Wanstead: Religious history

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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'Wanstead: Religious history', in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, (London, 1973) pp. 332-336. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/essex/vol6/pp332-336 [accessed 5 March 2024]

In this section


There was a church at Wanstead by 1208. (fn. 1) The rector was then John of St. Lawrence, a canon of St. Paul's, and there was also a vicar, probably provided by the canon to serve the cure. No later reference has been found to a vicar. The advowson of the rectory descended with the manor of Wanstead until the 19th century, except for occasional turns. (fn. 2) About 1825 the next presentation was sold. (fn. 3) The advowson appears to have been finally alienated from the manor during the 1890s. By 1898 it had been acquired by the Misses Mary, Jessie, and Gertrude Nutter of Wanstead, who in that year conveyed the reversion, after their deaths, to the bishop of the diocese. (fn. 4) The bishop of Chelmsford became patron in 1926. (fn. 5)

In 1208, after a dispute between the rector and the priory of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, it was agreed that the priory should retain the tithes of Cann Hall, paying to the rector 4 qr. grain. (fn. 6) The payment continued to be made by the owners of Cann Hall down to the 19th century, in spite of occasional attempts by rectors to overthrow the agreement. (fn. 7) The rectory was valued at only £4 in 1254, (fn. 8) and in 1291 it was among the poorest Essex livings, being valued at only £2. (fn. 9) In 1535 it was assessed at £6 13s. 4d. (fn. 10) It was valued at £70 in 1604 and at £72 in 1650. (fn. 11) In 1650 an augmentation of £28 was granted by Parliament, but it had been withdrawn by 1655. (fn. 12) In the earlier 18th century the rectory was valued at £140. (fn. 13) The tithes were commuted in 1841 for £404, of which £2 was due from the owners of Cann Hall. (fn. 14) There were then 80 a. glebe situated in the north-east and north-west of the parish. Of that 32 a. were sold in 1867 (fn. 15) and most of the remainder by 1902. (fn. 16)

The ancient rectory house stood in South (or Parsons, later Redbridge) Lane, north of Wanstead Park. (fn. 17) In 1732 Earl Tylney granted the rector free use of water piped from the supply at Wanstead House. (fn. 18) About 1830 the rectory was rebuilt on or near the same site. (fn. 19) It was sold in 1924 to Essex county council, which demolished it and built Wanstead county high school there. (fn. 20) A new rectory was later built in Wanstead Place, opposite Christ Church.

William Smith, rector from 1542, was deprived in 1554 as a married priest. (fn. 21) Humphrey Maddison, who was rector when the Civil War began, signed the Protestation of 1641 along with his leading parishioners, headed by Sir Henry Mildmay. (fn. 22) Maddison also signed the Essex Testimony (1648), and in 1650 was described as 'an able godly preaching minister'. (fn. 23) He died in 1653, and the rectory was held by Paul Amiraut (1654–6) and Leonard Hoar (1656–60), each of whom was presented by Sir Henry Mildmay. (fn. 24) The presentation of Hoar was repeated later in 1656 by the Lord Protector. (fn. 25) With a title derived from a regicide and Cromwell himself it is not surprising that Hoar was ejected in 1660. (fn. 26) Thomas Harrison, who replaced him (1660–7), was deemed to have succeeded Maddison, Amiraut also being ignored. (fn. 27) In the 18th century, as far as is known, the rectors were usually resident and there are occasional references to assistant curates. (fn. 28) James Pound, rector 1707–24, is mentioned above. (fn. 29) Samuel Glasse (1786–1812) was a theologian, an advocate of Sunday schools, and a chaplain to the king. (fn. 30)

The ancient parish church, demolished in 1790, stood about 70 ft. south of the present one. Its site is still traceable in the churchyard by a line of gravestones marking the central aisle and memorial slabs marking the chancel. It was enlarged and renovated in 1709–10 by Richard Allison, a Wanstead builder, at a cost of £300, provided by subscription. (fn. 31) The walls were raised throughout to the same height as those of the chancel, involving the removal of the arcade between the nave and north aisle. The timber west tower was replaced by one of brick 54 ft. high, and a west gallery was erected. The south porch was removed and a west porch formed under the tower. Allison's work was faulty, and in 1714 the parish vestry compelled him to repair some of it. A drawing of the church from the south made c. 1715 shows a north aisle, a tower of three stages, and a box-like projecting sanctuary with roundheaded east window and roof pediment. (fn. 32) The tower seen from the west is well shown in a water-colour (1788) by J. M. W. Turner. (fn. 33) By 1786, when Samuel Glasse became rector, the church had become too small for its growing parish. Having rebuilt the church in his previous parish of Hanwell (Mdx.), he immediately launched a rebuilding scheme at Wanstead, for which statutory powers were obtained. (fn. 34)

