Smartening up St Mary’s

Churchwarden Peter Brown on plans for a major redecoration at St Mary’s.

With repairs to the roof at Christ Church complete, there’s now urgent work to be done in the parish’s other historic church.

St Mary's: consecrated in 1790 © Ian Cranston and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
St Mary’s: consecrated in 1790
© Ian Cranston and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

As anyone who worships there knows, the interior decor of St Mary’s Church has been deteriorating over recent years, mostly due to damp.

The beautiful Georgian building on Overton Drive is the only Grade I listed building in Redbridge, and now there are plans to repair and then redecorate the inside to bring it back to a standard befitting such a special and historic place.

The church was last decorated in 1990, and a recent report into the condition of the building has highlighted the need for urgent action.


St Mary’s painting: a mystery – almost – solved

Thanks to some detective work by local historian and congregation-member Denis Keeling – and follow-up investigations by Churchwarden Pen Garlick, and her husband John, during a private visit to Chicago – we have discovered more about the beautiful picture above the altar at St. Mary’s.

We now know the painting is The Entombment of Christ by a 17th century Italian artist called Guercino. Another version of the picture hangs in the Institute of Art, Chicago, but whether the copy at St.Mary’s is the original, a 17th century studio copy, or a 19th century copy is open to conjecture. It is hard to tell much through all the accumulated dirt currently obscuring the work.


The artist Giovanni Francesco Barbieri was born in 1591 and nicknamed Guercino (the squinter) because of a cast in his eye. He became one of the most sought-after artists of his time. His patrons included Pope Gregory XV, Maria de’ Medici Queen of France, and King Charles I of England. His best works are still considered among the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Baroque. The Entombment of Christ was commissioned by ‘an unknown knight’ in 1656.



A very important visitor

One warm Sunday in May congregations in our parish were uncharacteristically depleted as many regular Wanstead worshippers joined the congregation of St Gabriel’s, Aldersbrook, to help them celebrate a special anniversary – and welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury.

St Gabriel’s marked the centenary of its consecration with a dedication festival on Sunday 18 May led by the Right Reverend Justin Welby and the Bishop of Chelmsford. The church is holding a year-long programme of events, such as a 100k cycle ride, to mark its special birthday. During the service the Archbishop blessed a new mosaic created by the congregation with the help of local artist Katrin Hall. Katrin will also be working with the children at Wanstead Church School this month to create a new mosaic on the playground wall. This will be unveiled at the school summer fayre on Saturday 5 July.


Dog day in Wanstead

Wanstead Dog Show attracted a pack of local canines and their owners, keen to compete for rosettes in a range of fun classes.
Sixty-five dogs were entered into the parish fundraising event in classes such as ‘Best rescue dog’, ‘Waggiest tail’ and ‘Dog most like its owner’.

Running alongside the show in the grounds of Christ Church on May 26, the Wanstead Village Show gave competitive local humans the chance to demonstrate their skills in everything from flower arranging to cake baking.

Event organiser, Gillian Hornsey, Chair of the Friends of St Mary with Christ Church, said: ‘We made almost £1000 for church funds. I would like to thank all those who helped make the day such a success by taking part or helping out. Special thanks go to Aldersbrook Dog Training for organising the classes and Wanstead estate agents Petty, Son and Prestwich for sponsoring the event.’

You can contact Aldersbrook Dog Training on


Ding dong merrily on high

Bellringers at Christ Church
Bellringers at Christ Church

Chris Ranger, one of the bell ringers at Christ Church, gives us his very personal and amusing – insight into the pleasures and perils of ringing the changes.

What goes on in the church bell tower is, not surprisingly, a complete mystery to most people. Some believe the bells are recorded and played through loud speakers; others speculate about a clockwork mechanism. The truth is, here at Christ Church, the noise is made by human beings, with the aid of some rather large – often recalcitrant – lumps of metal.


Wedding celebration service

A special service of celebration has been held at Christ Church for those families who have recently married in the parish.

On 21 June, a wedding celebration service welcomed couples married in the parish during the past seven years, and followed it with a glass of bubbly or tea and cakes.  

Rev Liz said: ‘The idea of this service is to engage with, and welcome back to church, those who are not regular worshippers. It is an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for one of the most joyful parts of the life of the parish.’

We have postponed our baptism celebration service till next summer when we will look forward to welcoming all families who have had a baptism in the parish over the past seven years.

Masterclass for choir

Our church choir continues to grow and in June we had a masterclass with conductor Ralph Allwood MBE, former Head of Music at Eton College and judge on BBC 2’s The Choir.

The junior choir is growing too and developing its own repertoire. We’re always on the look-out for new members. So if your child is interested in joining and will be in Year 3 from September, please get in touch at the email below. The juniors, who rehearse every Friday at 7pm in Christ Church, had their own masterclass too – and found it really good fun as well as hard work.

