The parish of St Paul’s, Wimbledon Park, was founded out of Wandsworth parish on 3 November 1877 to serve the developing suburb of Southfields. From the beginning two churches were established: St Paul’s to serve the wealthy parish founders in the west and St Barnabas as a mission church to serve the poor in the newly-built terraced housing in the east. The first churches were temporary but in 1888 building began on a new St Paul’s Church, which was completed and consecrated in 1896.
While the population in St Barnabas’ area grew rapidly in the first 50 years, the richer part of the parish scarcely changed. In 1922 St Barnabas became a separate parish and in the 1920s and 1930s St Paul’s became known as the smallest and richest parish in the Diocese. All this changed after the second world war when the large mansions and grounds were redeveloped by the LCC / GLC and Wandsworth Borough Council to provide flats for thousands of people displaced by war damage and slum clearance.
St Paul’s Church responded by building a hall for church and community activities next door to the church and running well-respected youth and children’s clubs for children in the parish (its popular summer holiday play scheme has run for over thirty years). The parish now has a particularly varied housing mix, ranging from large detached houses and luxury flats to council flats whose low-income residents made the parish an urban priority area after the 1991 census. The parish has a population of some 8,500 people living in some 3,500 dwellings.
The parish is part of an area that was once part of Earl Spencer’s estate and is now a conservation area.
St Paul’s Church is listed Grade II* because of the quality of its architecture and furnishings. The architects were Somers Clarke and John Thomas Micklethwaite, a very respected partnership who later became Surveyors (chief architects) to St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey respectively.
St Paul’s Church has been described as “the late Victorian suburban church at its best”: Gothic in style, plain red-brick with stone detailing on the outside and a much-admired Victorian Gothic interior, noted for its light and spacious quality. Apart from the fittings and decorations the church remains as built apart from the organ screen added by Henley Cornford in 1937.
The other outstanding feature of St Paul’s is its furnishings, almost all of which date from its early years and are by Charles Eamer Kempe or his studio. The Kempe work includes all ten stained glass windows, dating from 1892 to 1914, the carved oak rood screen (1890s), the carved oak pulpit (1898), the oak choir stalls with carved ends (1890s), the reredos (1908), the chancel ceiling stencilled decoration and oak panelling (1921), the Lady Chapel altar, triptych, credence table and kneeler (1923) and finally the stone calvary war memorial outside the west end (1919). It is likely that the marble font (1908) and oak canopy are also by Kempe and possibly a processional cross and banner.
St Paul’s Church is one of only a very few churches and chapels in the country to be so completely decorated and furnished, including stained glass, by Kempe. Of the other furnishings, the organ is very fine and was installed by W. Hill and Sons in 1892. The only significant non-Kempe furnishings are the brass eagle lectern (1907) and the oak pews designed in arts and crafts style by Henley Cornford in the 1930s, with the pew ends carved by the Wimbledon School of Art, given as memorials by parishioners.
The interior of the church was restored and redecorated for its centenary in 1996 under the direction of architect Mr Paul Velluet and the exterior brick and stonework were cleaned and repaired in 1999 with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund through its joint grants scheme with English Heritage.
Links with Oxford Movement and Notable Parishioners
The architects and furnisher were chosen because they expressed in their designs the liturgical aspirations of the late Victorian Anglo-Catholics. St Paul’s had close links with major figures in the Oxford Movement. Its principal founder and benefactor was Frederick Lygon, the 6th Earl Beauchamp, described by Owen Chadwick in “The Victorian Church” as “the ecclesiastical layman par excellence”. His large house, Elmley House, still remains in the parish at 81, Parkside.
Canon H. P. Liddon of St Paul’s Cathedral contributed to the early funds and his brother, John, was another founder and major benefactor, in whose memory the rood screen and Lady Chapel furniture were given.
Canon Henry Scott Holland, his parents and siblings were also founding parishioners and major benefactors. Scott Holland regularly preached in the church in the early years.
(Bishop) Charles Gore grew up in the parish and contributed to the building fund.
Eleanor Roosevelt (eminent First Lady married to her cousin, President of the U.S.A. F.D. Roosevelt) went to school at Allenswood in the parish (1899 – 1902); we do not know if she worshipped at St Paul’s but her headmistress, Madame Souvestre, certainly contributed regularly to its funds.
The organ at St Paul’s dates from 1892. It was built by William Hill and Son, a highly respected firm of organ builders of that time. It has been added to over the years but the basic tone is recognised as typical of the work of Hill. It has a lovely “English” sound which is assisted by the excellent acoustics of the church. The organ chamber houses more than 1,500 pipes and underneath them are the bellows which are filled with air from two electric motors. The finely carved organ case by Kempe faces into the chancel and provides a display of speaking pipes.
In 1959 a major re-build was undertaken by Percy Daniel and Co. Ltd. of Clevedon, Avon, who have maintained the organ since that time. A new console was provided and moved into the nave and there were tonal improvements and additions which achieved a greater brightness of sound, including a new Trumpet stop which is particularly fine and even. The organ was then a two-manual instrument consisting of Great and Swell (as well as the Pedal section), but provision was made for a third section or department, a Positive, which was completed in 1975 when five new stops were added, two of them from old organs. In 1981 and 2000 the instrument was overhauled with all the pipes removed for cleaning and some repairs made to the action.
The registers can be inspected by appointment, or the parish staff can search the registers on your behalf. Both services are subject to modest fees. Contact the vicar for further details.
Vicars – Past & Present
The noticeboard on the left side of the vestibule entrance lists the vicars from 1877 to the present. The year indicates the year of induction.
1877 Edmund Church Brace
1914 William Faulkner Baily
1927 Francis Powell Read
1931 Nevill Warham Robertson
1937 Thomas Primmitt Stevens
1956 John Tinsley
1970 George Russell
1980 John Michael Shepherd
1990 William Allberry
1999 Heinz Toller (present vicar)