Site Unseen: St. Mary’s Battersea

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouseYou can hardly see this little church from the road, just its perimeter wall. The joy of this building is the view from the little garden at the entrance of St. Mary’s, Battersea and is one of my favourite places in London, so much it appeared with me in a BBC documentary.

[P]ositioned on a bend in the Thames with houseboats moored alongside the adjacent stone-built embankment, this little 18th century riverside Georgian church, now dwarfed by the Montevetro Building (Italian for glass mountain) was a favourite spot of England’s greatest painter J. M. W. Turner.

When Turner decided to return to London with his Margate landlady Mrs Booth he lived with her at Davis Place, Chelsea (now 119 Cheyne Row), under the pseudonym of Admiral Booth. It was his habit of a morning to ask on old waterman, Charles Graves if he predicted a fine day. Given to set-fair he would employ Graves to ferry him across the river to Battersea Parish Church a little upriver from his home. Later Graves’ son, a painter and waterman, would later row James Abbott McNeil Whistler about Chelsea Reach.

From the vestry Turner would view the Thames through an oriel window and paint some of his sublime works. The chair he would rest upon, now predictably called Turner’s Chair, is still to be found within the church.


The church windows were supposedly wrecked by war time bombing in 1940, its wartime vicar, Stephen Hopkinson, would later confess rushing out during a raid expecting to find Victorian glass scattered on the floor. For reasons known only by him, disappointed to find that the windows were unscathed he took a stone and smashed the windows himself. The church survived the war unscathed, I doubt the Reverend managed to retain his stipend at the end of hostilities.

Today the church commemorates Turner with a new stained-glass window one of four, another depicts William Blake, installed between 1976 and 1982 replacing the work of the vandal vicar.

A rising bollard now prevents me from parking within its grounds but the church is open for visitors and worship with a vibrant congregation.

Featured picture: St Mary’s Church, Battersea: Sitting on the banks of the Thames, this church dates back to the late 18th century Andrew Bowden (CC BY-SA 2.0)

St. Mary’s by Jim Linwood showing on the right Selworthy House, two skyscrapers built in 1964; on the left is Monteveltro created by the architect Richard Rogers and his company (between 1994-2000). The contrast between the small church with the moored barges at the landing and the High Glass surrounding it couldn’t be more intriguing. (CC BY 2.0)

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