Hampstead - St Mary

Holly Place, London NW3

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This small church dating originally from 1816 is one of the earliest Catholic churches in London and contains the tomb of its founder, the AbbéMorel, who died in 1852.  The nave is plainly decorated but the sanctuary and its side chapels have lavish marble and mosaic ornament. The church is picturesquely located within a terrace of early nineteenth-century houses of the same date, and makes a prominent and positive contribution to the Hampstead Conservation Area. 

The Hampstead mission dates from 1796, when Abbé Morel, a French émigré priest, started holding services in a house in Church Row. The present church was first opened in August 1816. According to the VCH, the design of the nave was copied from Morel’s former church at Verneuil, Normandy. The west front with its bellcote looks like Italianate work of c1830, and that is the date given in the list entry and the VCH, but it actually appears to be an uncharacteristic contextual addition of 1850 by the Gothic Revival architect William Wardell, added in part to strengthen the old front (see Evinson).  Wardell also designed Abbé Morel’s tomb, a recumbent effigy of c1852, which was originally located centrally in the nave by the church entrance, was later relocated at least twice and is now in the Lady Chapel.  

In 1878 the whole of the interior of the church was altered and beautified by Fr Arthur Purcell, and two side altars were erected.  Shortly after the arrival of Fr Walshe in 1907 the fabric was repaired and a sanctuary and two side chapels added in Byzantine style, to the designs of the architect G. F. Collinson. The decoration was done under the supervision of G. L. Simpson & Son of St Martin’s Lane but was apparently still not complete in 1926 (see Rottman). A high altar and baldacchino by Adrian Gilbert Scott were installed in 1935, and moved forward when the church was re-ordered by Williams & Winkley, in 1974 (information from Canon Brockie, former parish priest, via Fr Peter Harris) or 1976 (Pevsner). The king-post roof was completely renewed in 1991 as part of a refurbishment by the Solway Brown Partnership (according to Canon Brockie, the timber roof was originally exposed and had been later concealed by a plaster ceiling)

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The list description follows the VCH in dating the refronting to c1830, whereas Evinson’s date of 1850 is more persuasive, being based on Wardell’s own account. It also refers to unspecified alterations by George Gilbert Scott Junior and Thomas Garner; no information is available about such alterations, although it is likely that as a local resident who no doubt worshipped here, Scott would have advised on the decoration and other matters.  The list entry makes no mention of Adrian Gilbert Scott’s work, however.  

The altarpiece is a painting of the Assumption, in the style of Murillo, and was acquired in 1826.

The 1878 side chapels were dedicated to Our Lady (north) and St Joseph (south, note the letters ‘J’ in the tile / mosaic work).  The St Joseph chapel was converted into a Blessed Sacrament chapel in the 1974 restoration.

Diocese: Westminster

Architect: Original architect not known; William Wardell; G. F. Collinson

Original Date: 1816

Conservation Area: Yes

Modifications: 1850; 1907

Listed Grade: Grade II*