16.9 C
Harrow on the Hill
Tuesday, September 26, 2023
HomeArticlesThe history of St Anselm's Church in Hatch End dating back to...

The history of St Anselm’s Church in Hatch End dating back to the late medieval period

For today’s feature, we wanted to bring you the rich history of St Anselm’s Church in Hatch End which dates back to the early 1300s.

The original version of these notes was compiled by the late Jill Whitehead, Parish Administrator and PCC secretary for St Anselm’s Church. We hope you enjoy reading this as much as we did.

The early history of Saint Anselm’s

In 1324, William de Bosco, Rector of Harrow. built the first church in this parish in the old part of Hatch End. The Chantry Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary was probably to be found on a site on the trading estate to the north of Headstone Lane Station, opposite Hatch End High School. This Chapel was demolished under the Dissolution of Colleges Act 1536 in the reign of Henry VIII; sadly, nothing remains of this chapel where daily requiems for the dead were celebrated for just over three hundred years, although the name “chantry” remains in the names of various roads in the vicinity.  It was not until after the first passenger train, on the newly constructed London and Birmingham Railway, ran through Hatch End on March 31st 1837, that thoughts of a permanent church were mooted.

The first church in Hatch End was known as the “Tin Tabernacle” (All Saints’ Woodridings) and was a very inadequate iron structure at the back of Devonshire Road.  It was replaced by the present St Anselm’s Church which was designed by F.E. Jones and consecrated in 1895.  It was to have had a tower, but sadly this was never built.  It is built in flint with brick bands and free Gothic tracery. A broad interior with octagonal columns is dominated by the Rood Screen aloft with carved spandrels and figures. The church was built at a time when Pinner Park was an extensive deer park and a pail of water could be purchased for 1/2p from the Harrow pump.

Hatch End Station (known then as Pinner Station) opened in August 1842 and contributed to the rapid development of the area. The Royal Commercial Travellers School opened in 1855 having moved from unsatisfactory accommodation in Wanstead with its original purpose of educating orphans in the fresh country air. Opened by Prince Albert in 1850, it is now the Harrow Arts Centre. The school attended St Anselm’s regularly and it meant that the pupils had a much shorter distance to walk to church. The small door in the South wall was created especially for the children, with the girls entering from one side, the boys on the other and the gentry seated in the centre aisle.

The grounds of the church and the vicarage once stretched down to Uxbridge Road, but it is now tucked away behind the Westfield Park houses and flats and visitors sometimes have difficulty finding it.  When they do, they are surprised to discover such a large and impressive neo-Gothic building. With the site donated by Mr Thomas Blackwell of the Crosse and Blackwell family, who owned much of the land around Watford and Harrow, and gifts totalling some £7000, the church was built and boasts several special features.

Rood Screen

The Chancellor of the Diocese refused permission for the installation of the mighty carved oak rood screen, by architect Charles Spooner in 1901.  (The architect and craftsman renowned for his church furniture was related to William Archibald Spooner, famous for verbal slips from whence “spoonerisms” originated).  It was commissioned by a man of apparent boldness and daring, the vicar’s churchwarden, G.T. Skilbeck.  This extraordinary work reveals Spooner as profoundly devotional and, as a result, unexpectedly decorative. (i) The Chancellor felt that the figures of Our Saviour, the Virgin and Saint John might have been made objects of “superstitious reverence.” His objections caused the church to become “mildly notorious.”  Happily, on appeal, the Dean of Arches overruled him and the screen was dedicated by the Bishop of London in 1902.

The history of St Anselm's Church in Hatch End dating back to the late medieval period Harrow Online
St Anselm’s rood, Credit: St Anselm’s Church

The screen is breath-taking and moving and Spooner’s most important co-worker was his wife, Dinah, who had trained at the Royal Academy School of Painting and became a painter of miniatures.  It was she who sculpted the larger-than-life-size figures and
they were then carved by Mr J. Phillips. The work was the most ambitious and provocative woodwork of Spooner’s career.  Alec Hamilton (ii) describes it as “elaborate and sensual with the richness and quality of the thickly clustered foliage carving being continental in feel – a brooding presence, darkly filling the upper half of the chancel arch”.

Arts & Crafts Movement

Almost all of the Arts and Crafts stained glass windows were created by the distinguished artist Louis Davis (1867-1941) himself a parishioner of St Anselms and were made by the local Wealdstone Whitefriars Glass Company.  The Whitefriars symbol, a tiny friar, can be seen in the bottom right-hand corner of one of the clear windows in the south wall of the nave.  Aside from their theological qualities, the work of Louis Davis is especially admired because of his desire to move away from the crude, bright colouring of the Victorian period and for his insistence that all windows should admit light.

