Built during a time of war

FROM THE OUTSIDE, the church of St Barnabas in Pitshanger Lane (Ealing) is not particularly attractive. Even though we visited it on a Sunday, it was locked up. However, we were fortunate to meet a lady, who had been in the church hall and happened to have the key to the church with her. Kindly, she unlocked the edifice, and we were able to enter. The church’s interior, unlike its exterior, is wonderful.

The church stands close to Brentham Garden Suburb, which was built largely between 1901 and 1915. I will write about the Suburb at a later date, but now I will concentrate on the church. Although the Suburb was built with a magnificent club house, there had been no plans to include a church. In 1907, a temporary church made from corrugated iron sheets, and dedicated to St Barnabas was constructed at the junction of Pitshanger Lane and Castlebar Park. Eventually, it was too small to accommodate its congregation in an area where plenty of housing was being constructed. For legal reasons, it was not possible to build a larger church on the site. So, in 1911 a larger plot was acquired at the corner of Pitshanger Lane and Denison Road (one of the streets within the Garden Suburb).

Ernest Shearman (1859-1939) was the architect chosen to build the larger St Barnabas Church, which can be seen today. After working in Buenos Aires and later at Sandringham, he moved to Winchester in 1907. From that year onwards, his work was mainly concerned with designing churches. According to a book by Hugh Mather about the centenary of the church of St Barnabas, all of Shearman’s churches:

“…are tall imposing buildings without spires, and their austere, simple architecture was designed so that elaborate furnishings and other adornments could be added subsequently …”

His churches represent “… almost the final flowering of the last phase of the Gothic Revival.”

All except one of his churches demonstrate Shearman’s fascination with rose windows and elaborate tracery. St Barnabas is a fine example of this.

The construction of the church began just before the start of WW1, in June 1914. It was completed in the middle of the war by June 1916, when it was consecrated.

The church has a spacious nave, which has a lovely timber ceiling. Although it was designed to reflect the heritage of the gothic era, the inside of the church feels almost contemporary. There is an enormous organ at the west end of the church. Made in 1851, it was made by the company of William Hill and  originally housed in St Jude’s Church in Southsea. It was moved to St Barnabas in 2011. Some of the pipes on the south side of the central tall organ pipes do not make sounds. They were added to the organ for purely aesthetic reasons. The current organ replaced an older, less reliable instrument, which was removed in 2010.

The apse is adorned by a large painting by James Clark (1857-1943), who was living in Bedford Park not far from the church when he created it. He was one of many artists residing in Bedford Park, which was an ancestor of the Garden Suburb movement. His painting in the apse depicts the three hierarchies of angels praising and adoring the Holy Trinity. It is a magnificent addition to the church.

As we did not want to delay the lady who opened the church for us, we did not have sufficient time to examine its interior in great detail, but it did demonstrate how wrong it was to, to rephrase a well-known saying, to judge a church by its cover.

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