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St Augustine
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St Augustine

It is a common feature in the history of the Free Churches that a new church was often formed by a split in an existing one, and that such a split frequently centred on the choice of a new pastor. St Augustine’s is a rare instance of this process in the Church of England, for its founder, Richard Carr Kirkpatrick, felt compelled to found a new Anglo-catholic parish in Kilburn when his existing ministry at St Mary’s, Priory Road, was upset by a new Evangelical incumbent. He presided over the erection of an extraordinary church, which is one of the most important Victorian buildings in London.

St Augustine

St Augustine

The high alter and the stone screen which separate it from the nave have lavish sculptured adornment. Victorian architects usually worked with their own groups of craftsmen to fit out and decorate their churches.

St Augustine’s parish began in 1870 in the usual “iron church”, but plans were soon made for a permanent replacement by J. L. Pearson. The foundation stone was laid in 1871 and the church was consecrated in 1880. Not until 1897-8 were the tower and spire constructed at the north-west corner. Many Victorian churches were always to lack ambitious spires, and so it is a matter for thanksgiving that one was added to complete this exceptional design. The spire is 77.4 metres (254 feet) high.

St Augustine

The east end shows Pearson’s use of lancet windows (here grouped in threes), his gallery round the church, and his fine stone chancel screen. This is one of the most important Victorian churches in London.

The church is built in red brick in Pearson’s usual 13th-century style. As you approach its doorway under the tower, that badge of the 13th century – dog-tooth moulding – is at once apparent. All the windows except one are tall lancets. The exception is huge rose window in the west gable. There are angle turrets at the east and west ends, and a sizeable flèche at the crossing. The interior is an impressive sight, for it is vaulted throughout and has a gallery that runs round the church, even across the openings into the transepts. A vaulted interior was Pearson’s trademark. There are double aisles because of internal buttressing. East of the north transept lies the Lady chapel, and on the south there is the apsidal St Michael’s chapel. There is a stone screen of five arches to mark the division between nave and chancel.

St Augustine

The tower and spire, rising to 77.4 metres (254 feet), were added to Pearson’s church in 1897-8.

In the 20th century, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott enhanced Pearson’s reredos for the high alter; he also designed the Lady chapel’s reredos and the Stations of the Cross. The firm of Clayton & Bell executed the mural paintings and made the numerous stained-glass windows. If ever a Victorian church lived up to the mediaeval ideal of a pictorial exposition of Scripture and the Christian faith, it was St Augustine’s. Practically every major Biblical story is represented, and there are also many windows depicting later saints. St Augustine himself features in the lower tier of east windows, and the nave aisle windows represent saints of the early English Church. The rose window tells the story of Creation.

St Augustine

The pulpit, seen with decorations on the side of the church in the background. The alabaster panels represent Noah, Elijah, St Paul and St John Chrysostom.

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