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West Front

Left: St Peter's Church, west entrance. Right: Whole west front with baptistry.

St Peter's Church, Staines, by George Halford Fellowes Prynne, FRIBA (1853-1927). Builders: Messrs Goddard & Son of Farnham, Surrey. 1894. Grade II listed building. Rich red brick with stone dressings, some polychromy in the interior, and a copper-clad spire over the crenellated three-stage tower over the baptistery, which projects on the south west. Ian Nairn and Nikolaus Pevsner describe the church as looking "prosperous" (462). Unusually, instead of facing the road, the west front faces the Thames, with the lych gate opening on to the towpath. However, the parish office itself is on the road, and the address of the church, at its plainer east end, is Laleham Road, Staines.

Sir Edward Clarke

Sir Edward Clarke. Source: Clarke, Speeches, frontispiece.

The church, which replaced a succession of mission chapels in this part of Staines, had grand associations. It was endowed by Sir Edward Clarke, former Conservative M.P. for Southwark (briefly) then Plymouth (for twenty years), and Solicitor-General from 1886–92. The stalwart Sir Edward was involved in many famous cases. For example, he courageously and without fee represented Oscar Wilde in court, though he failed to win him an acquittal. During the Plymouth years, Clarke had become a close friend of Rev. George Rundle Prynne (see Clarke's obituary of Rev. Prynne in Sharville), and it was natural that the commission for St Peter's should go to his son, who had already made a name for himself as an architect. On its consecration in 1894 the fine new permanent church became "a separate benefice, with a parish attached" (Reynolds). Still flourishing, it serves the southern or Laleham side of Staines. Originally in the county of Middlesex, Staines is now administered by Surrey.

Statues on the façade of the baptistery.

The life-size statues on the baptistery are of St Peter (centre) holding a model of the church and a key, flanked by St John the Baptist (left) holding a cross, and St James (right) in pilgrim's garb and holding a thick staff. No expense was spared, and no detail neglected, in the decoration of the church: the sculptural work was carried out by the very able John Edward Taylerson (c.1855-1942) of Lavender Hill (Taylor 12), who was also responsible for some of the work on the Lloyd's Register of Shipping. The interior of the church is especially fine, with one of the magnificent carved stone screens for which Prynne is perhaps best known, and beautiful windows designed by Prynne's artist brother, Edward Arthur Fellowes Prynne (1854-1921; see "Related Material").

St Peter's from the South-East

St Peter's, a three-quarter view from the Laleham Road.

The size and style of the church are best appreciated from an angle. Prynne himself explained, "The Nave is 80ft in length and 26ft in width, having a height of 80ft to the waggon roof. The Chancel is of the same width and height as the Nave." In style, he described it as "a full treatment of Perpendicular" (qtd. in Taylor 12), though elsewhere it is seen a little differently, as "a free treatment of the Perpendicular" ("Listed Buildings") or, perhaps most accurately, "Mixed Gothic style, decorated with some perpendicular tracery details and decorative motifs" ("List Entry").

Vicarage and Lych Gate

Left: The Clarkes' home next to the church, built 1910, now the vicarage. Right: The lych gate on the side of the Thames towpath, installed 1908.

Sir Edward Clarke and his wife had both been enthusiastic about a church on this spot, Lady Clarke because she admired a riverside church in Devon (possibly Buckfast Abbey, overlooking the Dart), and Sir Edward because he loved boating, and wanted to preserve the grand old trees here, which would need to have been cut down if the land was divided into housing plots (see Taylor 7). They were well satisfied with the church, and continued to be closely involved in it: Sir Edward was a churchwarden, and read the morning and evening lessons. The parishioners presented the couple with its perhaps uniquely positioned lych gate, also designed by Prynne, in 1908, to mark their their silver wedding. They spent their later years "in great comfort and happiness" in Staines ("Sir Edward Clarke"), in the house they built next to the church for eventual use as the vicarage. It was not a grand house, because Sir Edward had lost heavily when the Law Guarantee Society went into liquidation in 1909, but by modern standards it is still a very substantial one.

The Thames from the towpath, with the edge of Staines Railway Bridge (completed in 1856) at the far right.



Related Material





Sources

Clarke, Sir Edward. "Sir Edward Clarke, K.C., A Self Portrait" (Obituary). The Times. Monday 27 April 1931: 17. Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 October 2013.

_____. Speeches. Second Series. Mainly Forensic. London: Routledge, 1894.Monday 27 April 1931: 17. Internet Archive. Web. 16 October 2013.

"Church of St Peter, Laleham Road." English Heritage.

"Listed Buildings in Spelthorne." July 2011. Spelthorne Borough Council. Web. 16 October 2013.

Nairn, Ian, and Nikolaus Pevsner. The Buildings of England: Surrey. 2nd ed. London: Penguin, 1971. Print.

Reynolds, Susan. ed. "Staines: Churches." A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 3: Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham, Cowley, Cranford, West Drayton, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield and Harlington. 1962: 27-30. British History Online. Web. 16 October 2013.

Sharville, Ruth. "George Fellowes Prynne: A Brief Biography." sharville.org.uk. Web. 16 October 2013.

Taylor, John M. Souvenir of the 75th Anniversary of St Peter's Church, Laleham Road, Staines. Shepperton: Ian Allan, 1969 (brochure available at the church). Print.


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