Church of St Michael
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- South Grove, Highgate, London, N6 6BJ
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- Statutory Address:
- South Grove, Highgate, London, N6 6BJ
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- Camden (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Parish church, 1831-2 by Lewis Vulliamy, reordered and extended 1879-81 by GE Street, with further work by Temple Moore from 1903.
Reasons for Designation
St Michael's Church, of 1830-2 by Lewis Vulliamy with further work of 1879-81 by GE Street and 1903 by Temple Moore, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a particularly large and ambitious church of the 1830s, incorporating work by three leading architects of the Gothic Revival; * Artistic interest: the east wall and window form an unusually rich ensemble that combines high-quality decorative and artistic work of several periods; * Group value: as part of an important cluster of listed buildings at the junction of South Grove and Highgate West Hill; also as a focal point within the Grade I-registered Highgate Cemetery.
St Michael's is the successor to the old Highgate Chapel - originally a hermitage chapel established by the Bishop of London in the C11, refounded in the 1560s by Sir Roger Cholmeley as a charity grammar school (now Highgate School) incorporating what was effectively a chapel-of-ease for the growing village of Highgate. By the early C19 the building had, despite various enlargements, become too small for this latter purpose, but a proposal to rebuild it as a parish church was opposed as a misuse of charitable funds. The dispute was eventually resolved in 1830 by an Act of Parliament: the old chapel reverted to the school (by whom it was rebuilt in its present form in the 1860s), and the Commissioners for the Building of New Churches undertook to finance the construction of a new parish church elsewhere in the village.
The site chosen, about 300m south of the old chapel, was that of Ashhurst House, a mansion built in 1694 for a former Lord Mayor of London. This was demolished in 1830 to make way for the new church; its remains are still visible in the undercroft, and parts of its garden walls and gate-piers also survive. The architect appointed by the Commissioners was Lewis Vulliamy (1792-1871), a former pupil of Sir Robert Smirke with a nationwide practice ranging from churches to country houses and institutional buildings; his London work includes the headquarters of the Law Society in Chancery Lane (1831) and the street front to the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street (1838). The new St Michael's was designed to seat 1500, and was built in 1831-2 by William and Lewis Cubitt at a cost of £8,171. The east end overlooked the site of the future Highgate Cemetery, laid out from 1836 using the church as a focal point.
Though in an advanced Gothic Revival style, Vulliamy's church was arranged in the manner of a Georgian preaching-box, with galleries, box pews running the full length of the nave and aisles, and only a shallow recess for the sanctuary. This layout sat ill with the more elaborate liturgy of the mid-Victorian church, and from 1879 the interior was reordered: open benches with a centre aisle replaced the box pews, and a raised quire was created in the eastern bay of the old nave. In the following year the north and south galleries were shortened and the body of the church was extended eastward by a full bay, creating a cruciform space with a two-bay chancel containing an enlarged sanctuary. This work, complete by the beginning of 1881, was carried out under the great Victorian architect GE Street (1821-81), then in the last year of his life and still engaged in the building of his secular masterpiece, the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand.
Street's sanctuary was further embellished in 1903 by another major Gothic Revivalist, Temple Lushington Moore (1856-1920), who added the present statuary and stencilled decoration. In 1905 Moore returned to create a chapel with screens and panelling in the east end of the south aisle. Bomb damage during WWII destroyed or damaged much of the stained glass and led to the installation in 1954 of a new east window by Evie Hone. The mortal remains of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, buried at the old chapel in 1834, were re-interred at St Michael's in 1961. Subsequent developments have included the building of a church hall alongside the north aisle in 1988, and the reordering of the west end in 2011 by Caroe and Partners.
MATERIALS: London stock brick with dressings of Bath and Portland stone.
PLAN: Vulliamy's original church comprised a (liturgical) west tower and a six-bay aisled and galleried nave with a short sanctuary recess at its east end and - to accommodate the steep slope - a low undercroft beneath. The works of 1879-81 saw the galleries cut back to form a crossing, a raised choir inserted in the easternmost bay of the old nave, and a further full bay, accommodating an enlarged sanctuary with vestries and a parish room beneath, added to the east end of the building. The eastern ends of the north and south aisles now contain, respectively, the organ chamber (with a small sacristy beyond) and the Lady chapel.
