments (see below) the most important survivals of the 18th-century building are the panelled gallery fronts. The seating in the galleries has been removed: that in the nave was installed in 1881-2 and has shaped ends. The most ornate work from this restoration is that at the E end of the chancel. The E wall has a tripartite arrangement of a gabled central recess flanked by pairs of two-light arches while the N and S walls have four bays of arcading. The recesses and the dado of the E wall have mosaic decoration (e g with Old Testament figures in the N recesses) which dates from some years after the opening of the chancel in 1882. The E end is laid with encaustic tiles. The pulpit is late 19th-century and is very tall being placed on four granite shafts: the main panels have pairs of round-arched openings and figures set in the chamfered corners. The font is richly decorated with tendrils of its square bowl, diagonal moulding and beading on the central drum and coloured marble shafts at the corners. An attractive wrought iron screen of 1881 has been resited on the low wall at the E end of the church. The church has many wall monuments some of them of exceptional interest. That on the W wall of the nave N of the tower arch is to Anne Petrie (d 1787) and is by Van Pook of Brussels, in a simple frame and shows a woman reclining on a couch with children at her feet and an allegorical female at her head. S of the tower arch is another simply framed monument to Margaret Petrie (d 1791) carved by Thomas Banks which forms a companion piece to the last monument: a dying woman lies on a couch attended by allegorical figures in Greek-style dress. On the N wall is John Flaxman¿s monument to Mary Lushington (d 1797) with two figures in a tympanum over a long inscription. Flaxman's pupil E H Baily carved the monument to John Thackeray (d 1851) in which an angel pulls aside drapery to reveal an inscription which is pointed out a woman seated on the right.
HISTORY: A church has existed here since the late 11th century but the earliest surviving fabric dates from the end of the 15th century (base of the tower). Problems of damp and the need for increased accommodation led to a rebuilding in 1774-7 under a local architect George Gibson junior. He lived in Lewisham in a house he designed for himself in 1773. He was well connected with City merchants and in 1774 the banker John Julius Angerstein employed him to design Woodlands House, Greenwich. The rebuilding work was funded by church rates, loans and the letting of vaults and seating. The next major change was just over one hundred years later when Arthur Blomfield was called in. The small round projection at the E end of the Georgian church was swept away by a large, tall, serious-minded chancel in a round-arched style which has little relation to the previous building. The cost of the chancel was borne by the earl of Dartmouth. Blomfield also recast the nave with the complex new timber arcading and new treatment for the roof. Arthur William Blomfield (1829-99) who was the fourth son of Bishop Charles J Blomfield of London (bishop 1828-56). He was articled to P.C. Hardwick and began independent practice in 1856 in London. His early work is characterised by a strong muscular quality and the use of structural polychrome often with continental influences. He became diocesan architect to Winchester, hence a large number of church-building commissions throughout the diocese. He was also architect to the Bank of England from 1883. Blomfield was knighted in 1889 and was awarded the RIBA's Royal Gold Medal in 1891. A further century would elapse before the next major alterations. In 1995-6 the E end was reordered, new steps put in for a forward altar, and a small chapel created at the E end behind a low stone screen.
Julian Watson, St Mary's Church Lewisham, 2004.
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South, 1983, p. 415.
Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 1995, pp 407-8.
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, vol 5, 1930, p 48 and pl 99.
Postcards and photographs in the English Heritage/National Monuments Record, Swindon
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION:
The church of St Mary is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* It is a building of considerable interest in displaying multi-phase work from the late 15th century to the late 20th, notably the base of the late medieval tower, a rebuilding of the nave and the addition of a particularly attractive portico in 1774-7, the addition of the chancel and recasting of the interior of the nave in the 1881-2, and a thoughtful reordering of the E end in 1995-6.
* There are numerous 18th- and 19th-century monuments of interest, some of them of high significance, in particular that to Margaret Petrie by Thomas Banks.
* The neoclassical recasing of the church is highly unusual, and executed with finesse.
* Blomfield's fixtures have considerable strength in their own right, and his remodelling of the nave produced an unusual overall effect of some ingenuity.
* The church possesses a high order of historic interest at the heart of the former village of Lewisham.