The Belgravia Estate – the name is taken from the title Viscount Belgrave, one of the titles of the Dukes of Westminster, and refers to the village of Belgrave in Cheshire – was built in the period of the 1820’s – 50’s
by the architect Thomas Cundy at the direction of the 2nd Marquis of Westminster, Richard Grosvenor. The new estate was designed to rival Mayfair and extended into the marshland of Pimlico. To serve the new estates Cundy designed the churches of St Paul, Knightsbridge, St Michael, Chester Square and the Pimlico churches of St Gabriel, St Barnabas and St. Saviour.
The parish of St. Gabriel was taken out of one of the wards of St George, Hanover Square, our mother church with whom we continue to have a supportive relationship. The church wasbuilt by subscription, with the £5,000 given by the Marquis asthe lead donation. An Act of 1850 made financial provisions for the new building and on the 12th May, 1853 it was consecrated for divine worship by the Rt Rev’d Charles Blomfield, Bishop of London. The Illustrated London News of 14th May, 1853 recorded the event and reproduced a picture of the new
St Gabriel’s is a middle-pointed building in decorated Gothic style. The graceful tower of 160 ft was hung in 1855 with
a peal of eight bells. These are still rung today. Bath Ragstone with Caen stone dressings was used throughout, despite these materials already falling out of favour with the Victorian builders. In 1887 the tower was rebuilt after stonework fell off it, narrowly missing a member of the
congregation, and much of the Bath stone was then cut out
and replaced. Today the majority of the stonework is discoloured and damaged by pollution (especially smoke from
Victoria Station) and water ingress.
The nave is a central aisle formed under the 60 ft high
pitched slate roof, originally with one aisle to each side and wooden galleries along their whole length. The side galleries were removed in 1895-6 to improve the ventilation and acoustics, and outer side-aisles were added to replace the lost capacity, making the exceptionally wide and open nave we have today. The West End gallery is of oak and made by Bridgeman of Lichfield, who also carved the elaborate incumbent’s stall. The ribs of the gallery are supported by carved elephant trunks. The twelve columns supporting the nave are capped with heads of the twelve apostles and combine delicacy and strength. The pulpit (1875) is made of
brass, supported by granite pillars and was given as a memorial to the 1874 London Mission. Repairs have begun (2020) to restore it after bomb damage (1941). The fine chancel gates were given by Fr Ellison, the second incumbent, in memory of his wife (1893).
Immediately following on from all this work came a period of magnificent improvements in the chancel, funded in the main by Lord Edward Pelham-Clinton. A new high altar had been installed, designed by Bentley, architect of Westminster Cathedral, and now the whole chancel was lined with alabaster by Powell with Italianate mosaic designs. The floor is of red and white marble squares with solid marble steps.
The Lady Chapel was added to the south of the chancel and some of the original reredos (thought to be by Gilbert Scott) from the original high altar, installed there. Crowning it all was the new East Window by Kempe, one of the great Victorian stained-glass window designers, depicting Christ in Glory with Saints.
Second World War
After all this activity little was done for decades. St Gabriel’s was lucky in the 2nd World War – although a bomb blew out most of the windows, miraculously the East Window was spared. In the event, the result of clear glass windows is an exceptionally light and airy interior. In fact only that one bomb did any significant damage – there was structural damage to the Lady Chapel too – whereas there were actually four other bombs, virtually one at each corner, which didn’t explode.
Since then, it’s been a case of holding back the tide. After a many problems with water ingress (which is responsible for much of the deterioration of the interior today) much work has been done in the last twenty years on the roofs and rainwater drainage and they are now sound. A great deal of financial help has been given by English Heritage for this. With their help we’re about to embark on another tranche of work to the troublesome tower, and are saving up what we can to tackle the interior as we can afford to do so. We’re also embarking on a programme of facilities improvements which will better equip St Gabriel’s to become more attractive to people in the 21st Century, and to encourage more community involvement.