St Mary Abbots

St Mary Abbots is a church located on Kensington High Street and the corner of Kensington Church Street in London W8.

St Mary Abbots
St Mary Abbots Church in 2007
LocationKensington, London
DenominationChurch of England
Previous denominationRoman Catholic
ChurchmanshipHigh Church
StatusParish church
Functional statusActive
Heritage designationGrade II*
Architect(s)Sir George Gilbert Scott
Completed1872 [1]
Capacity700 [2]
Length179 feet (55m)[2]
Width109 feet (34m)[2]
Number of spiresOne
Spire height278 feet [2]
Vicar(s)The Rev'd Preb Gillian Craig

The present church structure was built in 1872 to the designs of Sir George Gilbert Scott, who combined neo-Gothic and early-English styles. This edifice remains noted for having the tallest spire in London and is the latest in a series on the site since the beginning of the 12th century.

The church, and its railings, are listed at Grade II* on the National Heritage List for England.[3]



Sir Aubrey de Vere was a Norman knight who was rewarded with the manor of Kensington, among other estates, after the successful Norman Conquest. Around 1100, his eldest son, Godfrey (great-uncle of Aubrey, 1st Earl of Oxford),[4] was taken seriously ill and cared for by Faritius, abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of St Mary at Abingdon. After a period of remission, Godfrey de Vere died in 1106 aged about 19.[2]

The de Vere family's gratitude to the abbey for their son's care was recognised by its bequest of land 270 acres (1.1 km2). In 1262 the abbey founded a church and parish in Kensington, dedicated to St Mary. The epithet of Abbots is deemed to derive from its link with the ancient Abingdon Abbey rather than that subsequently with the diocese of the Bishop of London. However, this led to a dispute with the bishop and legal action followed in the diocesan consistory court. This resulted in the patronage of the church passing to the bishop in perpetuity but rights over the surrounding land remaining with the abbey.[2] The succession of vicars is recorded in a direct line back to this foundation in 1262.


In 1370 the Norman church was rebuilt.[2] When William III relocated the Royal Court to Kensington Palace the area became fashionable rendering the medieval church too small, thus it was demolished at the end of the 17th century and replaced by a Late Renaissance-style building. This in turn proved too small as London urbanised in the 19th century.

Around 1860 the vicar, Archdeacon William Sinclair, launched a campaign for the building of a striking new church. The architect George Gilbert Scott was engaged and recommended the demolition of the existing church to take advantage of the site at the road junction. St Mary Abbot's design is almost certainly influenced by Scott's earlier work on Dunblane Cathedral - its west front's tall window and carved tympanum are similar to those in the Cathedral. The 278 ft (85 m) high spire is clearly influenced by that of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.[2] The present church retains many fittings from the earlier churches, especially funeral monuments from the mid-17th century onwards.

In June 2015, the church launched a major fundraising appeal, looking to raise around £7.2m,[5] to be spent on restoring the church and improving it as a community hub.


The tower holds a ring of ten bells hung for change ringing. Five of these bells, the fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth of the current ring date from 1772 and were cast by Thomas Janaway. The other five, the treble, second, third, seventh and tenor were cast in 1879 by John Warner & Sons.[6]

Primary school

The church has an associated primary school in its churchyard, which was founded in 1707 as a Charity School.[7] The school buildings were designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1711, but demolished in the 1870s to make way for a town hall. The present buildings date from 1875 and are notable for the painted stone statues by Thomas Eustace of a boy and girl, dating from about 1715,[8] now on the north face of the school; its playgrounds intersperse with the churchyard, and the school maintains close links with the Church of England.[9][10]

Notable people

Notable clergy

Notable parishioners


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