Both choirs sing together every Sunday in the 9.30am Eucharist at Christ Church and at 11am at St Mary’s. I play the organ for both these services. You can also hear the choir in joint events with other churches such as the centenary service at St Gabriel’s (see above), which some of our members took part in, and the joint evensong at St Mary’s, Woodford, that we sang at in June.

David Todd, Parish Director of Music

Christ Church

Christ Church was built in the mid-19th century to serve a fast-growing local population. These days most of our worship and events take place here, with a diverse and active congregation that reflects the community around us.

The delightful villages of Snaresbrook

From the 1820s, the Snaresbrook end of the parish started to become fashionable and grow rapidly, especially once the railway arrived in 1856. “Snaresbrook…is a delightful village on the confines of the Forest, not far distant from the river Roden… it contains some capital houses, the residences of gentlemen’s families…and selected as a suitable situation for numerous elegant seats and country villas.”

A shift in the parish

With a growing population came the problem of insufficient church accommodation. St. Mary’s, the original parish church, had been very convenient for Wanstead House. But it was now looking rather isolated, situated at the far end of a lane away from the centre of things. So a petition was laid to build a new chapel of ease closer to the heart of the community.

Keeping it in the family

It became the personal project of the Rector, the Revd William Pitt Wigram. His family appears to have paid a third of the building costs, while the foundation stone was laid by Wigram’s brother, the Bishop of Rochester, on 18th May 1860. The completed building was consecrated on 19th July 1861 by the Bishop of London.

A fine example of Gothic revival architecture

Christ Church was designed by George Gilbert Scott, the architect behind the nearby Infant Orphan Asylum – now Snaresbrook Crown Court. Built at the height of the Gothic revival in the geometric style of the late 13th century, it was originally a chancel with the north aisle and a nave of four bays. In 1867 a south aisle was added and the church lengthened by a bay. A tower and spire were then added in 1869 and vestries in 1889.

Interesting features of note

The east window above the altar shows a stained glass window of Christ in majesty surrounded by angels. Donated by Mary and Gertrude Nutter in memory of their sister Jessie, the maker’s signature wheat sheaf and tower can be seen in the left-hand corner. The angels around the high altar were brought over from Ely theological college, although they originated in Nuremberg. The 1920s rood comes from Salisbury Teacher Training College and incorporates a particularly fine figure of Christ.

Ready for the 21st century

Christ Church was reordered at the beginning of the 21st century. The vestry and sacristy were renovated and a nave altar installed. The organ was replaced and re-sited at the east end of the northern arcade, allowing it to project music directly into the main body of the church. Finally, the old organ chamber was converted into a parish office.

Discover more

Christ Church and its beautiful gardens now host a wide range of activities all year round, from regular services and classical concerts to picnics and even the annual parish dog show! Everyone is welcome to join us.

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin

St. Mary’s is our original parish church and considered one of the finest Georgian churches in the country. Its virtually unaltered state includes the original pews and a host of architectural features.

Designed by Thomas Hardwick

St. Mary’s is the third church to stand on a site dating back to 1200. The current building was designed by architect Thomas Hardwick, also responsible for St. Mary’s, Marylebone Road as well as the renovation of both Inigo Jones’ St. Paul’s (Covent Garden) and Wren’s St. James’ (Piccadilly).

Consecrated in 1790

The foundation stone was laid on 13th July 1787, after which “numerous gentlemen and ladies were elegantly entertained with cold collation at Wanstead House”. Once completed, the church was consecrated by the Rt Revd Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, on 24th June 1790. The interior has remained virtually the same ever since.

Seating arrangements

The consecration committee also drew up seating arrangements for the congregation. Men and boys were directed to the north side of the church, women and girls to the south. Old men and women were to sit in the window seats. Maidservants and female housekeepers were allocated the south gallery. And men in livery and other men and boys would be directed to the north gallery.

We’re a little bit more flexible these days…

An architectural treasure still open to the public

The iconic white building, with its green slate roof, wooden clock tower, open belfry and cupola, stands on Overton Drive close to the remains of Wanstead House, once belonging to Sir Josiah Child. Original features include the portico main entrance and steps, high box pews, and pulpit with sounding board. Above, the surrounding gallery is occupied to dramatic effect by a brass band at the famous annual Christmas carol service. And the impressive monument to Sir Josiah Child, Chairman of the East India Company, has been ascribed to John Nost. A recent redecoration has brought this historic interior back to former glories.

The churchyard

Several Grade II listed structures can also be found within the three-acre church grounds, from the boundary railings and gates to the monuments to Admiral Robert Plampin and Joseph Wilton RA.

50 of the tombstones date from the 18th century or earlier, with the earliest being that of James Waly who died in 1685. Thomas Turpin of Whitechapel, thought to be the uncle of Dick Turpin, also lies here. The stone sentry box, a memorial to the Wilton family, provided shelter for the armed guard employed to keep watch for body-snatchers.