Wanstead, St. Mary's Church, Pulpit

The site of the present church of ST. MARY was given by Sir James Long, Bt., out of his park. (fn. 35) The building cost £9,150 of which £3,500 was raised by subscription and most of the balance by tontine. The foundation stone was laid in 1787 and the building completed in 1790 in a classical style to the design of Thomas Hardwick. The church has not been substantially altered since it was built. It is of brick cased in Portland stone, comprising nave, chancel, north and south aisles, west porch, and bell-turret. The nave arcades of five bays have tall Corinthian columns. There are north, south, and west galleries, and a vestry at the east end of the south aisle. The Tuscan porch is supported by two pairs of columns, and above it the west front has a central pediment surmounted by a clock turret crowned by a domed bell cupola with paired Ionic columns. There are box pews and a fine pulpit with sounding-board. Much of the stained glass was destroyed in the Second World War and has not been replaced, but two small circular windows depicting the royal arms of George III and those of Sir James Long remain at the east end of the north and south aisles respectively. The original east window, said to have been copied from Murillo's painting of Christ bearing the Cross, at Magdalen College, Oxford, was replaced in 1890 by a memorial window to the Revd. W. Pitt Wigram, rector 1837–64. An organ was bought for the church about 1802, a new one in 1847, and the present one, in the west gallery, in 1923. (fn. 36) The fine brass chandelier in the chancel was given in 1899. (fn. 37)

The present church has five bells, dated 1789, 1843, and 1899 (three). The old church is said to have had three bells. In the church of Thorington (Suff.) is a bell inscribed 'Samuel Owen made me for Wanstead 1596'. It was given to Thorington in 1598 by (Sir) Edward Coke. (fn. 38) Whether it was ever in fact at Wanstead is not known. Perhaps it was a cancelled order. (fn. 39) The church plate includes two cups with paten covers, a flagon, two alms-dishes, a spoon, and an oval dish, all of silver dated 1790. (fn. 40) It was recast from earlier plate given in 1705 and 1707, the cost, including some additional silver, being met by Samuel Glasse.

The church contains several monuments from the earlier building, the most notable of which is a large marble monument to Sir Josiah Child, Bt. (1699) and his son Barnard (1698) against the south wall of the chancel. Sir Josiah's figure, in Roman costume and Stuart wig, stands between Corinthian columns under a segmental pediment on which recline two angels with trumpets. (fn. 41) There are tablets to Capt. John Morice (1638) and Mary Williamson (1683) on the walls of the north and south gallery stairs respectively. On the east wall of the north gallery is a monument to George Bowles (1817) by (Sir) Francis Chantrey. Floor slabs in the churchyard, on the site of the old church, include the indent of a lost brass, said to have been that of Sir John Huntercombe (1368). (fn. 42) A sentry-box in the church-yard probably dates from 1831. (fn. 43)

St. Mary's was the only Anglican church in Wanstead until 1861 when a chapel of ease, CHRIST CHURCH, Wanstead Place, was built of stone in the Early English style to the design of (Sir) George Gilbert Scott. (fn. 44) The south aisle was added in 1867 and the north tower and spire in 1868–9. The building was set back from High Street beyond a public park. Christ Church has remained a chapel of ease, but missions elsewhere within the ancient parish resulted in the formation of the new parishes of Holy Trinity, South Woodford, and St. Gabriel, Aldersbrook. The parish of Holy Trinity, Harrow Green (1879), also included part of Wanstead. (fn. 45) In 1898 St. Mary's had a mission room in George Lane. (fn. 46) The mission church of ST. JOHN, Nightingale Green (later Cowley Road), which existed in 1903 and later, (fn. 47) was probably also attached to St. Mary's.

The church of HOLY TRINITY, South Woodford, Hermon Hill, originated in 1882, when an iron building was erected. (fn. 48) A separate parish was formed in 1888, out of Wanstead and Woodford, the advowson of the vicarage being vested in the bishop of the diocese. A permanent church designed by J. Fowler in a correct late Norman style was completed in 1890. Most of its cost was met by the Misses Nutter, who also endowed the living.

