Churches through Time:
Ealing’s Christian Places of Worship
By Dr. Piotr Stolarski
Ealing has a rich, if largely unknown, Church history, stretching back over 900 years and including more than 400 churches from some 30 different denominations. In that time, the Christian churches have been at the heart of the local communities of Ealing and its environs, engaged not just in their primary purpose of worship, but also important to the social, political, educational, and cultural life of the area.
On Tuesday 1 December 2015 at Ealing Central Library, I shall be giving a fascinating talk entitled, 'Churches through Time: Ealing’s Christian History, 1114-2014 AD'. The talk is an overview encompassing various denominations, churches, and individuals, focusing on the genesis and development of Church life in the borough, from Medieval to Modern times. My new book on this subject, 'Christian Ealing', will be available to purchase on the night, and thereafter at Local History.
For Christians, of course, a church is primarily the community of believers who worship God and partake of fellowship in a local parish, not the physical building, however ancient or venerable. Indeed, all baptised believers make up the ‘Body of Christ’, the one Church founded by Jesus Christ, some 2,000 years’ ago, irrespective of the bricks and mortar which surrounds them. Whilst illustrated with images of the churches, my talk will not be primarily concerned with church architecture and church buildings. This angle, perhaps the most obvious but also requiring specialist attention, has been covered by previous books on the subject, including numerous parish histories, which often go into minute detail about churches’ internal and external features.
Nonetheless, the buildings themselves are undoubtedly some of the most striking landmarks in the borough – often a dominating presence in their local neighbourhoods – with fascinating histories of their own. What follows is a selection of some of the best images from each locality, ranging from churches of the Medieval Gothic to the Twentieth Century Modernist style, together with some additional information about them. Further details can be found in the sources listed in the bibliography at the end. These and many other images of Christian life locally can be discovered in my new book. All churches included below are Anglican, unless otherwise stated.
All Saints' Chuch
Above: All Saints’ Church, South Acton, c. 1901.
Erected in 1872 as a mission church of St. Mary’s, Acton, All Saints closed in 1982. It was one of the most active churches in Victorian Acton, under Rev. Andrew Hunter Dunn – later, the Bishop of Quebec, Canada. Its charitable, social, and Sunday School facilities were particularly well used; the schools having some 1,000 children and 90 teachers in 1880. The building was slightly damaged in World War Two and became redundant by the 1980s. The parish survived and is now located in a modern church on Bollo Bridge Road.
Catholic Church of the Holy Family
Designed by P.J. Mabley and built in 1967 to serve West Acton, Holy Family church’s austere yellow-brick modern architecture (with altar crucifix made of polystyrene) is arresting. With a science-fiction bunker-like exterior, it is probably the ‘ugliest’ church in the Borough, though a potential contender for classic status as brutalist architecture from the mid-twentieth century.
Above: Interior of Catholic Church of the Holy Family, Vale Lane, W3.
St. Mary’s Church
Originally established in c. 1229/1231 as a Catholic church, St. Mary’s is the main Anglican parish church of Acton, and was the only one until 1872. No image of the original medieval church has survived. A second structure built in 1550 was re-built in 1800 and in 1836-1837, but was replaced by a new Victorian edifice in 1866. A bell tower was added in 1876. The church dominates Acton Marketplace, contains bells from the seventeenth century, and a notable brass of Humphrey Cavell (dated 1558) and ancient gravestones in its immediate vicinity.
Above: St. Mary’s Church, Acton, c. 1900.
A Catholic monastery of the Benedictine Order, Ealing Priory was granted Abbey status in 1955 (the first in London for 400 years). The church of St. Benedict is in the Perpendicular Gothic style, erected in 1899, bombed October 1940, and rebuilt by 1962. Its plain interior nevertheless has interesting features include a multi-coloured hammer-beam roof; cloisters used by the monks; church art; and the Chapel of St. Boniface – funded by the West German government in reparation of war damage (1964). A large Catholic parish, Ealing Abbey is central Ealing’s principal Catholic church and a thriving base alike for social, charitable, and spiritual activities. The adjacent Catholic school of St. Benedict, where the monks teach, is rated among the best in the country.
