Sunbury: Churches

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.

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'Sunbury: Churches', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington, (London, 1962), pp. 61-63. British History Online [accessed 13 June 2024].

. "Sunbury: Churches", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington, (London, 1962) 61-63. British History Online, accessed June 13, 2024,

. "Sunbury: Churches", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington, (London, 1962). 61-63. British History Online. Web. 13 June 2024,


A priest is mentioned in the account of Sunbury manor given in Domesday Book (fn. 1) and Sunbury church is referred to in 1157. (fn. 2) The church continued to serve the whole parish until 1881, when the new parish of St. Saviour's, Upper Sunbury, was created. (fn. 3) In 1949 the Charlton district was transferred to Littleton for ecclesiastical purposes. (fn. 4)

In 1157 Sunbury church was mentioned as the property of Westminster Abbey, which owned Sunbury manor. The abbey did not appropriate the church property, though later in the century it was granted a pension of 2 marks a year from it. (fn. 5) The lords of other manors, however, alienated some of their tithes from the rector: the lord of Kempton granted the great tithes of that manor to Grestain Abbey in Normandy before 1104 and by 1291 two-thirds of the great tithes of Charlton belonged to St. Bartholomew's Priory, Smithfield. (fn. 6) Westminster Abbey itself held the tithes of the demesne of Halliford manor, but all of this seems to have lain within Shepperton parish, so that the income of Sunbury church was not affected. (fn. 7)

In 1222 the advowson of Sunbury was transferred along with the manor from Westminster Abbey to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's. By the agreement which gave effect to this St. Paul's were to appropriate the church, ordaining a perpetual and well-endowed vicarage. (fn. 8) They still retained the advowson in 1957, (fn. 9) but they sold the rectory estate in 1799 to the owner of Kempton manor. (fn. 10) They are known to have leased it from the 14th century, (fn. 11) and from 1573 to 1711 the lessee was usually if not always the lord of Sunbury manor. (fn. 12) After the great tithes were extinguished in 1803 in return for land (fn. 13) the rectory estate is not referred to again.

The vicarage was valued at £5 in 1254, and at £4 6s. 8d. in 1291, (fn. 14) but the valuation of £7 10s. 1½ d. in 1311 may be more accurate than either of these since it was apparently not made for tax purposes. The rectorial estate at the same date was worth £22 15s., which came only from the great tithes and a house referred to as the site of the manor. The vicar received the small tithes and offerings and held all the church lands, which comprised about 29 acres. (fn. 15) In 1086 the priest had been said to hold ½ virgate. (fn. 16) In 1650 the vicar's glebe was estimated at 48 acres, (fn. 17) but in 1803 there were apparently only 37 acres. (fn. 18) In 1535 the living was worth £13 6s. 8d., and in 1650 £40. (fn. 19) In 1667, perhaps as a result of an arrangement made during the Interregnum, the lessee of the rectory was paying the vicar £20 a year. (fn. 20) The living was worth £100 a year by the 18th century. (fn. 21) In 1803 the vicar was awarded 175 acres of land instead of his small tithes, (fn. 22) and in 1835 the benefice was worth £336 a year net. (fn. 23) In 1842 the vicar gave £250 to augment the living and in 1955-6 the endowment was worth £421 net and the income of the benefice was £591 net. (fn. 24) There were still 10 acres of glebe in 1957: (fn. 25) the rest had been sold at various dates from 1864. A farm-house had been built on the glebe-land by 1889 and at that time the income was augmented by royalties from brickworking. (fn. 26) The vicarage house on the west side of Church Street was sold in 1920 and a new one was built in Thames Street. (fn. 27) A vicarage house had been first mentioned in 1253. (fn. 28) In 1673 it was said to be ready to fall down. (fn. 29) The north wing of the Old Vicarage may date from soon after this, but the main block is of the early 19th century.

