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Church of St Michael and All Angels, Greenwich

Description: Church of St Michael and All Angels

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 8 June 1973
English Heritage Building ID: 200219

OS Grid Reference: TQ3996975896
OS Grid Coordinates: 539969, 175896
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4647, 0.0136

Location: Blackheath Park, Greenwich, Greater London SE3 9SJ

Locality: Greenwich
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: SE3 9SJ

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Listing Text

08-JUN-73 (North side)

1828-30 by George Smith. Refitted 1881-2 and N and S porches added to the design of the local architect Edward dru Drury. 1878-9 NE vestry added by Richard Norman Shaw. Reordering 1981.

MATERIALS: White brick with Bath stone dressings. Welsh slate roofs (renewed 1988).

PLAN: Eight-bay nave and chancel in one, N and S aisles (shorter than the nave by one bay at the W end), N and S porches, tower at the E end, NE vestry.

EXTERIOR: The body of the church is very tall and the tower and spire, placed, quite extraordinarily, at the E end, have an attenuated quality, earning for the spire the nickname `the needle of Kent¿. The aisles and clerestoried nave have plain parapets and shallow pilasters demarcating the bays and rise into pinnacles over the nave. The fenestration throughout the side elevations is of two lights with a quatrefoiled circle in the head: in the aisles the windows have a transom. The tower has diagonal buttresses and a very large E window. In its lower part this is in Geometrical style and has three lights terminating in a cinquefoiled circle: above this comes a Perpendicular treatment of three lights with panel tracery and with the main openings filled with cusped crosses in square frames. The tower has tall pinnacles at the corners and a plain parapet, slightly gabled to the E and W. Behind this rises the spire which starts as an octagonal drum with tall single-light lancet openings and is topped by an open parapet with three openings per side. The drum also has thick buttresses at the angles which rise into tall pinnacles. The tapering portion of the spire has angle ribs and one tier of spire lights. Norman Shaw¿s NE vestry is broadly in keeping with the 1830 church but has a five-light Perpendicular window fronting onto the road.

INTERIOR: The interior is light has a great sense of verticality thanks to the tall arcades and clerestory, and the slender shafts rising from the ground to springing of the roof. The arcades which stretch from one end of the church to the other have seven bays. There are responds in the E-W directions with moulded capitals. The focus at the E end is the ornate reredos and the large three-light window above with a large cinquefoil in its head. This window is in the W wall of the tower although this is not immediately obvious since there is a corresponding large window in the E face of the tower. The nave/chancel roof has arch-braces to tie-beams and has three canted sides, divided into square panels by moulded ribs and the main trusses.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: The reredos has prominent pinnacled shafts dividing it into bays, with cusped arches and delicate panel tracery at the sides. The two middle bays have a gable in the head containing a traceried circle. The decoration on the reredos probably dates from 1881-2. There is a gallery around the full length of the N, S and W sides with seats and fronts dating from 1881-2. At the W end it houses an ornate organ-case with a series of towers and flats and with gilded decoration. The nave seating dates from the same time and has shaped ends with seat numbers painted on them and umbrella holders. The font is a plain octagonal piece with IHS carved on the E face. The stone pulpit is a World War I memorial in a conventional Gothic style with open traceried sides.

HISTORY: The estate stands in the Cator Estate which was purchased by John Cator in 1783. It lay partly in the parishes of Lee and Charlton and partly in the Liberty of Kidbrooke. The latter had no church and the other two were a long way off. As housing development took place a church was deemed necessary and in 1828 John Barwell Cator, nephew of John Cator, gave £4,000 and a plot of land at the centre of the estate for the building of a proprietory chapel. The foundation stone was laid on 20 December that year and it was complete in February 1830. The builder was William Moore, a local bricklayer and carpenter. The church became parochial in 1874 and the dedication of St Michael and All Angels was given to it. A major refitting took place in 1881-2 when the seating and gallery fronts were replaced. The nave seating has numbers on the ends and these remain as a reminder that pew rents were not abolished at this church until after World War II (a highly unusual but by no means unique situation). A century later in 1981 there was a further reordering undertaken by John Burden, a member of the congregation, with movable stalls for the clergy, communion rails and tables and reusing the 1881 fittings where possible.

The architect, George Smith (1783-1869), was surveyor to, and twice master of the Coopers' Company. He was a friend of J B Cator and designed a number of houses on the state, including the original Brooklands House (1827) where he lived, and also several stations in south London, among them the original London Bridge and the station house at Blackheath.

Architecturally this is a remarkable building. It shows how Gothic was coming to be the accepted style for church-building in late Georgian times, although it was not of the archaeologically correct kind that came to be demanded from about 1840 and which underpinned the early years of the Victorian Gothic Revival. This is most evident in the extraordinary steeple where the big E window is described as consisting `of a crazy assembly of motifs utterly unworried by considerations of antiquarian accuracy¿ (Cherry and Pevsner). The placing of the steeple at the E end is both highly unusual and rather disconcerting. As the church's guide leaflet suggests this location was 'probably as an eye-catcher to make the central cross-roads [of the estate] more impressive'. The fine, airy interior clearly shows changing taste in the later C19. As was commonly the case with church built in the 1820s or 1830s the box-pews were cleared out and open benches with shaped ends installed: often galleries retained their seating during such schemes but here even the fronts were replaced.

Neil Rhind, Blackheath Village and its Environs, vol 2, 1983, pp 90-3.
'St Michael & All Angels Blackheath Park, Historical Note' [typescript guide sheet]
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South, p 247.
Antonia Brodie et al., Directory of British Architects 1834-1914, vol 2001, p 642

The church of St Michael and All Angels, Greenwich, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* It is an outstanding example of Gothic church building of c.1830 with unusual and remarkable architecture.
* It is important as an example of early C19 private church-building patronage.
* It has a good assemblage of late Victorian seating and galleries.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.