St Peter’s Church was designed by the architect, Thomas Allom (1804-1872), as an integral part of his design for Kensington Park Gardens, Stanley Crescent and Stanley Gardens. His Ladbroke Estate housing, designed in 1852-3, and St Peter’s Church are Allom’s principal architectural work. Christchurch (1847-8) in Highbury, and the Great Hall (1860) at Highclere Castle are other examples of Allom’s work. Today, however, Thomas Allom is better known as an artist than as an architect.
The site for the church was presented by Charles Henry Blake (1794-1872), the area’s most successful property developer. Blake had spent most of his life in Bengal, initially as an indigo planter in the family business, and later as a rum and sugar manufacturer.
The foundation stone of St Peter’s was laid in November 1855, and the church was consecrated on 7 January 1857. At the time of its consecration, the church could accommodate 1,400 worshippers. It is probably the last 19th century Church of England church to be built in London in the classical style.
St Peter’s is a building of exceptional architectural quality, and is deservedly listed Grade II*; its western faÂade has a bold pediment and entablature carried on six engaged Corinthian columns. Within, the gallery fronts each contain three panels ornamented with the Keys of St Peter, floral swags and winged putti.
ADDITIONS TO THE CHURCH
In 1879 the church was enlarged by the addition of an apsidal chancel, the architects for which were James Edmeston (1824-1898) and his son, James Stanning Edmeston (1844-1887). The architect Charles Barry jnr (1823-1900) - eldest son of Sir Charles Barry, the architect with Augustus Pugin of the Houses of Parliament - was the consultant for this eastern extension. The chancel has double arches supported on Corinthian columns of Torquay red marble - these columns cost a mere £48 each!
Whilst major restoration of the interior took place in 2007 sadly the exterior of the church has not been restored and parts of it are now in a serious state of disrepair. Cracks have appeared in the pillars attracting vandalism, weeds grow from fissures in the portico and most worryingly parts of the masonry have deteriorated leaving the building exposed to the elements.
Click here for details of the current facade appeal
The spandrels of the western chancel arch are ornamented with a pair of angels bearing gilded trumpets and garlands. These sculptures are the work of Charles H Mabey, whose other work includes the dolphin lamp-standards on the Embankment.
The wall of the apse is decorated with a notable work in Venetian mosaic. The subject is Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, and the work was executed in 1880 by Messrs Burke & Salviati. The copy for the mosaicists was based on Oggione’s copy of da Vinci’s work; the treatment differs from the original in the arrangement of the background, which was designed by Charles Barry Jnr to harmonise with the architecture in this part of the church. Above the Last Supper mosaic are depicted the lamps, angels and stars of the Seven Churches of Asia.
The pulpit dates from 1889, and was also designed by Charles Barry jnr. Thomas Nelson Maclean (1845-1984) was the sculptor of the white marble bas-relief panels decorating the pulpit; these bas-reliefs depict significant times in the life of St Peter - The Call of St Peter, The Trial of Faith and The Charge.
In its windows St Peter’s Church has an important collection 19th century stained glass. Of particular note is the central pair of windows in the south aisle. These date from 1860, and are early works of John Richard Clayton (1827-1913) and Alfred Bell (1832-95). The west window (1857) by Henry Farmer was the original east window of the church; it was moved to its present position in 1879, when the apse was constructed. This window’s design is a copy of Raphael’s Feed My Sheep cartoon; note that, when viewed from the nave, the image is seen back to front!
MONUMENTS AND PLAQUES
The south aisle contains a fine monument to Frances Susanna Addams (1829-1860) by the sculptor, Matthew Noble (1818-1876). Frances Addams was the first wife of the parish’s first incumbent, the Rev Francis Holland Addams (1826-1891).
The Rev Dr John Robbins (1832-1906) was vicar of St Peter’s from 1862 to 1883, and his memorial (sculpted by Darsie Rawlins with lettering by Joan Hassall) can be seen in the foyer.
In the north aisle a plaque commemorates Louisa Mary Forsyth (1859-1876) and Emily Vesey Dawson Hire Forsyth (1855-1878). Louisa Forsyth was travelling from London to Bombay, when she drowned as a result of the dreadful collision on 17 February 1876 between the SS Strathclyde and the SS Franconia about a mile outside Dover harbour.
Finally, Horatia Nelson Cox (1845-1925), who is commemorated by a plaque on the chancel steps, was a first cousin twice removed of Admiral Lord Nelson.
L J Du Cane, March 2005