The Chancel


St Mary Magdalene’s Church was built in 1883 by William Butterfield, commissioned by Georgiana Twells, in memory of her husband Philip Twells, MP for the City of London, who had died in 1880.

In 1897, to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria her final gift to the church was the internal artwork, designed by Edward Turner of Leicester, brother of the then vicar, the Rev George Turner and painted by Buckeridge and Westlake. It is some of the finest art on show in the Borough, and some of the most interesting Victorian Gothic artwork in Europe. The following year, Georgiana Twells herself died and was laid to rest alongside her husband in Lavender Hill Cemetery. Not only the land for the Cemetery, but the Town Park and Library had been theirs, and with the church, form their legacy to our town.

In 2012, with the help of generous local donations and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the walls and ceiling were restored and conserved by Hirst Conservation.

Painted by Buckeridge, the figures on the ceiling represent the whole company of angels from cherubim to archangels, and they are shown with symbols of the Church - a dragon, a lily, a fish and staff, a book and scroll. The seraphim are shown below the archangels, holding scrolls bearing the words ‘Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus’ (‘Holy, Holy, Holy’). Next to the archangels are the four angels of the Passion, below which the cherubim are depicted. Below the seraphim and cherubim are sixteen panels bearing gold shields, each shield carrying a symbol of the Church or of an Apostle.

Each angel is presented in a canopy of elaborate arcading. The angels have gold wings, the seraphim are red-winged and the cherubim blue-winged. The wings are folded and finely feathered. There is extensive use of gilding. The angel faces are fine-featured and emotionless.

The paintings over the chancel are highly decorative, extensive use having been made of gold ragged stars on a blue background, and white roses on a red background. There are gold shields on which the letters ‘IHS’ appear, and two gold shields showing a jar of ointment, the symbol of St. Mary Magdalene, to whom the church is dedicated.


The East wall

The Nativity scene in the East window is extended with the depiction of the Angel Gabriel announcing Christ’s birth to the Shepherds, on the left side of the window, and the Magi approaching on the right. The Shepherds are framed by the text ‘Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy’, the Magi by ‘The gentiles shall come to thy light’.


The North wall

The prophets depicted in the windows are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, who are joined by Old Testament patriarchs and kings. Depicted to show Jesus Christ's human genealogy, the sequence starts at the West end with Adam and Abel, and culminates with Jesse and David at the East end.


The South wall

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (The four Evangelists) in the stained-glass windows are joined by saints associated with the spread of Christianity to Britain. They include Ss. Alban and Helen (the mother of Constantine), and Ss. Columba and Augustine. The sets of figures are placed between appropriate Biblical quotations and are shown with objects symbolising their work and faith.

Window photos © John Salmon | Paintings photos © Gordon Giles