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History Page 1

Abbey church - early growth

The Parish Church of West Ham once belonged to Stratford Langthorne Abbey (which was dissolved at the Reformation- the only surviving remains are the Abbey window (in the Long Porch), and the carved skull stone from the abbey charnel house in the tower space).

About A.D. 1180 Gilbert de Montfichet, the Norman Lord of the Manor, rebuilt the Church. Its original size can be seen from the three blocked-up clerestory Norman Round windows on each side of the Nave.

The church was greatly enlarged in the Early English style in the reign of Henry II, being lengthened both easterly and westerly. Additionally, the Norman walls were pierced with arches and round pillars, and the North and South Aisles were added.

 
Early in the fifteenth century, the seventy-four feet high Tower was built, (similar towers were being erected at Bow and Barking Churches) in the Perpendicular style. In the following century the two aisles or chapels, on each side of the Chancel were completed. The North Chapel was built in Tudor brick from the proceeds of the sale of the valuable Church Plate, which was liable to confiscation at the Reformation. The ground plan of the Church has been little altered since that time, except for the addition of the Vestries at the beginning of the last century.

The eighteenth century increases in population and the prosperity of West Ham were reflected in the additions to the Church. Galleries were erected, the organ was installed in the West Gallery, the bells were recast and pews were added.

 

Demolish or restore?

 

Later, the Church suffered from neglect and decay, so that by the middle of the nineteenth century there was talk of pulling the whole church down and building afresh. But determined efforts at "Cleansing and Repairing" the building were undertaken. During these works a fifteenth century wall painting was discovered under the whitewash, depicting the "Doom of the Wicked" and the "Resurrection of the Righteous". Because of its poor condition it was painted over and is now lost. In the 1977 redecoration, a fragment of a sixteenth century text was uncovered above the sixteenth century arch of St. Thomas' Chapel, which has been preserved by the Passmore Edwards Museum Staff.

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