One vicar, Walter Richardson (d. 1602), alleged in his will that the sins of his parishioners had made them 'a byword and mocking stock' to neighbouring villages. (fn. 30) By 1650 the parish had a 'pious, preaching minister' who had been appointed by the Commissioners of the Great Seal. (fn. 31) John Turner, vicar from 1656 until he was ejected in 1662 or 1663, was a Presbyterian. (fn. 32) The 18th-century incumbents included a few of some note. John Heylyn, vicar 1742-7, a theologian known in his time as the 'mystic doctor', probably did not reside, (fn. 33) but John Mulso, vicar 1747-60, lived at Sunbury and was visited there by his friend Gilbert White the naturalist, who preached in the church. (fn. 34) James Cowe, vicar 1790-1842, kept a meteorological register at the vicarage. (fn. 35) There was generally a curate from the 18th century until 1945, (fn. 36) and one of these was Daniel Sandford (d. 1830), afterwards Bishop of Edinburgh. (fn. 37)

Two Sunday services were held in the 18th century and in 1886, (fn. 38) and services on one or two weekdays were started in the late 18th century. (fn. 39) Between 1886 and 1894 a third Sunday service and daily services were started. (fn. 40) Communion services were held six times a year in the 18th century and about 1800 there were some 40 communicants. (fn. 41) In 1878 the vestry complained to the bishop that the choir remained in the church during communion services although they did not partake, and that the vicar did not perform the manual acts of consecration within sight of most of the communicants. (fn. 42) In 1957 a new vicar reduced the number of communion services, so that there are one or two on Sundays and only one during the week. (fn. 43) The main Sunday services in 1959 were matins at 11.15, replaced by choral eucharist once a month, and parish communion at 9.30. In 1959 there were 450 people on the electoral roll. (fn. 44)

In 1845 the people of Charlton went to church at Littleton, which was nearer than the parish church. (fn. 45) Mission churches were founded at Upper Sunbury and Upper Halliford between 1870 and 1872. (fn. 46) The one at Upper Sunbury became independent, (fn. 47) but the Upper Halliford church is still served from the parish church. (fn. 48) The original mission room was replaced in 1906 by the small brick-built Gothic church dedicated to St. Andrew. (fn. 49) In 1957 congregations there averaged 10 or 12. (fn. 50) In 1959 communion services at 9, evensong, and children's services were held each Sunday.

The parish church of ST. MARY THE VIRGIN stands at the corner of Thames Street and Church Street (see frontispiece). It was built in 1752 to replace the medieval church on the same site. Two drawings of the old church exist, together with a print showing it in the distance. (fn. 51) They do not agree in all particulars, but it seems clear that the church had a nave and chancel, with a south aisle under a separate gable reaching half-way along the chancel. Both aisle and chancel contained two-light 14th-century windows. There was a low square tower which in one of the drawings (fn. 52) is shown battlemented, with a south-east turret, and surmounted by a spire. The same drawing also shows a battlemented south porch. Both the drawings are from the south side, but the print, which is from the east, seems to show some sort of transept on the north: no references have been found to a north aisle, transept, or chapel. Other evidence shows that several galleries were built in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, one of them in the south aisle with an outside staircase. A window in the nave was enlarged in 1703. (fn. 53) In 1750 the church was said to be very old and decayed, particularly in the roof, and to be too small for the population. (fn. 54) It was therefore demolished in 1751 (fn. 55) and a new brick building was erected by subscriptions from the parishioners, helped by a legacy of £1,270. (fn. 56) This church was designed by Stephen Wright, clerk of the works at Hampton Court, (fn. 57) and seems to have been a plain brick building characteristic of its time. (fn. 58) It comprised a wide nave, a small chancel, and a west tower. The body of the church consisted of three bays with two ranges of windows, the upper ones round-headed. This arrangement suggests that side galleries formed part of the original design. (fn. 59) In the only clear view of the church (fn. 60) the west wall appears to have been surmounted by a parapet which was swept up on each side in a double curve to meet the tower: the east end may have been similarly treated. The square tower, the upper part of which remains unaltered, has corner buttresses terminating in stone obelisks at the belfry stage. There are round-headed windows at this stage, and the domed roof is surmounted by a large octagonal cupola.

By 1856 the church was again considered to be too small and in 1857 (fn. 61) S. S. Teulon made drastic alterations which were afterwards said to have transformed it into a glittering Byzantine temple. (fn. 62) A new apsidal chancel was built, with a south chapel, and the north vestry was enlarged. Extensions were made to the west ends of both aisles, providing staircases up to the newly constructed galleries, which were supported on slender cast-iron columns. (fn. 63) The lower windows were given round heads to match the upper ones, and all were decorated with multicoloured brick heads and filled with stone tracery. Other coloured brick decoration was added to the exterior and the new chancel arches inside were conspicuously decorated in the same manner. The arcaded reredos, screens, and pulpit were constructed of stone and marble inlaid with glass mosaic. The Gothic west porch had been added by 1876, (fn. 64) perhaps after the original restoration. In 1892 the chancel was ornamented with mural paintings. A choir vestry was built over the existing north vestry in 1900 (fn. 65) and the eastern parts of the side galleries were taken down in 1953.

