Building » Wandsworth (East Hill) – St Mary Magdalen

Wandsworth (East Hill) – St Mary Magdalen

East Hill, Wandsworth, London SW18

The building occupies an important position in the conservation area, overlooking the historic Huguenot burial ground. However, its external design is unremarkable. The chief glory of the church lies in its internal decoration and fittings, designed by the artist-priest Fr George Fayers, a pupil of Burne-Jones.

A mission was established in 1902, served by a group of Salesians from Battersea, who took a late Georgian house on the site of the present presbytery. The church was built in 1905-06; the architect was Lawrence Butler. The church is notable for its extensive internal decoration, carried out by the artist-priest and (according to Evinson) pupil of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Fr George Fayers SDB (who also worked at Sacred Heart, Battersea, qv).

The presbytery dates from the 1920s, replacing the former late Georgian house on the site.

In 1959 a western gallery and baptistery were added, from designs by Riley & Glanfield. An additional porch and new parish halls were added at the same time. A timber pulpit was removed at this time or in a later reordering, possibly at the same time as the removal of the lower part of the rood screen. A painted baldacchino over the lady altar has also been lost.


The sanctuary is placed at the west end rather than the east, but this description follows conventional liturgical orientation.

The church was built in 1905-6, from designs by Lawrence Butler. It is built of red brick under a slate roof, in a plain round-arched style. The main northern elevation faces towards East Hill, and is a four bay design under a continuous ridge, with a recessed brick panel in each bay, each with three round-arched clerestory windows. Below this is a lean-to north aisle, with a projecting gabled porch at the west end and a second, later (1959) flat-roofed projecting porch in the third bay. The gabled east end faces towards the Huguenot cemetery and has a triplet of blind round-arched windows. The south elevation has a clerestory similar to that on the north side; this elevation is largely obscured from public view by the later parish hall buildings.

The interior consists of a short, wide nave of three bays, a straight-ended chancel of one bay, side aisles with chapels at the east end, and a baptistery giving off the south aisle. There is a circular window in the western gable, and a gallery of 1959 in the western bay of the nave, reached from a stair in the south aisle and with an organ on its north side. The plain round-arched arcades rise from square piers which have pilasters on the north and south sides and panelled dadoes. A similarly plain arch separates the nave and chancel. The nave roof is of king-post construction and the aisle roofs are similarly utilitarian.

This simple structure is overlaid by a decorative scheme of great richness, carried out by the architect-priest Fr George Fayers. The ceilings of the nave and chancel are covered with wooden panels, painted with figures of saints  and sacred monograms. At the sanctuary arch there is a rood screen (originally with a lower section, which was removed in the 1960s, according to Fr Edwards). For a rood beam it has a painted frieze of angels playing instruments, very Burne-Jonesian in character, with pendants below interspersed with delicate timber filigree work. The rood figure above is a painted Tau cross. Behind the high altar is a timber painted reredos, with five painted panels of saints on either side of a larger central panel, with arabesque  patterns  above  and  below.  There  is  a  projecting  canopy  over  the  five central panels. The larger central panel of the reredos is later, presumably replacing a tabernacle throne. Its character is more in the manner of Grünewald than Burne-Jones, and as such somewhat discordant, although of high artistic merit on its own terms. This was painted in 1960 by a Yugoslav artist, Ivan Tomlanovich and depicts the penitent Magdalene at the foot of the Crucifix (in the background is a view of the industrial banks of the Thames, including a distorted view of Battersea Power Station). Below this, the tabernacle has a beaten metal door depicting the Loaves and the Fishes. The high altar in front is of white marble with rectilinear inlaid mosaic patterning.

The side altars to the Sacred Heart (south) and Our Lady (north) are much altered. The statue of the Sacred Heart is by Mayer. The chapels have ceilings painted with monograms etc and windows of 2001 by Leslie A. Huitson – St John Fisher and St Thomas More in the south chapel and the Annunciation and Noli Me Tangere, marking the Jubilee of 2000, in the Lady Chapel.

The baptistery giving off the south aisle is an addition of 1959. It is a plain square room, with metal gates, a black and white chequerboard tile floor, white plastered walls and top-lit with an oculus over the font. This is a circular, tapering design of polished marble with a marble cover; gilded cherubs are suspended over it. There was no sign at the time of the writer’s visit of the line drawings on the walls of the baptistery by Ivan Tomlanovich, as described in Evinson (p.259).

The present parish priest has carried out sympathetic redecoration in Arts and Crafts shades of red and green, and installed the Byzantine-style bronze light fittings in the nave.

Heritage Details

Architect: Lawrence Butler

Original Date: 1905

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed