St Mary’s Church, Upper Street
Restoration of the portico frieze
The portico of St Mary's forms a dramatic entrance to a church of significant historical and contemporary importance. The first recorded church on the site was erected in the 12th century. The medieval church was demolished in 1751 and a new church built with a semi-circular portico at the west end. After a fire broke out in 1902 the church's portico was rebuilt in Portland stone in neo-classical style, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. It is balustraded and the central frieze shows a scene from the Nativity. The church was bombed in 1940 and much damaged. All the eastern part of the church except the steeple and portico was rebuilt in Georgian style in the 1950s (designed by Seely & Paget). Charles Wesley was a curate at St Mary's and John Wesley preached here. The first black African to be ordained a Church of England priest (Philip Quaque, d. 1816 who later returned to Ghana as a missionary) and the first African Anglican bishop (Samuel Ajayi Crowther, d. 1891 who was ordained by the Bishop of London and went on to West Africa, later becoming Bishop in Nigeria) both had their first positions at this church. Two Archbishops of Canterbury also served their curacies here. The church’s community work is extensive and includes an annual Soul in the City community festival (in 2017, this focused on welcoming asylum seekers and refugees and over 2,000 people attended).
Before its restoration, the portico of St Mary's was in poor structural condition and in need of urgent repair. Iron cramps in the structure had corroded, expanding and damaging the surrounding masonry. The mild-steel roof structure had corroding due to a leaking asphalt roof. Several localised sections of the stonework had been dislodged and in places the stone was spalling.
The restoration project removed the original structure and the ferrous cramps and replaced these both with new non-ferrous materials. The pediment masonry was carefully dismantled, recorded, labelled and then reinstated with new stainless steel cramps to reinstate structural integrity to this landmark. Missing Portland stone details and failed mortar were replaced to maintain the beauty of this local landmark.