The church contains two monuments of the 17th century, one of which commemorates members of the Phelips family. (fn. 66) There are small mural tablets of the 18th and 19th centuries commemorating various lords of manors and other residents. Six bells cast between 1755 and 1851 were recast in 1901 and at the same time two new ones were bought. (fn. 67) The oldest pieces of plate are a silver cup and paten given by Francis Phelips in 1662 and a large silver flagon given in 1670 by William Peirs, Bishop of Bath and Wells. In 1746 Sir John Chardin gave another large flagon which was a copy of the earlier one. The other pieces have been acquired since the 18th century. (fn. 68) The registers start in 1565 for baptisms and burials and in 1566 for marriages.

In 1547 a few acres of land in the parish were held for the repair of the church, (fn. 69) and in 1803 7 acres were allotted in respect of this land. (fn. 70) The land has since been sold and the income from stock amounted to £38 14s. in 1953. (fn. 71) C. E. Goddard (d. 1933), formerly clerk to the vestry and the urban district council and the author of An Historical Account of the parish of Sunbury, left £500 in trust for the repair of the church. He left a similar sum to St. Andrew's, which had also received a smaller bequest in 1906. (fn. 72)

The church of ST. SAVIOUR, Upper Sunbury, in Vicarage Road, was built in 1913 to replace an earlier mission church. (fn. 73) This had been opened by 1872 on land in the Staines Road which was given for the purpose in 1869. (fn. 74) The surrounding district became a separate parish in 1881, and the church was endowed with £153. The Vicar of Sunbury was patron of the living. (fn. 75) In 1955-6 the endowment was worth £317 net out of a net income of £696. (fn. 76) The parish was enlarged in 1949 to include St. Benedict's mission church at Ashford Common and part of Feltham parish. (fn. 77) In 1886 there were three Sunday services and by 1894 there were four. In 1959 the main service was parish mass and communion at 9.30. In 1894 and 1959 there was daily mass and in 1959 there was also evensong each day. (fn. 78) There were then 187 persons on the electoral roll. (fn. 79)

By 1894 an addition which was intended to be part of a future permanent church had been made to the original temporary mission church, (fn. 80) but both were discarded when the present church was opened in 1913 and they have for long been used as a garage. The present church was designed by J. S. Alder in the style of the 15th century. It is built of red brick with stone arcades internally. It is not orientated, so that the altar is at the west end. In 1952 two bays and a 'west' porch were added to the nave in a simplified version of the same style, so that the church now comprises an aisled nave of four bays, with a shallow transept in the fourth bay of each aisle, and an apsidal chancel flanked by a small chapel and a vestry. Among the plate is a silver-gilt chalice which is said to have been made in Germany in the 14th century. (fn. 81)