The church of ST. GABRIEL, Aldersbrook, Aldersbrook Road, originated in 1903, when an iron building was erected. (fn. 49) A separate parish was formed in 1914 out of Wanstead and Little Ilford, the advowson of the vicarage being vested in the rector of Wanstead. A permanent church, designed by Charles Spooner in Perpendicular style, was completed in the same year, with the aid of contributions from the Misses Nutter.


A mass centre was opened in Wanstead in 1910 by the parish priest of Walthamstow. In 1918 it was transferred to the hall of the newly-opened St. Joseph's convent school, Cambridge Park. Wanstead became a separate parish in 1919; the church of OUR LADY OF LOURDES was opened in 1928, and completed in 1934–9.


Quakers were assembling at Wanstead at least as early as 1671, and by 1673 they had bought a building in George Lane for use as a meeting-house. (fn. 51) William Penn belonged to the meeting in the 1670s. (fn. 52) Wanstead was at first part of Ham and Waltham monthly meeting and from 1691 of Barking monthly meeting. By 1692 most of the Wanstead members had died or moved away, and the meeting-house was put up for sale. No buyer could be found, however, and it apparently remained in use until 1716, when it was sold to Joseph Wright, himself a Quaker, who demolished it and used the site to enlarge his own house. (fn. 53)

The present Quaker meeting at Wanstead originated in a shift of population during the later 19th century. Many of the wealthy Friends who had attended the Plaistow meeting-house (fn. 54) were moving farther from London, and about 1868 some of them began to meet for worship at Wanstead. (fn. 55) In 1870 the Becontree assembly rooms and archery ground at Bushwood were bought for a meeting-house, (fn. 56) mainly at the expense of J. Gurney Barclay. Substantial alterations were made to the building, and some of the furnishings, including oak panelling, were brought from Plaistow. In its early years the new meeting-house was attended by such prominent families as the Smith Harrisons, Godlees, Barclays, and Fowlers. Between 1870 and 1900 the total membership was about 85. From 1900 it rose steadily to a peak of 234 in 1930, after which it declined. The meeting-house was rebuilt in 1968 as a polygonal structure of white brick. (fn. 57)

Wanstead Congregational church, Grosvenor Road, originated in 1864. (fn. 58) At that time there was no nonconformist church at Wanstead, though shortlived meeting-houses had been registered in 1821 and 1844. (fn. 59) The first Congregational services were held in the court room of the Weavers' alms-houses, New Wanstead, and in 1865 the church was formally constituted with Benjamin Beddow as minister. Of the 24 original members 5 were inmates of the alms-houses. The building committee bought the Anglican church of St. Luke, King's Cross, which was being demolished to make way for St. Pancras railway station, and re-erected it on a site in the centre of Wanstead given by G. H. Wilkinson. It is of stone rubble with freestone dressings. A few alterations were made. The nave was shortened by one bay, only part of the chancel was rebuilt, and the nave clerestory and the north door were omitted. The church was opened in 1867. The cost was higher than expected, and the small congregation, heavily in debt, was preoccupied with money matters. Beddow found this situation intolerable and resigned in 1869. The debt was finally cleared in 1876, and for the next forty years the church flourished and grew, reaching a peak membership of about 200 in 1910. In 1903 it was the strongest free church in Wanstead. (fn. 60) During the pastorate of Nicholas Hurry (1873–82) a mission, founded in 1870 in George Lane, Woodford, became an independent church. (fn. 61) Hurry favoured the revivalism of Moody and Sankey, and for a time the church used Sankey's hymns. In 1897 the Grove Hall was built behind the church to accommodate a growing Sunday school. The church was badly damaged by bombing in 1940 and was re-dedicated after repairs in 1949. In 1951 the original schoolroom, now called the Cromwell Hall, was repaired.

Hermon Hill (ex-Wesleyan) Methodist church originated in 1869, when a small building was erected. (fn. 62) It was in the Hackney and later in the Clapton circuit. The present church was built in 1877 and in 1879 was included in the new Wanstead and Woodford circuit. (fn. 63) It was enlarged in 1882 and 1886. In the early years Hermon Hill's membership was small and after 1900 it was outstripped by that of Woodford, but after the Second World War it increased to over 250.

