Building » Ealing – Abbey Church of St Benedict

Ealing – Abbey Church of St Benedict

Charlbury Grove, Ealing, London W5

Built in stages from 1899, this is a very large, imposing church as befits its abbey status (the first in Greater London since the Reformation). The style is fifteenth-century Perpendicular and the church has strong echoes of the great late medieval churches of East Anglia. The interior with its long, serene nave is rather more impressive than the exterior. For such a substantial church, the fittings are remarkably lacking in interest, which may reflect losses in Second World War damage; the most important item is the stained glass in the west window by Burlison & Grylls. By virtue of its scale and location, the abbey makes a prominent contribution to the local conservation area. 

The first mission was started (date not established) in a small room at Castlebar Hill House which was occupied by Augustinian canonesses until about 1920. Then, in 1896, Cardinal Vaughan invited the Benedictines of Downside Abbey to open a house in London from which monks would be able to travel to sing the Office in the new Westminster Cathedral when it opened (although this never happened). The first monk arrived in 1897 and was installed in Castlebar Hill House. The monks, however, were not universally welcomed as there was already a Catholic parish in Ealing where the priest, Fr O’Halloran, refused to accept the archbishop’s order to surrender the parish and for over twenty years maintained he was the rightful parish priest.

The architect of the church was F.A. Walters (1849-1931). Two (according to Pearce) or three (Rottmann) bays of the nave were opened in 1899, and by 1905 two storeys of the monastery were in use. The school was founded in 1902. In 1915 further nave bays were added along with a sanctuary and Lady Chapel. The following year Ealing was made into a priory. Under the second prior, Dom Benedict Kuypers (prior 1924-35) the four western bays of the nave and turreted west end were completed in 1934 under E.J. Walters (1880-1947). The building never acquired the five-bay choir with flanking tower as planned by Walters senior. In 1940 two bombs devastated the east end. In 1947 it became a self-governing priory and on 26 May 1955 was raised to the status of an abbey, the first in Greater London since the Reformation. Work to restore the building after the wartime damage began in September 1958 and continued until 1962, during which time the church was enlarged with the building of the crossing and completion of the transepts: this was the work of Stanley Kerr Bate who had succeeded to the Walters’ practice. At this stage there was a blind wall infilling the eastern arch of the crossing, and the monks’ choir Lady Chapel and sanctuary were added in 1996-98 to the design of Sir William Whitfield. The parish centre was added in 1973 to designs by Coventry architects Hellberg, Harris, Reyner & Partners at a cost of c. £55,000: it forms a link between the church and the parish office.


The church is oriented to the northeast; directions given here are liturgical.

The list entry (below) is rather brief. It wrongly states the building material to be coursed squared rubble, and the post-war extension (presumably the choir) is not in matching style.

The church stands back from the road and is approached up a flight of steps: the monastery lies to its northern side. The original work is faced with blocks of beige Ham Hill stone and has dressings of lighter coloured and Beer stone. The 1930s work is faced with yellow Guiting stone from a quarry near Cheltenham and with Bath stone dressings to match the existing central bays. The church consists of a long nave, narrow aisles, crossing, transepts (north, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel; south, Lady Chapel), a monastic choir and, south of this, the polygonal Bl. John Henry Newman Chapel. The style is fifteenth-century Perpendicular and the church has strong echoes of the great late medieval churches of East Anglia. This is true both of the general lines of the building and some of the details (such as the limestone and flint chequerwork in the parapets). The imposing west front has big octagonal turrets masking the junction of the nave and aisles: their tops are panelled and each is capped with a short copper-clad spirelet. In the centre is a large nine-light window. The other fenestration in the body of the church consists of four-light, high-set windows in the aisles: the transepts have matching seven-light north and south windows. There is no clerestory. At the east end the style is a post-war, stripped interpretation of Gothic.

The nave is of eight-bays plus a narthex under a western gallery which spans both nave and aisles. The arches are tall and have lozenge-shaped piers with lobes at the corners and mouldings between: only the east-west lobes have capitals. On the north-south axis the lobes are extended as shafts to the arch-bracing of the roof: similarly shafts rise from the apices of the arches to the arch-bracing. The nave roof is of single hammerbeam construction and has painted, patterned decoration: between the common rafters are the IHC and SB (for St Benedict) monograms. The SB monogram recurs in rosettes in the panels of the aisle roofs. Most of the bays in the south aisle have shallow chapels behind shallow, four-centred arches. In the northeast bay of the nave there is a gallery: the southeast bay has an elevated organ. Beyond the nave is the crossing with large piers with filleted shafts. In the choir there are pairs of arches on the either side: those on the north are blind as the projected building works beyond have never been carried out (hence the keying in the brickwork externally).

Fixtures and fittings. For such a substantial church, these are remarkably lacking in interest which may reflect losses in the Second World War damage.

  • The most important item is the stained glass in the west window by Burlison & Grylls depicting the Coronation of the Virgin attended by the Heavenly Host.
  • The stained glass in the south transept south window is by Bucknall & Comper, c. 1960, and is a memorial to victims of both world wars. It depicts a beardless Risen Christ and four saints.
  • The font is a prominent item: it is recent, is octagonal, plain and made from  a single block of Portland stone with a stainless steel lining.
  • The church was originally equipped with chairs and at some point benches have  been introduced (they seem reused from elsewhere).
  • Painting by Jusepe de Ribera (c.1591-1652) of Peter’s Denial of Christ (in the sacristy)

List description


1897 on by Frederick and Edward Walters. Extended (after bombing) by Stanley Kerr Bate (consecrated 1962). Abbey church in Perpendicular style. Nine bay nave with transepts and choir below crossing. Aisled single storey. Coursed squared rubble with ashlar dressings. Compound piers to nave arcade. West gallery. Four-light aisle windows flanked by stepped buttresses with crenellated parapet. Tiled roof. West front with 3 arched entrances below 2:5:2 light west window flanked by octagonal buttresses topped by battlements and spirelets. Chequered gable with Celtic cross finial. Post war extension in matching style.

Listing NGR: TQ1742781453

Heritage Details

Architect: Frederick A. Walters and Edward J. Walters; Stanley C. Kerr Bate of Walters & Kerr Bate; Sir William Whitfield

Original Date: 1899

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II