The building of the original St. Paul’s church is reflective of the Anglican Church’s response to urban and suburban growth, and the need to minister to a growing population, including addressing social problems such as poverty, lack of educational opportunity, and poor housing. In the ancient parish of Ealing, including Old Brentford, sixteen Anglican churches were built or rebuilt between 1852 and 1914. It is also reflective of the influence of the successive phases of religious revival in the Church of England. From the 1830s, the austere moral revivalism of the Evangelicals was challenged by the romantic traditionalism of the Oxford Movement, leading to the demand for ‘ecclesiologically correct’ medieval Gothic style buildings, of which the unrestored St Paul’s was a typical example.
The ecclesiastical history of Brentford is long and not undistinguished, and synods were held here as long ago as the eighth century AD. The antiquarian Cox stated that there was during the eleventh century a chapel here in the gift of Westminster Abbey. However, by the end of the eighteenth century the township of Brentford could still be described by one modern commentator as ‘little more than a line of buildings surrounded by fields and water’. The coming of the railways from 1849, and increased industrialisation, saw tremendous growth in the population of the town.
New Brentford (to the west of Half Acre/Boston Lane) with its ancient church of St. Lawrence, was a chapelry of the parish of Hanwell. The church, though much altered, dates back originally to the twelfth century; the tower is fifteenth century. Old Brentford, the eastern part, with its water works, gas works and other manufactures, was part of the ‘lower side’ of Ealing parish. A modest proprietary chapel dedicated to St George, in a classical style, was built there in 1767. This was replaced in 1886 by a neo-Gothic building by the distinguished architect Sir A W Blomfield. From 1901 Brentford was part of the Episcopal district overseen by the Bishop of Kensington, as it is to this day.
St Paul’s Church
In 1861 a temporary iron church, the first St. Paul’s, was erected on the south side of Brentford High Street. The new district of St. Paul’s Old Brentford was formally established on July 9 1864. The foundation stone of the permanent church, on a new site, was laid on December 31 1867 by HRH the Duchess of Teck, the service being conducted by the Bishop of Tennessee, Rt Rev C. T. Quintard. The church was consecrated and opened for worship by the Bishop of London on 30 July 1868. The final cost of the church, including site, approaches and initial furnishing, was the (then) very large sum of £11,070, and it could seat 700 people. An extremely major role in the building of the church was played by its first incumbent, Rev Peter Drabble, and his family, who originated in Sheffield, South Yorkshire; they had attended the (now demolished) St Paul’s Church in central Sheffield, which may have influenced the dedication of their new church in Brentford.
St. Paul’s was described in the Post Office Directory of 1870 as a ‘handsome structure in the Early Decorated style, consisting of nave, aisles, chancel, tower and lofty spire’. The architects of St Paul’s were the brothers and business partners, Frederick John Francis FRIBA (1818-96) and Horace Francis (1821-94), who ran a highly varied, successful and eclectic London practice. Notable amongst their church commissions are the church of St Mary, Priory Road, Kilburn (1857-62); Christ Church, Mayfair, London (1865-8); and St Mary’s Acton (1865-7). The re-building of the church at nearby Acton may presumably have had some influence on the selection of Messrs Francis as architects for St Paul’s. Particularly notable amongst the survivals from the old church, which was badly affected by war damage, are the stained glass windows by the distinguished firm of Heaton, Butler and Bayne; the naturalistic foliage carvings on the capitals of the columns and elsewhere; and the elaborate carved reredos (altarpiece) in the old chancel, now the side chapel.
St Faith’s Church
St Faith’s church was initially a mission church of St. Paul’s, built to serve the growing population of the northern part of the parish. St. Faith was an early Christian martyr, who was very popular in the Middle Ages; there has been a chapel dedicated to her in St. Paul’s Cathedral since the thirteenth century, so this may perhaps explain the dedication. A curate of St Paul’s, Rev W A Hewett, started the mission from a rented house in Windmill Road, and by 1903 a temporary church had been erected. The foundation stone of the permanent church was laid on 23 June 1906 by the Rev William Strachey-Clitherow of Boston Manor (who also donated the ‘eagle’ lectern to the church). St Faith’s was consecrated by the Bishop of London on 13 July 1907. The cost of this large church (to seat 654) was only £8,447 (including fittings). St Faith’s became a separate parish in December 1907.
The architect of St Faith’s was G F Bodley RA (1827-1907) perhaps working with Cecil Hare (1875-1933) who took over his office after his death, and who was recorded as completing the furnishing of the church. St Faith’s, with its monumentality, noble simplicity and refinement, is a worthy representative of the final phase of the Gothic Revival, dedicated to the building of large churches closely suited to an urban environment. Bodley was regarded on his death as one of the finest executants of this style, and St Faith’s was in fact the last substantially completed commission by the architect before his death in October 1907. Notable works by Bodley in London are the church of St Michael’s, Camden Town (1878-1894); St John the Baptist, Epping (1898-1909); and Holy Trinity, Kensington (1901-1907). The architectural historian Michael Hall has attributed the design of the pulpit, font and east window of St Faith’s to Bodley; the execution of the stained glass in the latter was by the firm of Burlison and Grylls, who also executed the small window in the baptistery. The side chapel includes an altar from the chapel of St James’s Palace, and delicate stained glass by Sir Ninian Comper. The organ is by William Hill and was brought from the closed church of St Paul’s, Great Portland Street, London.
In 1961, with the closure of St. Lawrence’s church New Brentford (St George’s had closed in 1959) the parishes of St Paul, St George and St Lawrence were united. It is interesting to note that the late Rev Arthur A Court was not only the last incumbent of the Parish of St Lawrence, New Brentford (from 1949) but the first and only vicar of the ‘United Parish of Brentford’ in its two incarnations of 1952 and 1961. On the retirement of Rev Court in 1983, a Pastoral Measure united the three parishes of St Paul, St Faith and St James Gunnersbury as the Parish of Brentford, under a Team Rector, the late Rev Malcolm Bridger. In May 1987 the Parish and team ministry of Brentford was established, comprising St Paul’s and St Faith’s churches, and small alterations were made to the parish boundaries in 1988 and 1993.
Between 1990 and 1992, the new church and parish centre at St. Paul’s was built, following the demolition of St James’s Church, and the sale of the land for £4m.The architect of the new St Paul’s parish church and centre was Dr Michael Blee (1931-1996), described in his obituary as ‘an enlightened architect of many talents’. Many of his most notable buildings, such as the restoration and rebuilding of the Church of All Saints, Isleworth (1967-70), the Catholic Church at Orpington (1981) and the completion of Douai Abbey, Berks (1994) were ecclesiastical. At St Paul’s he produced an exciting and harmonious combination of the old and the new, re-orienting the axis of the church to produce a totally new worship space, projected from the entrance hall (narthex) created from the old nave, and incorporating flexible spaces which can be used for a variety of community functions, including a hall and kitchen. The original chancel, reduced in height, serves as a side chapel and ‘memory box’, and houses a notable painting of the Last Supper by Johann Zoffany. Two new organs were installed, including a smaller one in the side chapel, made by Freiburger Orgelbau of Germany. Six icons by Geoffrey Lintott are included in subsidiary spaces in the main church, including ones portraying St George and St Lawrence, and thus providing a artistic link with the previous history of the parish. The new design won a number of awards, including an RIBA regional award. It is now home to the Open House café, in addition to many other community events. Paul Shaw