Cambridge Park (ex-United) Methodist church was founded about 1865 by Free Methodists from Forest Gate. (fn. 64) The church, and the old hall behind it, were built in 1875. (fn. 65) The Cambridge Park hall was added in 1900, but most of it was burnt down in 1962, and the Warren Hall was built on the site in 1964. (fn. 66) Like the Free Methodist churches in West Ham (fn. 67) Cambridge Park was originally in the Third London circuit, from which it passed to the Fifth London (or Forest Gate) circuit. It was later transferred successively to the Walthamstow circuit and the Leytonstone and Forest Gate circuit. (fn. 68)

Wanstead Baptist church, Wellington Road, originated in 1889, (fn. 69) when William Coverley held services in the open air in Cowley Road, and later in a dilapidated carpenter's shop. (fn. 70) With the help of friends at Spurgeon's College he raised money to buy a site in Wellington Road and to erect an iron hall there. A church of 16 members was formed in 1894, with Coverley and Edward Scoones as copastors. In 1904 a schoolroom, vestry, baptistery, and kitchen were added, and further extensions were made in 1930. The membership has always been very small, and the church has depended mainly on lay pastors.

Aldersbrook Baptist church, Dover Road, (fn. 71) grew out of a small undenominational mission which existed in 1898. (fn. 72) A hall was built in Dover Road in 1902 and in 1906 the church was formally constituted. The present church building, adjoining the hall, was erected in 1909. During the 1930s the membership rose to a peak of about 100, from which it later declined. The church was bombed during the Second World War but was completely renovated thereafter.


Woodford and District Liberal synagogue, Marlborough Road, South Woodford, was built in 1965. (fn. 73)