St Anselm’s fixtures and fittings accumulated with an unforced coherence to form a showcase of Arts & Crafts work which is even now sufficiently unknown.  The interior gives the impression of a coordinated effort by a group of gifted friends and colleagues:  the reality was different – the work was done piecemeal and over a prolonged period.  There was no formal working relationship between Image, Spooner and Davis and the spirit in which the work was executed was as much about friendship as physical cooperation. (iii)

The history of St Anselm's Church in Hatch End dating back to the late medieval period Harrow Online

Stained glass windows – The East Window

The East Window of 1903, above the altar, is a sensitive work by Louis Davis – a well-composed Nativity, angels and small scenes devoted to the life of St Anselm against white backgrounds.  We can see Anselm accepting the chalice from an angel, setting out from his birthplace with his dog, representing the Benedictine Order of St Bernard and ascending Harrow Hill to consecrate the Parish Church.  There are monastic buildings with beehives sheltered by a sunny wall and William Rufus encouraging the reluctant Anselm to accept the Archbishopric of Canterbury.  The principal light shows the Virgin and Child in the stable with the star of Bethlehem.

The West Window

Selwyn Image, Slade Professor of Art at Oxford, created the great window above the Western entrance installed in 1915 as a memorial to Augustus Eck.  He was a prominent parishioner and a man of great humour who used to relieve the tedium of council meetings by playing boyish tricks and in this spirit, Mrs Van Eck’s dog is featured at the bottom left of the window. The words “O Come all ye Faithful” are set below the images, described rather unkindly as a “stiff epiphany” by Cherry and Pevsner(iv). The design represents the adoration of the Infant Saviour by the Shepherds and Kings in the presence of angels.

Baptistry window

The smaller West Window by Davis, installed in 1915 in the baptistery, contains a fragment of clear ruby glass brought from the devastated mediaeval Ypres Cathedral in Belgium during WWI by a chorister, who died in France on his return to the battlefields, just a few days before the window was dedicated. See the dedication to “Michael, Ypres.”  The window depicts Noah’s ark with Christ the King in the centre. The baptistery was added in 1927 with the installation of the marble font.

Windows in the side Chapel

The Chapel window by Davis features the blessed Virgin Mary and the plain sung intonations of the Magnificat.  Two windows of the side chapel were donated by the Misses Bennett in memory of their mother and brother in 1931.  The subject depicts a mother leading her child up the steep and rocky path to the Eternal city and Sir Galahad kneeling at a shrine on his quest of the Holy Grail.

Window in the North Wall of the Sanctuary

The beautiful Victorian window in the north wall of the sanctuary is the oldest in the church and represents St John the Baptist and St Peter. on whose festival St Anselm’s was consecrated.  The glass is of mellowed tones with exquisite detail.

Windows over the Chapel of the Holy Spirit

The seven windows represent the seven activities of the Holy Spirit. On the extreme left, as you face the altar, there are the words “In Principio” and a broad beam of light cleaves the depths of the ocean, meaning: “Even there shall Thy hand lead me.” The second of the two windows on the left is in memory of William Blake, the poet and painter, who died in 1827.  In the centre, Louis Davis departs from the traditional representation of the Holy Spirit as a dove and shows it instead as the root of life and energy.  In the right-hand central window, the Holy Spirit is a heavenly consecrator of the Blessed Sacrament and brings out vividly the intercommunion of the earth with heaven.

The last two windows show the Holy Spirit as comforter.  The hands of the dying Christian have dropped in exhaustion and his eyes have taken their last look at the earth as the Light streams down on closed eyelids and an angel strengthens him. The purity and richness of colouring mark this window as one of the artist’s finest works.

In the final window, the Holy Spirit is seen as the giver of divine life in the waters of baptism.  The child’s guardian angel is kneeling at the font and four streams from the fountain of life represent the four rivers from the Garden of Eden.

Window on North Wall of the Nave

The main subject is the appearance of the Risen Lord to Mary Magdalen in the Garden. In the lights at the side of the main window are small panels which refer to the life of Mrs Miller and her charitable works, in whose memory this work is dedicated.

The history of St Anselm's Church in Hatch End dating back to the late medieval period Harrow Online
St Anselm’s Nave Alter. Credit: St Anselm’s Church

The Willis Organ

Saint Anselm’s is fortunate to possess a splendid organ by Henry Willis, the father of British organ building.  The inscription reads, “In memory of Edward VII 1902-1910”.  Formerly the property of The Royal Academy of Music, it was presented to the church by parishioners and friends at a cost of £772 and five shillings.  It was delivered to the church by horse and cart from the Royal College of Music in 1911. There is a brass plaque commemorating Arthur Rackham in appreciation of 50 years as organist and choirmaster 1902-1952.  A trust was set up in his name to maintain the organ, now sadly exhausted.

