Kensington, London

St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, London

Although what can be seen today is not even 150 years old, worship has taken place on this spot since around 750 AD. The first definite mention of the church is when in 1100 Godfrey de Vere, the son of the Lord of the Manor, fell ill and was cured by the Abbot of Abingdon Abbey. On his deathbed Godfrey remembered this act and bequeathed the church at Kensington to the Abbey – so it became St. Mary Abbots. In 1260 the Abbey rebuilt the church and it was confirmed as St. Mary Abbots Church, Kensington.

However, the church was established without the permission of the Bishop of London who then sued the Abbey and, not surprisingly perhaps, won. The Abbey was forced to sign over the land and buildings to the London Diocese and it is still in their ownership today.

The church was rebuilt in 1370 and the Dissolution finally removed any trace of ownership from Abingdon. William III held court at Kensington Palace and the population grew rapidly, so at the end of the 17th Century the medieval church was demolished and replaced with a Renaissance version.

Until 1845 St. Mary Abbots was the only church in Kensington and it had a number of extremely eminent parishioners including Sir Isaac Newton, William Wilberforce, George Canning, William Thackeray and Lord Macaulay.

In the 1860s it was once more considered that the church was too small, even though by this time a further 21 new churches were in existence in Kensington. So Sir George Gilbert Scott was brought in to redesign it. The Renaissance church was demolished and work began on the magnificent spired structure that so dominated Kensington High Street today.

St. Mary Abbots was Scott’s second-to-last church commission and can be regarded as one of his greatest works. Most of the church was finished by 1872, although the spire – the tallest in London – was not completed until more than seven years after Scott had died.

It is one of the most satisfying Victorian churches in London and is certainly worth visiting if you find yourself shopping in Kensington High Street.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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