St Mary's Church, Harefield
The Newdigate Family
- Original design
- The Newdigate Family, 1180
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme on 21st August.
St Mary's Parish Church is Harefield’s oldest building, and has been its spiritual heart for centuries, despite being sited away from the geographical centre of the village. It has been described as “the Westminster Abbey of West Middlesex” because of its wealth of monuments. At the Domesday Survey of 1086 Harefield had a priest, and therefore presumably a church which was probably on the present site.
The Living was first owned by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers who had a Priory half a mile away near the present Moorhall Road. After the Dissolution of the Order in England, the Living passed to the Newdigate family, for many years also Lords of the Manor, and patrons of the Living to the present.day. The church remained a “private peculiar” outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop until 1847, and became a Parish Church in 1898.
In the 1100s there was a Chancel and a Nave, traces of which remain in the West Wall of the present Nave.
In the 1200s the present Chancel was built; a lancet window is still visible outside in the North wall. A North Aisle or Chapel was added at about the same time.
In the 1300s the present nave was built, and the front two bays of the South Aisle were added as a Chapel, known as the Brackenbury Chapel. Though there is no known connection with a family of that name, there is a Brackenbury Farm in the parish.
In the 1500s the present North Aisle and Breakspear Chapel were built and the Tower added which houses six bells, the earliest dated 1629.
In the 1700s a major restoration took place under the direction of Henry Keene, an architect who did much work for the Newdigates. The Chancel Arch was widened; the Chancel roof and East Window given their present style; the Chancel Stalls were erected, not as now for the choir, but for Newdigate family and their guests. The Chancel floor may have been raised at this time, and the Gallery installed.
In the 1840s the South Aisle was extended to its present length, involving the re-siting of many of the monuments, and the heraldic glass probably dates from this time. At the same time the Porch was moved to its present position on the North side of the Church.
Unusual features of the Church are the raised Chancel, the three-decker Pulpit, the Gallery above the North Aisle and the wealth of monuments and hatchments to the Newdigate, Ashby and other families.
Most recently – at the end of 2007 – we have completed a modest internal re-ordering. Designed by Charles Sheppard, and incorporating discrete glazed screens, the scheme has created several attractive new spaces.
During the First World War Harefield Park was offered by the owner, Charles Billyard Leake, as a hospital to the Ministry of Defence of New South Wales. For the duration of the war casualties from the Australian Forces from Gallipoli and the Western Front were treated at the newly created Harefield Hospital. Many of the wounded died; 111 men and one nursing sister were buried with military honours in an extension of the churchyard. The village school lent its Union Flag for these occasions.
After the war the flag was presented to the last C.O. of the Australian Hospital and was laid up in Adelaide High School. The Australian Children’s Patriotic League presented in return a new Union Flag and an Australian Flag to Harefield school. The Australian flag hangs in the Breakspear Chapel, which was rededicated as the Australian Chapel in 1951.
In 1921 began the annual ceremony in which the children from the school put flowers on every grave in the cemetery. This is followed by a Commemorative Service to which we always invite representatives from the Australian High Commission. Anzac Day, 25th April, has become a most significant annual event in the Harefield calendar.
Few visitors can fail to be moved by the fact that so many of the dead died so young, and so far from home, their graves unvisited by their families until the age of easier and affordable travel.