  • 1. B.M. Cott. Ch. XIII, 18, 20.
  • 2. E.A.T. N.S. xviii. 17; Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 639; Guildhall MS. 9558, f. 374; Crockford's Cler. Dir. passim. John Torrell, who presented in 1450, had probably bought that turn. Elizabeth I presented by lapse in 1586 when Leicester was abroad.
  • 3. E.R.O., D/AEM 2/6.
  • 4. Handbk. Chs. Barking Deaneries, 33–4; E.R.O., D/CPc 94; Crockford's Cler. Dir. (1899 sqq.); Kelly's Dir. Essex (1898 sqq.); for the Nutters see Ch. Pl. Essex, 42.
  • 5. Chel. Dioc. Yr. Bk. (1927). Miss G. Nutter died in 1926: Char. Com. files.
  • 6. B.M. Cott. Ch. XIII, 18, 20; cf. Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 639.
  • 7. As in 1276: Cat. Anct. D. v. A 13660; and in the early 16th century: G.L.C. DL/C/206, f. 91v.
  • 8. E.A.T. N.S. xviii. 17.
  • 9. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 24.
  • 10. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i. 435.
  • 11. H. Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 18, 247.
  • 12. Ibid. 209, 211.
  • 13. Guildhall MSS. 9550 and 9556, f. 62.
  • 14. E.R.O., D/CT 384.
  • 15. Wanstead Par. Ch., Docs. in Black Folder.
  • 16. Kelly's Dir. Essex, 1902, cf. 1898.
  • 17. Chapman and André, Map of Essex, 1777, sheet xxi.
  • 18. E.R.O., D/DCw T6.
  • 19. E.R.O., D/AEM 2/6; Guildhall MS. 9531/24, f. 571.
  • 20. See p. 336.
  • 21. Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 639; cf. H. E. P. Grieve, 'The deprived married clergy of Essex, 1553–61' (Trans. R. Hist. S. 4th ser. xxii. 141).
  • 22. Wanstead Par. Ch., Parish Register (photo: E.R.O., T/P 88).
  • 23. H. Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 108, 247.
  • 24. Ibid. 350–1; Lambeth MS. 997(1), f. 70.
  • 25. H. Smith, Eccl. Hist. Essex, 351.
  • 26. Ibid. 379; D.N.B. He returned to America and became president of Harvard.
  • 27. Newcourt, Repertorium, ii. 639.
  • 28. E.R.O., D/P 292/8/6 sqq.; Guildhall MS. 9550.
  • 29. See p. 321.
  • 30. D.N.B.
  • 31. D/P 292/8/6; Stow's Survey of Lond. ed. J. Strype, ii(6), 121; E.R.O., D/DB T545/15; E.R.O., T/A 366.
  • 32. Supplement du Nouveau Theâtre de la Grande Bretagne (1728), pls. v, vi, vii.
  • 33. E.R. x. 131.
  • 34. E.R. x. 130; Act for rebuilding the church of … Wanstead, 27 Geo. III, c. 63; Act for amending an Act … for rebuilding the church of … Wanstead, 29 Geo. III, c. 14; E.R.O., D/P 292/8/9.
  • 35. Paragraph based on: E.R. x. 130–5; E.R.O., D/P 292/8/9; Guildhall MS. 9531/22, f. 32v–36; Ogborne, Essex, 65–7; Pevsner, Essex, 412; E.R.O., D/P 292/28/2–10 (papers on the building of the church).
  • 36. E.R.O., D/P 292/8/9; White's Dir. Essex (1848), 263; W. Eastment, Wanstead through the Ages, 34.
  • 37. Eastment, op. cit. 33.
  • 38. Ch. Bells Essex, 437–8, cf. 65.
  • 39. The bell was cast during the Earl of Essex's brief tenure of the manor of Wanstead.
  • 40. Ch. Plate Essex, 42–4.
  • 41. R.C.H.M., Essex, ii. 249, and illus. f.p. 250; E.R.O., Stuart Essex (1966), cover illus.; Pevsner, Essex, 412.
  • 42. For church and churchyard monuments, including some which have disappeared, see: Lysons, Lond. iv. 238; Eastment, Wanstead, 35; E.R. x. 133.
  • 43. See p. 332.
  • 44. For Christ Church see: E.R.O., T/P 94/11; Christ Church, Wanstead, 1881–1961; Essex Churchman, May 1955.
  • 45. See p 220.
  • 46. Chs. Barking Deaneries, 33–4.
  • 47. R. Mudie-Smith, Relig. Life Lond. 363; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1917, 1926).
  • 48. Paragraph based on: Chs. Barking Deaneries, 51; Kelly's Dir. Essex (1886, 1890, 1894); E.R.O., D/AEM 1/9.
  • 49. Paragraph based on: St. Mary's and Christ Church, Wansteadour daughter church of St. Gabriel's (1913); Kelly's Dir. Essex (1917); Pevsner, Essex, 413.
  • 50. Paragraph based on inf. from Revd. J. V. Hemming.
  • 51. Unless otherwise stated this account, up to 1716, is based on the following records in Friends' Ho. Libr.: Waltham M.M. Minutes; Barking M.M. Minutes and Accounts; Essex Q.M. Mins. See also Beck and Ball, London Friends' Meetings, 274. For the site, identified by Mr. J. Smith, cf. E.R.O., D/DB P32, D/DGn 231, D/DCy P3, f. 150.
  • 52. Hist. MSS. Com. 11th Rep. App. VII, 16.
  • 53. E.R.O., D/DA T488, 490.
  • 54. See p. 132.
  • 55. Beck and Ball, London Friends' Meetings (1869), 275, states that the meetings had been started 'just recently'.
  • 56. The remainder of this paragraph is based on: Friends' Ho., Ratcliff and Barking M.M. Mins.; Hadley, Wanstead Friends' Mtg.; Reminiscences of Theodore Godlee and Edith Lister (notes collected by Dorothy Pollard); E.R. lx. 194–5.
  • 57. Eastment, Wanstead, 40.
  • 58. Account based on: Wanstead Cong. Ch. Deacons' Min. Bk. and Church Min. Bk.; Cong. Year Bks.; D. Speedyman, Wanstead Cong. Ch. 1865–1965.
  • 59. G.R.O., Rtns. Noncf. Mtg. Ho. cert. to Bps. Cts. before 1852, nos. 1213 and 2202.
  • 60. R. Mudie-Smith, Relig. Life Lond. 363.
  • 61. See p. 357.
  • 62. The information in this paragraph, which was supplied by Mr. G. Harrington, is based on: Wanstead Wesleyan Ch. Bdg. Committee Mins. 1896 sqq.; Wanstead and Woodford Circuit Schedules and Trust Deeds.
  • 63. Hall's Circuits and Ministers, 316. Presumably Wanstead had been in the Clapton circuit 1876–9.
  • 64. Meth. Free Ch. Mag. 1865; Eastment, Wanstead, 40.
  • 65. Foundation stone; Worship Reg. 22609; inf. from Mr. Pitney.
  • 66. Cambridge Pk. Meth. Ch., Opening of Warren Hall (1964).
  • 67. See p. 136.
  • 68. U.M. Mins. Conf. passim; Methodist Census, 1940; local inf.
  • 69. Paragraph based on the following sources, all in the keeping of the church secretary: Church Min. Bks.; Reminiscences of William Coverley (MS.); 'These Sixty Years' (TS.); Wanstead Baptist Ch. (jubilee pamph.).
  • 70. Probably in Nightingale Lane: Worship Reg. 31848.
  • 71. Paragraph based on inf. from Revd. L. B. Crowe.
  • 72. Cf. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1898).
  • 73. Foundation stone.