We always welcome guest posts for the blog. This one is about a church that deserves to be better-known. Do visit it and explore its hidden treasures.
Nestling on one of London’s busiest thoroughfares (stretching from the A40 to Earls Court), St John the Baptist’s Church, Holland Road, is one of London’s hidden and little-known gems. It’s also packed full of memorials to people who, mostly in the period 1870-1918, worshipped and paid for the church.
Built between 1880-1910, the church, by James Brooks (best known for his magnificent brick churches in East London) the west-end completed by Adkins, St John’s is a tour de force of late Victorian architecture. Being Brooks only stone church – a great rarity even at the time it was built – this is probably his greatest work.
What is more remarkable, though, is that the church mostly commemorates the ordinary people of the parish. Almost everything in the church – from the stained glass, to the stations of the cross, many of the statues and the altars and their furniture – memorialise the worshippers and congregation of this church, whose heyday was in the years up to and including the First World War.
Being late Victorian, none of the memorials are, in the strict sense of the term, funerary, but they bring to life the people of an ordinary parish in all its extraordinariness.
Many of the memorials are plain stone, inscribed and set into the wall or as marble tablets – although the sheer quantity of marble memorials of a uniform size and shape in the Lady Chapel is breathtaking. Similarly, the series of coloured marble memorials in the Sanctuary, forming the base level of the reredos – are stunning.
As one would expect for a church at its heyday around the First World War, the church has many memorials to those killed in action. In the Chapel of St Michael and St George – fitted out as a War Memorial – there are two different memorials. The main memorial has names painted in gold on the altar wall. There is also a separate memorial to those who were additionally members of the Guild of St John the Evangelist. These, though, don’t tell the whole story, for there are further memorials around the church to those killed, whose names don’t appear on either of these. Research is currently underway into the histories of each of these.
There are also a number of memorials around the church to the clergy (and their families) who built and served in the church in the early years.
There is, of course, the ubiquitous Vicars Board, though there are additionally windows dedicated to family members – the East Window above the Reredos and High Altar to Elizabeth, the wife of George Booker, the first vicar of the parish. Most of the stained glass in the church, was also given either in memoria or by specific groups in the church – guilds, children who attend the afternoon service.
More unusually the carved altar-frontal in the Lady Chapel is dedicated to the first vicar George Booker and his youngest son, Arthur.
St John’s welcomes visitors, and is usually open Monday to Friday 8.30-3.30 when the café, John Holland’s is open and serving tea, coffee and light lunches. Please contact the office on 020 3602 9873 to confirm that the church is open or to see specific memorials.
St John the Baptist, Holland Road, is an undiscovered Anglican treasure-house. It is currently being restored to its full glory and will look even more splendid when this is finished. Come and see for yourself…
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