This is a post about St Paul’s church in Winchmore Hill, North London, which has links to people I once knew in the locality. I’ve met the vicars and church wardens who kindly helped me with my research, so I would like to tell you a little bit about the the church and its interesting history.
Winchmore Hill was of course once a village with a handful of people, not the 13,000 or so residents who live in what is now a large suburb of London. I wrote about Winchmore Hill a couple of months ago the post is here. St Paul’s was of course built to serve the old village, and it now serves a much bigger area with a much greater role than before due to its large community centre, more of that later.
The church is a Grade II listed building.
St Paul’s Church seen from Church Hill in the summer 2017
The church is much enlarged now as originally built it was a very large chapel. The early view (of poor quality) showing the church shown below appears to show it just after the chancel of 1889 was built.
Both views old and new are taken from very much the same position.
St Paul’s in the late years of the 19th Century
St Paul’s is a Waterloo church. In brief, these are churches built with money authorised under the Church building acts of 1818/1824, which gave a total of one and half million pounds towards the construction of churches. Waterloo in fact alludes to the battle in Belgium and the commission to authorise and dispense the monies was apparently set up on a wave of euphorism following the defeat of the French.
Winchmore Hill & St Paul’s – A Topographical Dictionary of England – Volume 4 (1835)
St Paul’s was built in 1826/7. This clearly links to the second Parliamentary grant made under the act of 1824 for an amount of £3843 was made. The site was given by the Grovelands estate and the church established near the north side of the village green overlooking the valley which Grovelands Park now occupies.
St Paul’s church. Spiritus gladius – the spirit of the sword – or God’s word.
St Paul’s has some unique architectural features, which were once unrivaled elsewhere. It had the largest unsupported plaster ceiling amongst Europe’s churches. In other words the ceiling was practically stand alone, forty five feet in width, apart of course from where it anchored into the walls and upwards by way of a rudimentary number of queen trusses into the roof, and that must have been a tremendous achievement. However the ceiling’s age began to show after 135 years, and in the sixties extra supports were built to help it maintain its rigidity.
The spacious interior of St Paul’s with its substantial ceiling, forty five foot wide, looking towards the 1889 chancel.
As the 1835 entry explains, St Paul’s was a chapel thus did not have a tower. Its clearly one of the largest chapels to be found, especially when one considers its stupendous ceiling! Its a fine building with lots of space and light, and the ceiling gives a nice sense of continuity throughout. Originally it had a simple layout with the pulpit in the centre of the building and the congressional benches around it.
Today its recognised as a fully fledged church and that in part is because the southern end was constructed with a chancel which gave space for the organ, pulpits and high altar. The altar once stood in the middle of the original building but having been moved to the chancel that enabled a much larger congregation to be reached.
Side chapel at St Paul’s
The altar is quite unusual because it has a sculpture of the 12 disciples at a table as told in the Last Supper, with Jesus in the middle. Its almost without a doubt based on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous 1494 painting, The Last Supper (failing that it could possibly be the work done after Leonardo in 1520 by Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli) with some minor adaptations to bring it into a church environment. Its a lovely work of that famous moment in the history of Christianity. Yes there are churches the depict the last supper in this manner, however the use of Leonardo’s famous painting as a model is very rare and as far as I can find from research there’s only one other church that truly emulates Leonardo’s painting. This is a somewhat smaller version at St Peter Celestine church in Ontario.
St Paul’s Church’s Reredos, modelled after Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (1494.)
The chancel windows relate the story of St Paul in twelve compartments, that is, six sets of stained glass pictorials to each complete window and each of these relate to important events in St Paul’s life. The story begins with him as Saul of Tarsus and ends with his martyrdom in Rome as Paul the Apostle. The compartments originally existed on the east side but were moved soon after the new chancel was built.
General view of the church looking from the altar
The garden of remembrance
The church steps. It has a ramp at the side.
The church’s outdoor Easter 2017 service with community centre in background. Source: St Paul’s
The community centre next door is substantial and serves an important role for the communities and the schools around Winchmore Hill and Southgate.
St Paul’s community centre
The community centre (opened 1966) was not without its problems, it was not well built so to say. The architect, Kenneth White, had designed extensions to churches such as at Roxeth Hill, and a number of community centres and schools attached to churches. The most notable work of his was the new church of St Thomas Canterbury in Rainham, Kent and opened in 1964. Sadly several of these schemes, especially those in London, were later found to have problems that needed rectifying. The community centre at St Pauls had poor damp watercourses and a roof that soon showed up major faults.
By the 1980s funds were urgently needed to repair community centre. Ida and Grace who lived locally and were the owners of one of London’s larger arts & theatre suppliers became the centre’s benefactors. Hence this is the origin of my links with St. Paul’s church. The company formerly owned by Ida and Grace is still in business – and I might write about that another day. Anyway St Paul’s church was able to meet the costs necessary to repair the centre’s roof and upgrade the building substantially by way of Ida and Grace’s generous help.
The curtains in the St Paul’s community centre.
The huge curtains on the stage in the community centre were also donated by Ida and Grace. I stood before these curtains and felt humbled to know they, who were part of my life as a child, had contributed so much and these curtains were a living reminder of their lives. The first time I visited Winchmore Hill was about 1959 or 1960, it was Christmas time, I was with my aunt and we opened our presents at Ida’s home nearby. Snow was everywhere – a typically hard British winter. Grovelands Park was absolutely deep in the stuff!
Its many years later fifty or so – in fact 2017 before I really learn so much more about the area.