The Sundial

The original Sundial clock outside on the South wall of the Nave shows Greenwich Mean Time on sunny days, so you must remember to add your own hour in the Summer.  The inscription reads, Nil nisi celesti radio.  (Nothing except by the rays of heaven).

Coats of Arms

There are 14 shields in the chancel bearing arms associated with the First World War battlefields e.g. Arras, Cambrai, Mons, Ypres etc., plus there are the ‘See of Canterbury’ and the ‘See of London’ Coats of Arms.  The shields are placed at intervals around the Reredos (Spooner 1921) surrounding the main altar, erected in memory of those who fell in 1914-18, with their names recorded on the wall and in a book of remembrance.  It is the only war memorial in Hatch End.

Saint Anselm

Born in 1033, in Aosta, Lombardy, now in Italy, he studied under Lanfranc at the Abbey of Bec in Normandy.  He became a most respected intellectual figure and succeeded Lanfranc as Prior.

A renowned scholar and theologian, his most famous work ‘Cur Deus Homo,’ was an attempt to explain why God had become man in Jesus.  He became Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord of the Manor of Harrow in 1093 and consecrated the Parish Church of St Mary, Harrow on the Hill in 1094. Anselm’s controversies with William II (Rufus) over the restoration of lands belonging to the See came to a head when the King seized the lands back whilst Anselm was in Rome in 1097.  This caused him to spend some years in exile there. By 1106 a compromise was reached and Anselm did return to England. In 1109, the year of his death, he founded the Diocese of Ely.

The emblem on the seal of St Anselm is a ship which symbolises the independence of the Catholic Church from the secular state.

The history of St Anselm's Church in Hatch End dating back to the late medieval period Harrow Online
A beautiful shot of St Anselm’s in the winter. Credit: St Anselm’s Church


St Anselm’s is a traditional Anglican church in the Tractarian tradition, following the Oxford movement originating in the 1830s.  Incense is used as well as vestments of various colours and embroidery to commemorate special occasions.  You will notice many engraved memorials around the church and in the gardens.  For information on installing an engraved memorial plaque today, please see the Vicar.

It’s a Fact!

Famous Parishioners included Isabella Beeton who wrote her famous book on household management. She moved to Hatch End on the elegant new Woodridings Estate as a newlywed in 1856 but sadly, died a week after the birth of her fourth son from a fever in 1865, aged just 28. Horatia Nelson Ward, daughter of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton.
Louis Davis, a stained glass artist, who lived in Paines Lane and Mr Thomas Blackwell, whose generosity enabled the church to be built.

The Stations of the Cross were brought from Belgium and installed during the 1990s.

The Pulpit is on the wrong side of the church because it was moved to accommodate the replaced organ console which was detached from the main body of the organ in 1955, as was the fashion then.

Louis Davis brought many celebrity visitors to services at St Anselm’s including
A.E. Housman and the Antarctic explorers Scott and Wilson.

During the 1980s, a series of talks entitled “Whither Christianity” drew such notable figures to St Anselm’s as: Mary Whitehouse, Enoch Powell, Andrew Cruikshank (Dr Cameron in Dr Finlay’s casebook), Rev Roger Royal, Professor Robert Winstone, Helen Shapiro and Lord Longford.

The history of St Anselm's Church in Hatch End dating back to the late medieval period Harrow Online
St Anselm’s from above. Credit: St Anselm’s Church

Pamela Davies 1943-1998

Pamela Davies’ historical guide, The Parish Church of Saint Anselm Hatch End, has been invaluable in compiling these notes.  For further information, the guide is available for sale in the church. Pamela grew up in Hatch End, married Geoffrey at St Anselm’s in 1964 and held the church in great affection saying that it bore witness to both the sorrows and joys of her life.  Geoffrey is still a Parishioner at St Anselm’s.


The Countryside Lies Sleeping 1685-1950 Alan W Ball p 322/3
Charles Spooner Arts and Crafts Architect Alec Hamilton(i)(ii)(iii)
Harrow in old picture postcards European Library Publishers
The Buildings of England London 3: North West Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner(iv)
The Parish Church of Saint Anselm Hatch End Pamela Davies

The original version of these notes was compiled by the late Jill Whitehead, Parish Administrator and PCC secretary