According to one tradition, the church was founded on this site by Bishop Erkenwald of London about the year AD 675. It was to serve the workmen who felled the timber used in the construction of old Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It also served as a resting-place for the pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of Saint Alban at Verulamium. Evidence for this building is, however, lacking.
The Norman church: The church was rebuilt about AD 1100. Fragments of Norman stonework were found during the removal of the chancel and nave in 1872. A lancet window of about 1150, a piscina (recess with drain where the sacred vessels were washed), sedilia (stone seats for the clergy) and a fresco of St. George and the Dragon were also discovered. An aumbry (locker where the vessels were kept) was disclosed during the restoration of 1953.
The present church: The main body of the building is 15th century. The north wall and the base of the tower are the oldest parts. The inner south aisle was added in 1872 and the outer south aisle in 1932. The bosses on the roof of this aisle are of considerable interest, commemorating persons and events of the date of the building (a key to this work is to be found by the south door). The very fine roof of the nave is 15th century; the chancel roof was restored in its former style after damage by enemy action.
The font is an octagonal bowl of the 12th century. It was dug up in the rectory garden, having possibly been buried there during the English Civil War (1642-51). It was restored in 1891 and placed in its present position in 1953. While this is not the traditional position for a font, it saves the baptistry from overcrowding of seating.
The Millenium Wall Hanging (south aisle) was produced to celebrate the beginning of the third Christian millennium. It depicts all the various groups involved in the life of St Mary’s church at the end of the twentieth century. There is a key to the symbols on the wall beside the hanging.
The Chantry chapel in the north aisle: This was built and endowed by the Lord of the Manor in 1334. It was disused following the Reformation and in later times the organ was placed there. At the reconstruction in 1953 it was restored to its former use as a chapel. The window of this chapel is a memorial to the rector responsible for the restoration, the Reverend Michael Ridley. It is by Mr Harcourt Doyle.
The memorials: The church possesses some interesting monuments and brasses. Of the monuments, that to Alexander Kinge (near the font) is a fine example. It is dated 1618. There are several to the Allen family, 1681 onwards. Over the lectern there is one to Colonel Seale, 1682. Of the brasses, which date from 1480-1611, the finest one is to Thomas White, his wives and children and is between the windows on the north wall of the chapel. Others in the chapel are to Richard Prate, 1480. Simon Skudemore and his wife 1609. William Godolphin, 1575.
There is also a portion of brass to a Tudor lady on the west wall. It may be that of the wife of Sir Thomas Frowicke, Lord Chief Justice, whose marble monument was removed in 1760 to make room for a faculty pew. A number of coffin plates were found under the chancel floor in 1952, and have been set in the wall of the west porch.
The East end of the church was destroyed by enemy action in 1940. The restoration, by Caroe and Partners, was completed in 1953 when a new altar, reredos (screen behind the altar), parclose screen and pulpit were provided.
The East window was designed to replace that destroyed in 1940, and depicts the important scenes in the life of the patron.
The bells are a full peal. The earliest is dated 1770; the last two were added in 1949.
The organ is a fine two-manual Willis organ, completed in 1878 by the leading pipe organ builder of the Victorian era, Henry Willis & Sons. Bomb damage to the church during WWII left the organ in a poor state. The console was rebuilt in 1948 as a memorial to those who died in the first and second world wars, and the pipes were moved to the west gallery where you see them today. These pipes (1878) have a certificate of archaeological importance from the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS). The organ console and pipes were restored by Mander Organs in 2011 and will, we hope, last for the next 50 years, allowing the next generation to enjoy the music of this fine instrument. A recording of the restored organ was made in 2012, featuring several organists including Simon Williams (RCO Academy). This recording is available from the Parish Office.
For details of the organ please go to National Pipe Organ Register. This includes full stop list of current organ.
Previous organs – indexed N16047 (Snetzler ie pre-1878) and N 16044 (Willis 1878).