The Founding of the Church

Georgina Twells Photo © John Salmon
Georgiana Twells
Philip Twells Photo © John Salmon
Philip Twells

What is now the parish of St Mary Magdalene was no more than forest and farmland for hundreds of years; only a windmill standing at the south end of the Ridgeway was of any interest to mapmakers until Victorian times. For centuries, the area was part of royalty's Enfield Chase hunting grounds and its few inhabitants were served spiritually by St Andrew's, Enfield.

The extension of the Great Northern Railway to Enfield Chase in the latter half of the 19th century opened up the neighbourhood as part of a rapidly growing London suburb. Large sections of land on the Bycullah, Ridgeway Park and Old Park estates, as well as glebe lands at the junction of the Ridgeway and Windmill Hill, were snapped up by developers. Their brief was to erect ‘villas of character to suit professional and business men’ migrating from the inner suburbs.

As the spacious houses and gardens sprang up and became occupied, it became clear that the well-heeled new residents also required a place for their Christian worship. Salvation came in the form of Georgiana Hannah Twells, widow of the eminent banker and City of London MP, Philip Twells, with whom she had lived at Chase Side House on the site of what is now the Enfield Library.

Mrs. Twells planned the church as a memorial to her husband and she recruited the renowned Victorian Architect, William Butterfield, to turn her dream into reality. Georgiana herself laid the foundation stone on Saturday, 17 December 1881. Just 20 months later on 18 July 1883 St Mary Magdalene Church was consecrated by the Bishop of London, the Rt Hon and Rt Revd Dr John Jackson.

The sermon that day was given by the Revd W D Maclagan, the Bishop of Lichfield, and former vicar at St Andrew's, Enfield, who later became Archbishop of York.

Georgiana Twells died in 1898 and is buried alongside her husband in Lavender Hill Cemetery.

The parish has changed considerably since her day. The large houses and farms that characterised it at the end of the 19th century have largely been replaced by smaller houses and more recently by blocks of flats. The number of parishioners has grown accordingly.

Now, as well as a centre of worship, the church is a focal point for the community and its facilities are used throughout the week by a wide variety of groups and associations.

Georgiana Twells Plaque Photo © John Salmon
Georgiana Twells' commemorative plaque
Philip Twells' plaque Photo © John Salmon
Philip Twells' commemorative plaque
Photographs © John Salmon