  • 1. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128b.
  • 2. Westm. Domesday, f. 4b.
  • 3. See below.
  • 4. Lond. Gaz. 1949, p. 2176.
  • 5. Westm. Domesday, ff. 504b. 506.
  • 6. See p. 57.
  • 7. See p. 10, and M.R.O., Sunbury Incl. Award.
  • 8. West. Domesday, f. 635b.
  • 9. Ex inf. the vicar.
  • 10. M.L.R. 1810/8/725.
  • 11. D. & C. St. Paul's, MSS. A 38/1284, 1286, 1287; A 56/acct. 18 Hen. VII.
  • 12. Guildhall MSS. 9537/3-9; D. & C. St. Paul's, Dean's Lease Bk. 1591-1602; MS. A 58/45, ff. 1-2; E 126/2, f. 97.
  • 13. M.R.O., Sunbury Incl. Award.
  • 14. Val. of Norwich, ed. Lunt. 360; Tax Eccl. (Rec. Com.) 17.
  • 15. D. & C. St. Paul's, MS. A 38/1282.
  • 16. Dom. Bk. (Rec. Com.), i. 128b.
  • 17. Parl. survey of ch. livings in Home Cties. Mag. ii. 64.
  • 18. M.R.O., Sunbury Incl. Award: the difference may be attributable to the difference between field and statute acres.
  • 19. Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), i. 434; Home Cties. Mag. ii. 64.
  • 20. D. & C. St. Paul's, MS. A 58/45, ff. 1-2.
  • 21. Guildhall MSS. 9550, 9557.
  • 22. M.R.O., Sunbury Tithe Award.
  • 23. Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues. [67], p. 670, H.C. (1835), xxii.
  • 24. C. Hodgson, Augmentation of Small Livings, p. lii; Crockford (1955-6).
  • 25. Ex inf. the vicar.
  • 26. Par. Rec., Map and description of vicarage lands (1842); Terrier of vicarage lands (1889); papers concerning Thames Valley Rly. Co. and vicar's lands (1865).
  • 27. Par. Rec., memorandum (c. 1920).
  • 28. Close R. 1251-3, 415.
  • 29. Guildhall MS. 9537/20.
  • 30. London Consistory Ct. Reg. of Wills, v, f. 288 (microfilm at M.R.O.).
  • 31. Home Cties. Mag. ii. 64.
  • 32. Calamy Revised, ed. Matthews, 497.
  • 33. D.N.B. ix. 769-70.
  • 34. D.N.B. xxi. 39.
  • 35. Meteorological Reg. kept at Sunbury Vicarage (priv. print.; copy penes Sunbury U.D.C.). Hennessy (Novum Repertorium, 425), wrongly gives his name as Crowe.
  • 36. Guildhall MSS. 9550, 9557, 9560; Par. Rec., Vestry Min. Bks. (e.g. 1794, 1867), and misc. docs. (1913, 1945); Rep. Com. Eccl. Revenues (1835), 670; Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1894, 1922).
  • 37. D.N.B. xvii. 757-8.
  • 38. Guildhall MSS. 9550, 9557; Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1886).
  • 39. Guildhall MS. 9557.
  • 40. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1886, 1894).
  • 41. Guildhall MS. 9557.
  • 42. Par. Rec., Vestry Min. Bk. sub 1878.
  • 43. Ex inf. the vicar.
  • 44. Lond. Dioc. Bk. (1959).
  • 45. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1845).
  • 46. Par. Rec., Sch. Min. Bk. 44, 64.
  • 47. See below.
  • 48. Ex inf. the vicar.
  • 49. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1906).
  • 50. Ex inf. the vicar.
  • 51. Water-colour in Sunbury ch. (apparently before 1716: see the parish-house, p. 60); pen and ink drawing following p. 276 of interleaved copy in Guildhall Libr. of Lysons, Mdx. Pars.; B.M. Maps, K. 30.16.2.a (undated print).
  • 52. In Sunbury ch.
  • 53. Par. Rec., Vestry Min. Bk. sub 1697, 1698-9, 1703, 1708, 1715.
  • 54. Guildhall MS. 9532/6, f. 104.
  • 55. Par. Rec., Reg. sub 1751.
  • 56. Lysons, Mdx. Pars. 277.
  • 57. See Colvin, Dict. Eng. Architects, 1660-1840, 716-17 (the reference to the Builder given here is incorrect).
  • 58. See Builder, xvii. 414.
  • 59. Cf. Par. Rec., Vestry Min. Bk. 1792-1823, pp. 26, 27.
  • 60. M.R.O., View of Sunbury, 1809, upon which this description is largely based. Lysons (op. cit.) mentions only a north tower, but cf. Guildhall MS. 9532/13, ff. 106-9.
  • 61. The date is generally given as 1856, but the faculty was only issued in Dec. 1856: Guildhall MS. 9532/13, ff. 106-9.
  • 62. Thorne, Handbk. to environs of Lond. (1876), ii. 592; cf. Builder, xvii. 414.
  • 63. Guildhall MS. 9532/13, ff. 106-9.
  • 64. Thorne, op. cit.; it is not mentioned in the faculty of 1856.
  • 65. Goddard, Hist. acct. of Sunbury par. 18.
  • 66. See Hist. Mon. Com. Mdx. 118.
  • 67. Inscription in tower; Goddard, op. cit.
  • 68. See Freshfield, Communion Plate of Mdx. 49.
  • 69. E 301/34/141.
  • 70. M.R.O., Sunbury Incl. Award.
  • 71. Char. Com. files.
  • 72. Ibid.
  • 73. Goddard, Hist. acct. of Sunbury par. 17.
  • 74. Par. Rec., Sch. Min. Bk. 44, 64; Char. Com. files.
  • 75. Lond. Gaz. 1881, p. 4588.
  • 76. Crockford (1955-6).
  • 77. Lond. Gaz. 1949, p. 2176.
  • 78. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1886, 1894).
  • 79. Lond. Dioc. Bk. (1959).
  • 80. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1894); Char. Com. files; Mdx. Chron. 1 Feb. 1936.
  • 81. Par. Rec. (St. Mary's), memorandum.