With the never ending lock-down being met with never ending warm weather, I decided to go and join up the dots of my new Stanmore tour which I actually worked out dreamt up whilst writing my blog posts on the area in the last few weeks.
For a spot of quirky history and some good old Social-Distancing, I think this ticks all the boxes but as the places I have visited thus far are all not too far from home, I wanted to make sure I could connect everything together at the furthers part of the walk which would be important because in the tour it would be both the start and end of the walk and it wouldn’t do to get lost.
So I started off and passed Coronavirus Diary – Social distancing on the battlefield with King Cassivellaunus – kicker of Roman ass! and Coronavirus Diary 32 – Exploring Grims Dyke and Coronavirus Diary 23 – A visit to Caesar’s Pond, Stanmore. and Coronavirus Diary 13 – Breaking the curfew for a peek over London and after 15 minutes walk through a wood further found myself just outside Stanmore Tube station. It was eerily quiet except for a family walking their little boy who was having fun trying to press the pedestrian crossing light with a stick.
In my head, I planned the first destination of the tour to be the ruined church of St John the Evangelist and I’d been thinking to myself what would I talk about in the 10 minutes from the tube station where I’d meet people to the first attraction. As luck would have it whilst doing my best to avoid Coronavirus Walkers I went along a quiet residential street and saw a sign which I hadn’t seen since for decades, possible since 1984, on the day I met the Queen at Commonwealth Day.
For those readers from overseas, Clement Attlee was the man who defeated Sir Winston Churchill immediately after WW2 and was ultimately the man who put into place our beloved NHS National Health Service. I’d always put David Lloyd-George and Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Thatcher as the most memorable and probably commanding Prime Ministers of the 20th century, followed by a lower level of great leaders that nonetheless stand above most of the rest. Clement Attlee is no doubt one of these add the fact his statue is in the heart of Parliament along with the three other leaders I’ve mentioned probably shows this to be a fair assumption.
This quite new plaque marks the spot of his private residence. Stanmore is one of the most expensive areas of London as you might have gathered from earlier photos with foreign monarchs, oligarchs and fascinating figures from history living here. Sadly it seems the home of Mr Attlee was likely both more than a bit run-down and on priceless land and so early in the 1980’s it was pulled down and the area no doubt very profitably made into blocks of flats. I’m sure Mrs Thatcher had nothing to do with this but irrespective of this, I’m not sure I could have a more interesting subject to talk about on the way to the church.
It is thought that there have been 5 religious buildings on or near this site. The first was a Roman sanctorum, which were usually built by crossroads that served as a public meeting point as well as a place of worship. Like much of the ancient world, Romans believed that spirits of the dead gathered around crossroads (You might like to read my post on Corpse Roads). It was therefore common to find a small shrine, or compita, set up wherever paths or roads met. These would have four altars to honour the spirits in each direction.
The Romans never really had enough manpower to properly occupy these islands and when the Vandals were attacking the Roman heartlands, Britannia was quickly relinquished albeit they thought on a temporary basis and soon the Saxons arrived and it was they who built the first wooden church here, pretty much on top of the Roman effort. Centuries later a 13th century church was built in the Medieval style and then in in 1632 the church of St John The Evangelist was built here in Greater Stanmore as opposed to Little Stanmore up where Caesar’s Ponds are.
Over the years this wealthy little village enjoyed an ever increasing population and this combined with the fact the church seemed to be built on unstable grounds resulted in it being decided it would be cheaper to build a new church next door than do what was required for the old one. The new church was consecrated in 1850 and in 1851 work began on dismantling the old church.
The roof was dismantled and part of the southern wall was taken down when the people of Stanmore caused an outcry, not wanting to see their priceless beautiful though totally surplus church be treated this way. And so the demolition work stopped leaving us what is described as the most picturesque ruin in Middlesex.
Since the last decades of the 20th century there has been a very real danger that the entire ruin would collapse and at least twice work has been undertaken to get rid of ivy and plants growing on the walls as well as doing essential stabilising work all of which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. However it can’t stay this way much longer, it has to either be totally repaired or knocked down in a controlled fashion.
Around 2015 an ambitious plan was proposed to restore the old church back to being a usable building. Due to the fact that the church now has no roof and the bricks are open to the elements it was decided that money alone would not stop the long-term destruction of the Old Church. It was agreed, therefore, to look at a more sustainable solution to arrest the decline. A new roof was proposed together with other works to make the Old Church a usable building, essentially a revitalised community building. Various design solutions were considered. The current proposal is for new timber beamed roof to sit below the restored parapet. Thus, giving the impression from the outside that a roof was not present. This proposal has been designed by a specialist contractor. To accompany this, an innovative heating and electrical system is proposed to keep the operational costs low.
On 13th March 2015, a meeting was held with senior members of English Heritage, now Historic England, Harrow Council Conservation and Planning Department, the DAC, Caroe and Partners and members of The Church Working Group. At the meeting, the general design principles were presented and the response was positively received from English Heritage.
So hopefully, one day soon, the old Church may well serve the people of Stanmore once again as some sort of community or heritage centre as the current ‘new’ church remains 30 seconds walk away.
Buried in vaults under the church is one of several Prime Ministers who lay here, the Earl of Aberdeen who for readers in North America will be interested finalised the border between present day Canada and present day United States.
The incredible Sir John Wolstenholme who financed the sailings of Henry Hudson around North America is also here, he also helped found the most powerful business in the history of the world, the East India Company.
There are many others too who all deserve a blog post or two.
Generally the church ruin is only open occasionally but for the purposes of the tour that doesn’t matter too much given we can peek through the security railings.
Other people take selfies with celebrities or famous sights, I take mine with ruined churches. If I look bedraggled it’s because I had already walked 4 miles in the very warm sunshine and been lying on the ground taking the previous photo.
I just remembered almost a year ago I sneaked into another much older church and found the long unseen tomb of General Wolfe of Quebec at Greenwich. I’m not sure how I never got round to blogging that so far…. but for now here is a blog about that particular church and one of the most Viking events imaginable. The Terrible Tale of Ælfheah – Archbishop of Canterbury
I’m not sure how I keep finding these places all within a walk of my house, I guess I am a natural fit for my chosen career. If you liked this and want to seem some incredible ruins and gardens, do check out my tour with Ye Olde England Tours Secret Gardens of the City of London