In the beginning....
The first St Mary's Church was built as a chapel of ease in 1813/14 by a Richard Hunt. Mr Hunt lived nearby in 'The Cedars', a large brick house sited somewhere between Auriol Road and Munden St surrounded by about two and half acres of land. It was the second Church built in the Fulham Parish which in 1813 roughly covered the area of Fulham borough today. Mr Hunt had to obtain permission from the parish to build the church on his land. Part of the agreement was that a portion of land surrounding the chapel would be appropriated as a burial ground and that this land would be leased back to Mr Hunt and his heirs for a period of 999 years at a peppercorn rent.
Mr Hunt was obviously a man of action and means. Having obtained the go-ahead to build in February 1813, his chapel was consecrated by the Bishop of London, a Dr Howley, on the 6 May 1814. Although described as a chapel, St Mary's was not a small building. Built almost entirely of brick with a deep gallery around three sides of its interior, it could seat 1150 people.
Mr Hunt died fours years later in 1818 and a tablet was erected to his memory on the south wall.
In a Vault beneath are deposited
the mortal remains of
Richard Hunt Esquire,
born the 6th November, 1748,
and died the 28th May, 1818.
This whole sacred edifice
which he built at his sole expense
and in which he now lies entombed
is his noblest and most lasting monument
and will record whilst it endures
his zeal for God's glory and the national religion
Up for sale
By 1835 the local area had developed and the population increased to such an extent that St Mary's became a parish in its own right. This changed it from being a chapel to a church although this was of course a change in name only. It was still however a proprietary church and was offered for sale by auction on the 23rd June 1837.
The auction notice described the sale in glowing terms:
In the best and most fashionable part of the Hammersmith Road,
St Mary's was bought with a mortgage by a Rev. John Sparks Byers who discovered that he wasn't really the owner of the church after all. Although he was the patron he was unfortunately not able to derive the income from it that he had hoped. Nevertheless he remained the Minister at St Mary's for 19 years. Rev. Byers had a particular concern for the education of children from poor families and established a school for 30 boys and 30 girls on the church site. He purchased the advowson (right of presentation) and presented his son to succeed him. Sparks Beaumont became St Mary's first Vicar in 1856 and served for 18 years until 1874. Both he and his father were buried at St Mary's.
In 1881 the burial ground was declared full and closed. It is believed over 2,600 people were buried at St Mary's. There are a few gravestones still able to be seen around the edges of the church grounds.
In 1882 an appeal was launched by St Mary's to raise funds to enlarge and improve the church. The main motivation for this
was the expected population growth in the area along with the fact that St Mary's 1150 seats were already well-filled. The 1881 Census had put St Mary's population at 3,669. Since then approximately 500 new houses had been built or were in the process of completion. St Paul's School (the site is now occupied by St Paul's Court and Hammersmith and West London College) was also nearly completed and was expected to attract large numbers of families to the area. A bonus of these proposed enlargements to the church would be the opportunity to improve on the very plain nature of the original building.
The proposed work took place in 1883 and 1884. This included adding a vestibule at the entrance, a new chancel and transepts with three arches connecting it to the existing nave and removing the ceiling 'so as to show off the roof and obtain better ventilation'1. These works provided a further 511 seatings of which 300 were designated free, to be used by poorer parishioners. From 1813 until 1944 the Minister or Vicar of St Mary's received their income solely from the various services performed and the seat rents paid by parishioners for their seat in church.
The ventilation in the church must also have been improved by the removal of the 130 bodies in the vaults in the crypt 'the decay of which caused a foetid odour to pervade the church'2. Permission for this was granted by the Council (in 1883) and the bodies were re-buried in a mass grave on the west side of the graveyard.
Various decorations and improvements to the church building continued to the end of the nineteenth century including the addition of a considerable number of stained glass windows. Unfortunately these are not still here to be viewed today as the original St Mary's building was completely destroyed by a flying bomb on the 18th June 1944.
Flying bombs were a new invention by the Germans and far more destructive than the standard bombs which had previously been dropped on London. They were called The Vergeltungswaffe or revenge weapon. This was for the mass bombings suffered by German cities. The flying bomb was basically a pilotless aircraft filled with explosives. It came down like a small plane and didn't dig into the ground. It's blast therefore was mainly sideways and the destruction more wide reaching. The first flying bombs were launched on 13th June, a week after the Normandy landings. Out of 10 firings , four reached England with only one landing in London. Two days later on the 15th a further 244 were launched and 73 reached the London area. June 18th saw the first flying bombs in Fulham, one at 5am in Lintaine Grove and the second on St Mary's at 9:45pm.
One can still see evidence of bomb damage in the local area. It's a fairly good guess that any building which looks more modern or different to the surrounding Victorian terraces was a replacement for a building destroyed by a bomb or damaged beyond repair. This is the case with large parts of Auriol Road and several houses in the middle of Edith Road. If you look closely at the tops of some of the Victorian terraces in the roads between St Mary's and West Kensington tube station you can see that odd parts of the top floors have different coloured bricks to those in the floors below. Maps of the damage inflicted by bombs confirm these different coloured bricks have been part of repairs to bomb blast damage.
From the ashes
The foundation stone for the present St Mary's was laid on 2nd April 1960 and the Church consecrated on 28 January 1961. The new church is considerably smaller than the old with seating in the nave for about 300 people. All that remains of the original church is the brass lectern, communion vessels and the crypt.
1St Mary's West Kensington Appeal Pamphlet 1882
2Fulham Old and New, Volume II by C. J. Feret