Above: Ealing Abbey
Ealing Christian Centre
The building was formerly an Odeon Cinema, and the Top-Hat Club, converted to church usage and opened in 1996 as Ealing Christian Centre. Before this date, the church was known as the Elim Pentecostal Church and based in another close-by building on Northfield Avenue in a concrete-faced red-brick building, which still stands. The interior of Ealing Christian Centre retains the Spanish-style architectural features also visible in this exterior view. The church is probably the most prominent Pentecostal church in the borough, and among the most unusual to behold.
Above: Ealing Christian Centre (Pentecostal), Northfield Avenue (1997)
St. Barnabas Church
Above: St. Barnabas Church, Pitshanger Lane, Ealing. Erected 1916
St. Barnabas parish was formed in 1913-1915 from territories once coming under St. Stephen’s and St. Peter’s churches. A temporary iron church of St. Barnabas had existed at the junction of Castlebar Park and Pitshanger Lane from 1908, when it was a mission church of St. Stephen’s parish. The iron church was later used as a hall, but destroyed during World War Two in 1943. The new permanent church, built 1916, was damaged by fire in 1962. St. Barnabas is of the Basilica type, built in purple brick faced with yellow limestone in the French Gothic style. Serving the affluent Pitshanger district, where it has a looming presence, the church contains murals by James Clark for whom members of the congregation acted as models, and bas-relief Stations of the Cross made in Belgium.
St. John’s Church
This church originated as a wooden mission church of Christ Church in 1865. Rebuilt in 1876, St. John’s was destroyed by fire in 1920, but was rebuilt and reopened in 1923, without the original steeple. Thriving in the Victorian period, with 400 children in its Sunday Schools in the 1880s, and 1,000 by 1914, St. John’s was also known for its zealous work among the local poor and foreign missions. It became an Evangelical stronghold with one of the largest Anglican congregations in Ealing; sheltering civilians during air-raids in World War Two. The crypt was opened as a family centre in 1973, in which decade the church was actively engaged in House Group evangelisation.
Above: St. John’s Church, Mattock Lane, West Ealing, c. 1915
St Mary's Church
Originally founded as a Catholic church in c. 1127, St. Mary’s Ealing has been the main Anglican parish church of Ealing proper since the Reformation. Its appearance has changed markedly through time, with rebuilding in a Georgian style in 1740; and in 1866 – when it was reconstructed and enlarged to a design by Samuel Sanders Teulon (the tower being completed in 1873). Its current style is considered to be Byzantine Italianate, not the more common neoGothic of churches from a similar period. Numerous interesting and ancient brasses, as well as a seat for the Mayor of Ealing, are to be found within. The church has a gallery inside, and towers over St. Mary’s Road, where it was the centre of village life until the later Victorian period led to the building of further churches to serve new residential areas.
Above: St. Mary’s Church, Ealing, c. 1881.
St Peter's Church
An iron mission church of Christ Church, Ealing, from 1882 to 1893, and dedicated to St. Andrew until 1889, this church was replaced by a permanent structure in 1893 called St. Peter’s. The reason for the change of patron saint was that a local Presbyterian church wished to use the name of St. Andrew. In the New Testament, of course, St. Andrew was the brother of St. Peter, and the new name was selected by parishioners. St. Peter’s formed a parish in 1894 from territory taken from Christ Church parish. The original plan for the church included a tower and short spire on the north transept with 21 statues inside and 11 outside, but these features were not realised. St. Peter’s is an Anglo-Catholic parish (Anglican with forms of worship and church paraphernalia in the (Roman) Catholic tradition). A splendid gothic-style side chapel with painted ceiling is its most striking feature.
Above: St. Peter’s Church, Mount Park Road, Ealing, date of picture unknown.
St Stephen's Church
The original St. Stephen’s was an iron church in North Avenue, dating from 1867 (a daughter church of Christ Church, Ealing). A replacement neo-Gothic church was erected in 1876. The church closed in 1979 due to safety concerns (despite various repairs), and was converted into flats. But the parish itself survived and used the church hall for worship until a modern Church Centre nearby was opened in 1987. The old church contained numerous memorials, interesting stained glass windows, and flying buttresses. During World War One, the parish operated a hostel for Belgian refugees in Courtfield Lodge.
Above: St. Stephen’s Church, West Ealing, c. 1900
Haven Green Baptist Church
Opened in 1880, having been founded by the London Baptist Association. The main Baptist church in Ealing, built of red brick facing in the Gothic style, Haven Green Baptist church is a compact but handsome presence on Ealing Green – and one of the finest looking churches of any denomination locally. Daughter churches were subsequently founded from here – in Greenford by 1931, and in North Hanwell by 1938.
Above: Haven Green Baptist Church, Ealing, c. 1970
The Salvation Army, founded by the Methodist minister William Booth in 1865, emphasised practical works of assistance to the poor: ‘soup, soap, and salvation’. The Army, with a quasimilitary structure, required its members to refrain from alcohol, smoking, and gambling. It was already well established locally by 1901, with seven premises, the first having been established in Southall in 1885. A further 27 premises (including halls, citadels, officers’ quarters, barracks, and local headquarters) were set up between 1903 and 1963: the vast majority, 25, in 1903-1939. The Salvation Army was particularly strong in Acton, Ealing, Hanwell, and Southall, but has been in decline since the 1960s. These premises on Leeland Road are still extant, however.
Holy Cross Church
Founded before 1265 as a Catholic church, Holy Cross is largely 15th-century in structure, having been rebuilt or restored five times between c. 1500 and 1953. The main parish church of Greenford Magna in medieval times (and an Anglican church since the Protestant Reformation), it contains numerous interesting features, including medieval and early modern brasses and monuments inside. The old church was closed to regular use in the 1950s, and a new church of Holy Cross was constructed in 1939-1940 in Ferrymead Gardens, nearby.
Above: Holy Cross Church, Greenford
Our Lady of the Visitation Catholic Church
Greenford’s post-Reformation Catholic parish was established in 1928, and a church of Our Lady of the Visitation was registered in 1929 – yet a permanent church was not completed until 1937. The Pallotine Fathers were the original parish priests. Greenford’s Catholic population was rising after World War Two. As a result, a new church was constructed by 1960. Made of red brick and concrete in the modernist style, the church resembles a factory externally, and has a spare interior. Today, the church also hosts Polish Masses.
Above: Our Lady of the Visitation Catholic Church, Greenford, c. late 1960s
Hanwell Methodist Church
Built in 1904, Hanwell Methodist church is one of the most striking churches in the borough, boasting an imposing brick and stone gothic exterior. The origins of the church stretch back to 1881, and a Methodist Chapel was soon erected in Lower Boston Road in 1884 – later sold to the Salvation Army. The Church Road structure replaced this in 1904, and the church has been the main base for Methodists locally: the Minister at Hanwell overseeing Perivale, and Acton Green Methodist churches, in the 1940s and 1950s; whereas Greenford Methodist church had been founded from here about the same time.
Above: Hanwell Methodist Church, Church Road, Hanwell, in c. 1965
Our Lady and St. Joseph Catholic Church
Externally and internally Our Lady and St. Joseph’s is one of the most attractive modern churches in the Borough. Hanwell’s post-Reformation Catholic community originated in c. 1853, meeting at St. Augustine’s Chapel. In 1864, the first Our Lady and St. Joseph’s was constructed: a small Gothic church. This proved inadequate by the twentieth century, when the current modern edifice was erected in 1967. Well worth a visit, the church consists of purple brick and striking modern stained glass – the overall effect internally is space-age yet distinctly contemplative.
Above: Our Lady and St. Joseph Catholic Church, Uxbridge Road, Hanwell
St. Mary the Virgin Church
Similar externally to Holy Cross Greenford, the church was originally established around 1230 as a wooden Catholic church. The earliest part of the present structure is the Nave, dating to c. 1300, with a later Chancel from c. 1500-1540. The roof is sixteenth-century. Numerous interesting brasses and monuments from the fifteenth century onwards are to be found inside what is one of the oldest, and tiniest, historic churches anywhere in the Borough of Ealing.
