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Wednesday, 26 November 2014
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St Mary's Church

  Date: 1714

Nave collapses and is rebuilt in 1714

 
See also: John James
St Mary's Church in 1809, from the river
St Mary's Church in 1809, from the river
14th century - earliest recorded incumbent

The Church of St Mary the Virgin offers a remarkable stylistic contrast: a mediaeval ragstone tower joined to a red brick Queen Anne nave and chancel. The 15th century tower is the survivor of an earlier building which was probably itself even older. This building collapsed at night on the 9th April 1713.

There may have been a simple building on the land in Saxon times but the earliest recorded incumbent was presented on 12 November 1332. However, there is an earlier reference to "Alan, vicar of Twickenham" in the accounts of Richard Earl of Cornwall for 1296/7. The land here, a rising promontory beside the River Thames was probably chosen as a landmark, and a place for a refuge in times of trouble.

At the point of collapse

The old building was in a poor state of structural repair and the new vicar, Dr Pratt, had refused to conduct any more services within it. Emergency repairs were being discussed only 3 days before it fell. Records indicate that pillars, possibly replacing walls during the previous century were on the point of collapse.
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St Mary's Church 1842, from Church Street
St Mary's Church 1842, from Church Street
Lady Wentworth, writing a month later described the event in her own eccentric fashion:

Dr Pratt had insisted that a tabernakle be erected in the churchyard, prior to the collapse. Soe he preached there and exhorted al to giv thanks for thear great deleverenc for the church not falling when they wear in it, it being then standing. The people all laughed at him, and in a week’s time it fell to the ground, soe all the parish contrebutse to the building of it.

Redbrick Queen Anne nave and chancel

The Churchwardens at that time were Sir Godfrey Kneller (1649-1723) of Kneller Hall, the court painter, and Thomas Vernon of Twickenham Park, a former Turkey merchant.

Some £1300 was immediately raised (though the final costs were greater), and work started quickly on the rebuilding which was completed by the end of 1714, in the reign of the new King, George I.
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The architect was John James (c1672-1746). Some three years earlier James had been responsible for the building of Orleans House for Secretary Johnston.

James’s work for St Mary’s church was restricted by having to build over the site of the old church and also to incorporate the ragstone tower into the new building. A glimpse up at the inner wall of the tower from the nave of the present church reveals that the alignnment of the tower is slightly askew, though this is not apparent from the outside.

Memorials and monuments

The church contains a large number of memorials and monuments, the earliest, to Richrd and Agnes Burton, dated 1443 having survived from the old building. There are also registers of baptisms, marriages and burials from 1538. The earliest surviving Churchwardens' Accounts and Vestry Minutes start in 1606 and 1618 respectively.


Further reading:

R S Cobbett, Memorials of Twickenham, Smith Elder, 1872
Anthony Beckles Willson, The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Twickenham, 2000
J J Cartwright, The Wentworth Papers 1705-1739, 1883
D H Simpson, Twickenham Society in Queen Anne's Reign, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper No.35.

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The old building was in a poor state of structural repair and the new vicar, Dr Pratt, had refused to conduct any more services within it


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