St Mary’s Church

Never heard of it?

Hardly surprising since it hasn’t existed since 1935, but I bet you’d know where it was.

Back in the early 19th Century there was a massive rise in church attendance and Greenwich herself was well on the up. The centre of town was a veritable neo-classical building site. St Mary’s church, at St Mary’s Gate of Greenwich Park, was built just before the first phase of the grand improvement scheme which transformed the market area was begun, but Crooms and Royal Hills were already gentrified and Gloucester Circus was brand-spanking-new.

The architect was George Basevi, a Greenwich boy, born and bred. He was desperate to become an architect and persuaded Sir John Soane to take him as a pupil. He then disappeared off to Italy and Greece for three years, as young men of his day and class did. On his return St Mary’s church was one of his early commissions in 1823. From the rather fanciful engravings that remain of it, it was a pretty little place – a neo-classical front and a tall Italianate bell tower. It was intended to show just how genteel Greenwich was becoming, and the developments around King William Walk followed not long afterwards.

It all went horribly wrong, though. First, for poor George Basevi, who, in the 1840s was commissioned to sort out Ely’s prison population by enlarging the jailhouse. He was doing well, but on 16th October, 1845, whilst inspecting Ely Cathedral’s western bell tower (what was he doing up there, I wonder? checking it out as a watchtower for escaped convicts?) he fell and was killed. They buried him in Bishop Alcock’s Chapel in the cathedral (tastefully placed at the other end…)

St Mary’s church lasted less than a century longer. In 1935/6, it was demolished (I don’t know exactly why) and integrated into part of Greenwich Park. It’s surrounded by a beech hedge, some of the foundation stones marking out the original position.

And the reason why everyone will know it? Because it has one of the most snigger-worthy statues in Greenwich placed right at its centre. The giant granite sculpture of “the Sailor-King” William IV was originally sculpted by Samuel Nixon in 1843 and intended to stand at the head of London Bridge, appropriately enough on King William St. Road-widening in 1936 made poor William redundant, so he was moved to live out his retirement in a quiet corner of Greenwich Park at the top of a road I am not conviced was named for him, being giggled at by small boys and juvenile phantoms…

fnaar, fnaar…

One Comment to “St Mary’s Church”

  1. Gail Smith says:

    Might anyone know what happened to the headstones from the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church?