Above: St. Mary the Virgin Church, Northolt.
St. Mary the Virgin Church
Originally a Catholic church, established in c. 1135, the Anglican church of St. Mary the Virgin is one of the most delightful in the borough. The current structure is from c. 1250. The church is very small, with the nave measuring just 33 feet by 16.5 feet, with the roof of the Nave some 600 years old, while the windows date from the fifteenth century. Brasses, monuments, and – externally – ancient gravestones abound. No longer used as the main parish church of Perivale, St. Mary’s is now a concert and cultural venue, associated with the Friends of St. Mary’s Perivale. The current Perivale parish church is St. Mary the Virgin with St. Nicholas, in Federal Road (built in 1965).
Above: St. Mary the Virgin Church, Perivale, shown in 1901
St. John Fisher Church
The post-Reformation Catholic parish in Perivale originated around 1936, when the first church of St. John Fisher was built. It burnt down in 1967, however. St. John Fisher’s new church flanks the Western Avenue, not far from and on the same side as the Hoover Building. It was built in 1970, and is not without its architectural merits. Made of red and brown bricks with an aluminium roof, it is unusual, with a brick reredos behind the altar. Little visited outside the Catholic community, it is nevertheless a peculiar structure worth discovering.
Above: St. John Fisher Catholic Church, Perivale
St. Mary the Virgin Church
The first church of St. Mary the Virgin, Norwood, existed in Norman times - c. 1100 AD. The current building is partly fifteenth-century, and much of it was rebuilt in 1864. Norwood became an independent parish from that of Hayes in 1859 – the church has previously been a chapel attached to Hayes parish. It contains sixteenth-century stained glass; early eighteenthcentury bells; and a baptismal font given by Archbishop Chichele in 1439. It is one of the less well known ancient churches in the Ealing borough area.
Above: Interior of St. Mary the Virgin Church, Norwood Green (in 1974)
St. John’s Church
Erected in 1838, it was the Chapel of Ease to St. Mary the Virgin church, Norwood. It was replaced in 1910 by a new and separate church of St. John’s. This 1838 Georgian-style building is currently (2015) in process of demolition.
Above: St. John’s (old) church, Southall, in 1901
King’s Hall Methodist Church
Built in 1916, King’s Hall was the centre of Methodism in Southall for many years. The building bosses South Road, and has a cavernous interior. Struggling for congregations by the later 1970s, its interior was partitioned to cater for smaller groups. Once a centre of Asian Christians in the borough, with services in languages such as Urdu and Hindi, as well as English, King’s Hall became defunct as a building in 2013.
Above: King’s Hall Methodist Church, South Road, Southall, 1990
Christ the Redeemer Church
Erected in 1964, this curious but not unpleasing modernist church is made of brick and concrete. The sanctuary is in the centre of the building, and can be seen from outside through large clear glass windows. The parish was created in 1964 from parts of the parishes of Greenford, Holy Trinity Southall, and Northolt. The church had been a wooden hut (erected by the London Diocesan Fund) in Allenby Road since 1935. The current structure replaced this.
Above: Christ the Redeemer Church, Allenby Road, Southall, in 1965
Art, Architecture and History of Ealing Churches: A survey of Christian Churches within the London Borough of Ealing, Published by Ealing Museum, Art and History Society Publications Committee (1977) – the standard reference work on local church architecture; available at Ealing Local History Centre.
Stolarski, Piotr, Christian Ealing (2015) – a synthesis of Ealing’s Church history, with 90 illustrations, appendices, and full bibliography. Available at my talk, and thereafter at Ealing Local History Centre.
Stolarski, Piotr, Ealing Church History Notes (2014) – detailed guide to facts and sources for the churches. Available at Ealing Local History Centre.
Stolarski, Piotr, Ealing in the 1960s (2013) – includes chapter on Religion. Available at Ealing Local History Centre.
My talk, Churches through Time: Ealing’s Christian History, 1114-2014 AD, covers the Ealing Borough area from Medieval to Modern times. Tuesday 1st December 2015 at 6.15pm in the Green Room, Ealing Central Library.