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St. Mary the Virgin

St Mary the Virgin ChurchChurch Path, Merton Park

This building is on the Nelson Trail.

History

The Domesday survey of 1086 refers to Merton as a settlement with a church and two mills. This Saxon church was probably a simple wooden structure with daubed walls and a thatched roof. It does not seem to have survived long into the Norman period.

The first stone church in the district was built in 1115, on the orders of Gilbert the Norman, Sheriff of Surrey and founder of Merton Priory. A small, solid building with rounded windows and door arches, sparse furnishings and a rush-strewn floor, it was dedicated to the honour of the most Blessed Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary.

The building was much altered during the 12th and 13th centuries. Doorways were refashioned, the nave lengthened and internal décor added, including stained glass and carved statues. The main framework of the current church dates from the 14th century and some Medieval details survive. These include the North door, which features a Norman arch ( 1121 ) and 14th century woodwork; the dripstone above the West door, thought to portray Edward III and Queen Phillippa and the Priest’s door, which leads to the modern vestry.

The most splendid Medieval survival is surely the roof, described as one of the most beautiful examples in England. It includes 12th century cross-beams – a gift from King Henry III and carved chestnut supports dating from the 14th century.

Lord Nelson

One of the most famous patrons of the church was Admiral Horatio Nelson, who lived at Merton Place between 1801 and 1805. During his day, the church had wooden box pews and a gallery to the rear of the nave. These were removed during the 19th century, however Nelson’s pew survives at the front of the church.

Funerary hatchments, painted coats of arms commemorating Nelson and his friend Sir William Hamilton, can also be seen in the church.

Victorian additions

The north and south aisles of the church were added during the Victorian period. These house a number of beautiful stained glass windows designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, friend and business partner of William Morris.

The series of Biblical scenes was produced at the Morris & Co. works at Merton Abbey. It commemorates John Innes, horticulturalist, philanthropist and the man responsible for the development of Merton Park.

Memorials

Many of the other windows in the church commemorate former vicars and much-loved parishioners. Perhaps the most striking example is the east window in the chancel. The original was destroyed by a flying bomb in 1944. The replacement was dedicated in 1950 and has some quirky details, including the car registration number of the local vicar.

The church has a fine collection of memorials. Of particular note is the plaque commemorating Sir Gregory Lovell, Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I.

Located near the chancel, it features likenesses of Sir Gregory, his two wives and nine children.

Also worthy of attention is the beautiful memorial to the Smith family. This was financed by Elizabeth Cook, widow of the explorer Captain James Cook.

Following the death of her husband in 1779, she settled at Abbey Gate House Merton, with the family of her cousin, Rear Admiral Isaac Smith. Isaac accompanied James Cook aboard the Endeavour, during its voyage to the Antipodes. He was the first man ashore following Cook’s discovery of Australia in 1768.

The statue on the memorial was carved by R.J.Wyatt and depicts his sister, who married a nephew of Sir Isaac Smith but tragically died in childbirth.

Memorials to the dead of two world wars can be found in the Baptistry and the Augustine Chapel, off the south aisle.

Merton Priory Arch, St Mary's churchyardThe Priory Arch

Moving outside the church, your eye is caught by the Norman archway leading to the vicarage. This is thought to have been the gateway to the guesthouse at Merton Priory. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it was recycled as part of the fabric of a house.

For many years the arch remained hidden under a layer of plaster. Following the demolition of the house in 1914, it was restored and moved to its current site in 1935, thanks to the generosity of Gilliat Edward Hatfeild, the last squire of Morden.

Famous Graves

Many people of note are buried in the churchyard at St. Mary’s, including William Rutlish, embroiderer to Charles II; Frances Nixon, who perfected the art of copper plate calico printing and John Innes, gardener, benefactor and town planner.

Opening Times

Open to the public weekdays 9 am to 12 noon and Sundays 11 am to 12 noon.

How to get there

The church lies 5-7 minutes from Merton Park Tramlink and a 7-10 minute walk from the following bus routes: 152, 163, 164.

See also

Useful websites

This page was last updated on Wednesday 8 September 2010