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.