By Janet McNamara, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal, 15, 2006
On 23 June 1906 the Rev William Stracey Clitherow, owner of Boston Manor House, laid the foundation stone for St Faith’s, a new church for Brentford. The church was needed because the town and its industries had grown dramatically during the Victorian era and by the time of the 1901 Census over 5,000 people were living in the northern part of St Paul’s parish.
During the 1860s and 70s ‘valuable freehold building or fruit ground’ stocked with ‘fine standard fruit trees with raspberry and currant trees’ was being advertised for sale ‘within a few minutes walk of the railway station and the town’. By the end of the century houses were being put up following the roads north from the High Street and new roads with houses running east to west connecting the main roads were being built on the ‘fruit grounds’.
In 1899 St Paul’s far-sighted vicar, Rev H F Nixon, acquired land in Windmill Road. On the 1894 map this is shown as a nursery with fruit trees and glasshouses. According to St Paul’s parish magazine the aim was to provide ‘Sunday Schools for the children, Temperance and Provident Societies, Mothers’ Meetings, Confirmation and Bible Classes and hearty simple services on Sunday.’ Thus a London Diocesan Home Mission was created in September 1901 with the curate in charge, Rev W A Hewett, living in a house a few doors along the road. A temporary iron church was opened dedicated to St Faith and consecrated by the Bishop of Kensington on 29 October 1901. The Middlesex Independent reported that the building was ‘uncomfortably full’ for the ceremony and many people had to stand. It was thus decided to start a fund for a permanent church.
An annual two-day Summer Bazaar in July was established. The setting in the orchard must have been very pretty. There were illuminations in the evening and all stalls were lit by electricity. Many of the stalls, just like comparable events today, sold craft items, pictures, pottery, fruit, flowers and produce, refreshments and children’s games but the additional ‘Aerial Railway’, ‘Tableau Vivants’, ‘Shooting Range’ and ‘Electric Shock Machine’ are unlikely to feature nowadays. By summer 1906 there was also a ‘Smoking Lounge’ with ‘the latest things in cigars and cigarettes where devotees of My Lady Nicotine could sit at ease and discuss current politics or any kindred subject’.
By 1905 £1,000 of the estimated £8,000 had been raised and the internationally-known architect G F Bodley and his then partner C G Hare were commissioned to design a permanent church to seat 624 people. The Bishop of London awarded £2,800 from diocesan funds and by the time the foundation stone was laid in 1906 the Building Fund had risen to £5,260.
Design of the church
The design of St Faith’s is Gothic Revival and it is built of brick with Bath stone dressings. It has been described as ‘tall and nobly proportioned’ and ‘simple in outline and detail’. After a visit to the church in 1910, Bodley’s friend, Maurice B Adams, editor of the influential journal Building News, told the RIBA that ‘what struck one when looking at St Faith’s, Brentford was the juvenile enthusiasm with which the whole thing was inspired. That a man of Mr Bodley’s years could design such a virile church as that seemed truly remarkable’. Bodley was 80 years old when he designed St Faiths and died a few months after its consecration.
Inside, the design of the pulpit and the east window are by Bodley, the window being in memory of the Rev W A Hewett’s brother who had died aged 39. It is by a church glass company called Burlison and Grylls which had been in Oxford Street since 1868 and which for over 50 years made glass for buildings as diverse as a small Norman church in the east Kent marshes to St Paul’s Cathedral and the Great Rose Window in Westminster Abbey. Burlison and Grylls also made the memorial window behind the font for St Faith’s.
The only other stained glass window is in the Lady Chapel and was designed by Ninian Comper, a former pupil of Bodley, as a World War I memorial. The altar in this chapel was a gift from the Bishop of London and was originally in the chapel of St James’s Palace. The organ came from St Paul’s, Great Portland Street. It was built by William Hill, one of the most famous organ builders of the mid 19th century. The lectern was presented by the Rev William Stracey Clitherow.
The church was built by a local company, J Dorey and Co. Mr Dorey lived in the parish and his company built a large number of local houses and public buildings. His name appears on several of their foundation stones since he served on the Local Board for many years.
It has been said that although in a suburban setting, the church is urban in feel. John Betjeman wrote that ‘St Faith’s displays all the splendour of Bodley in its simplicity and strength. It rises like a great ship over the house-tops and inside the view from the west end leads you naturally to the altar and up to the roof.
At the laying of the foundation stone the Middlesex Independent congratulated the vicar Rev W A Hewett on his leadership and described the ceremony. It began when the children connected to St Faith’s ‘proceeded to the site singing in beautifully modulated tones and perfect harmony Oh Happy Band of Pilgrims‘. Then the combined choirs of Brentford led the congregation in singing Onward Christian Soldiers. ‘After the usual religious exercises, in which several local clergymen took part, the Lord Bishop of Kensington laid his hand on the stone’. Later, a silver trowel was presented to Rev William Stracey Clitherow.
A bottle was placed under the foundation stone containing a copy of The Times, the Middlesex Independent, a parish magazine, some coins and a vellum scroll containing a blessing, information about the ceremony, a list of names of all the people (all male) involved. This included the vicars, the curate, church wardens at both St Faith’s and St Paul’s churches, the architect, the builder and the building committee.
Fund raising continued and the population of the parish grew to between 5,300 and 5,500 but the full amount of money required had still not been raised by the time of the church’s consecration on 13 May 1907.
Parish Minutes and other papers; The Middlesex Independent; Victorian Society handout on St Faith’s; 2,000 years of Brentford by Roy Canham,1978.
Janet McNamara has been a member of the congregation of St Faith’s for 30 years. She is a Hounslow Heritage Guide with a particular interest in the local history of Brentford. The sketch of the church at the beginning of this piece is by Peter McNamara.