EXTERIOR: the main view is from the north-west (liturgical west). The tower is buttressed in stages to its full height and is flanked by buttressed lean-to aisles, the latter having large lancets with ogee surrounds. The west doorway is in the base of the tower, a Perpendicular-style arch with square hoodmould and enriched spandrels. Above is a three-light traceried window with ogee surround, and above that the belfry with twin lancet openings and a third lancet above. The octagonal spire is enriched by pinnacles, small flying buttresses and a cross finial. The aisles have two-light windows between stepped buttresses. The east elevation is seen from the cemetery and is dominated by Street's big five-light window, its Perpendicular tracery replacing Vullimay's Decorated original.
INTERIOR: the interior is a single aisled space of seven bays. Tall arcades with plain octagonal piers support a low clerestory and a flat plaster ceiling (renewed after damage in WWII) with shallow ornamental brackets; the aisle ceilings have triangular cast-iron trusses. Raked galleries with tracery fronts extend across the western bay of the nave and through the first four bays of the aisles. The sixth bay is a raised choir, with a raised, encaustic-tiled floor, low chancel screens, pulpit and stalls (see below). Slender wall-shafts mark the transition to the eastern (sanctuary) bay, added by Street in 1880-1 and marked out by the distinctive form of its clerestory (three-light Perpendicular windows rather than triple lancets) and ceiling (pitched rather than flat, with exposed boarding and heavy moulded tie- and hammer-beams). The east window has an enriched surround with big leafy crockets and a cross finial, and is flanked by two tiers of canopied niches. The upper part of the wall is richly stencilled in red, green and gold, part of the Temple Moore scheme of 1903.
FITTINGS: these mostly belong to Street's 1879-81 reordering and replace the original late-Georgian fittings. The nave PEWS are plain with moulded top rails and square ends. The octagonal stone FONT has reliefs of angels alternating with heraldic shields. The entrance to the choir is marked by low timber SCREENS with blind-traceried fronts; to the right is an elaborate wooden PULPIT, originally of 1848. The ORGAN with its carved case and gilded pipework dates from 1885 (with several later rebuildings), and replaces an earlier instrument in the west gallery. The chancel seating comprises four rows of plain oak CHOIR STALLS with simple ogee frontals, and a BISHOP'S CHAIR of 1958 by the firm of Thompson of Kilburn. The ALTAR RAILS are of brass, supported on decorative iron brackets. The east wall has a painted stone REREDOS flanked by oak panelling (the latter installed in 1937) and surmounted by a rich vine-scroll CORNICE (added by Temple Moore in 1903). The niches above have painted and gilded plaster STATUES (also of 1903 by Moore) representing the Greek and Latin Fathers: SS John Chrysostom, Athanasius, Augustine and Jerome. The south chapel is enclosed by carved openwork SCREENS (that to the chancel of 1905 by Arthur Sharp, that to the aisle of 1906-7 by Moore) and has a carved REREDOS, again by Moore with gesso panels of the Crucifixion and Annunciation by Henry Victor Milner.
STAINED GLASS: the east window of 1954 is by Evie Hone and depicts the Last Supper. It replaces a war-damaged window of 1880 by CE Kempe, the surviving fragments of which were re-installed in the east window of the north aisle. The corresponding window in the south chapel is also by Kempe, and depicts St Michael and the Dragon. There are a number of further windows by various artists, including (in the fourth bay of the south aisle) a series of New and Old Testament scenes designed by Richard Rivington Holmes and made by Lavers and Barraud.
MONUMENTS: the church contains a number of C18 and early C19 wall monuments from the original Highgate chapel. They include a pair of identical Neoclassical tablets commemorating the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his friend, the surgeon James Gillman. Coleridge's reburial at St Michael's in 1961 is recorded on a memorial slab in the centre aisle.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
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Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Middlesex: Volume VI, (1980), 181
Clarke, Basil F L, Parish Churches of London, (1966), 140
Sainsbury, R, The Parish Church of St Michael, Highgate, (2014)
'Survey of London' in The Village of Highgate The Parish of St Pancras Part 1: Volume 17 , (1936), 54-62
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.
End of official listing