Restoration and Expansion
‘I knew it had the reputation of being the oldest church in the neighbourhood of London.'
So noted the architect Gough about his commission and by contemporary accounts his restoration was generally well received. The Times described the western entrance as ‘a most beautiful specimen of Norman architecture’, and the Illustrated London News praised the details as ‘exceedingly characteristic, and skilfully introduced.’
The single most significant documented change to the church was the restoration by A.D. Gough in 1848. One of the main aims of the work was to increase the number of sittings: the figures given vary from 125 to 150 being increased to 700 or 750 and it had to be accomplished in the middle of a churchyard densely packed with burials.
Just to the north was a high brick wall separating the churchyard from St Giles’s Burial Ground and there were burials close up to the south side of the church. Even The Ecclesiologist agreed: ‘Considering the circumstances of the parish, and the fact of the old church standing in an old churchyard, we do not object to the enlargement, nor to the method which is adopted of so doing.’
So the old west tower (as mentioned previously) had to go. In its place, the nave was extended about 10 metres, but slightly narrower than the original. A staircase on the south side was built to give access to the west gallery, which had been extended down the north and south sides of the nave as far as the chancel wall. A new vestry was constructed on the north side of the chancel. Slightly later, for it was not built at the time of the reopening of the church in July 1848, was constructed a three stage tower on the site of the former south porch, with belfry at the top, organ chamber underneath and, below that, a baptistery.
The Illustrated London News reported, probably paraphrasing the words of the architect, that ‘in the recent operations rendered necessary for the enlargement of this ancient structure, its preservation and restoration with the least possible amount of destruction appears to have been constantly in view’. Indeed, ‘the chancel and easternmost part of the Church being left in their original form … only such parts of the walls [were] cut through as were required for the introduction of the windows’.
In the 1880s, the Catholic way of worship was restored and the parish took on another new lease of life. But this only inspired, in 1888, a further wave of refurbishment in the fashion of the period.
The twentieth century
By 1925 the wooden floor was in such a bad state that it had to be replaced by solid flooring. This was not entirely the misfortune it seemed: it provided the incumbent, the Reverend J. Carter Rendell, with an opportunity to rid the building of some of the more dubious ‘improvements’ of the past. He took out the pews and side galleries, transferred the organ to the West gallery, and hacked away an undistinguished cladding of nineteenth century ceiling plaster to expose, for the first time in nearly a hundred years, the beautiful timbers that we enjoy today.
During the Second World War the church was badly damaged. In 1948 it was repaired and restored under the supervision of Martin Travers ARIBA. Both he and the then Vicar, the Reverend J.F.R.Westlake, were careful to see that no further harm was done. In 1978-79 an extensive restoration of the fabric was directed by Quinlan Terry FRIBA. The Victorian extension at the West end was converted into a parish room, separated from the main body of the church by a handsome wooden and glazed screen designed by the architect in eighteenth century style. The sanctuary was cleared and rearranged in accordance with modern liturgical order, which is in fact a return to the simpler ways of the earlier church.