Church Guide

Plan of St Leonards

St Leonard’s Church stands on a site at the heart of Streatham where Christians have worshipped for over 1,000 years. The present building is a pleasing blend of the ancient and the modern. Parts of it date from the 14th century, others from the Victorian era. The most recent restoration took place after the church was gutted by fire in 1975, when the interior was completely rebuilt to the design of Douglas Feast, RIBA.

The Streatham Window in the north-east corner [1] provides a pictorial history of the parish. Like all the stained glass in the church, it was designed and made by the contemporary artist John Hayward.

Below the window is the Icon of St Leonard and St Laura [2]. On the wall to the left are the Thrale Memorials [3]. The Latin epitaphs for Henry Thrale and his mother-in-law, Mrs Salusbury, are the work of Dr. Samuel Johnson; the bas-relief on the central monument to Henry’s daughter, Sophia Hoare, is by John Flaxman. The Pulpit cum Lectern [4] replaces a fine Jacobean pulpit destroyed in the fire. It was given by St Leonard’s School whose founder, the Rev. Herbert Hill, is commemorated on a stone in the floor nearby.

The cast iron pillars which support the Gallery [5] date from the rebuilding of 1831. At the back of the Nave is a board [6] listing, insofar as the records are complete, the Rectors of Streatham. The 15th century bowl of the Font [7] was restored after the fire and placed on a new pedestal. Above it, at the west end of the Gallery is the Organ [13].

In the Chancel, the pillars still bear the marks of the fire on their cracked and blackened surfaces. The high altar is of a simple wooden design and was made by Aukers, a local firm. On the north wall is the Mowfurth Brass [8] commemorating a former Rector (d. 1513). The somewhat mutilated effigy [9] is of Sir John Ward (see History).

The East Window [10] was dedicated at Easter 1987, marking the completion of the restoration. Here Hayward has used mediaeval techniques which produce subtler colours and allow much more light through than conventional stained glass. The central theme is Christ, crucified, risen and reigning. He wears his shroud as a vestment and behind Him is the throne of Heaven which is also the tree of crucifixion while around Him hangs the veil “rent from top to bottom”. Four blue pennants bear the emblems of the Evangelists and the two great sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist are represented below. In the tracery above, white and gold suggest the glory of God the Father, with the dove of the Holy Spirit completing the Trinity.

In the Lady Chapel is the Black Madonna [11]. This figure of Our Lady was once part of an ornate but undistinguished Edwardian rood screen. Found among the debris the day after the fire, charred but now possessed of a simple beauty, it was preserved and placed in its current setting. The window [12] tells the story of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Annunciation to Pentecost.

Separated from the Nave by a glass screen is the Chapel of Unity [14] where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a hanging pyx. Below the altar is a small brass plate which asks for prayers for the repose of the soul of John Elslefeld, Rector (d. 1390). Notice the Tylney Memorial (see History). In contrast there is William Lynne’s touching tribute in verse to the wifely virtues of his beloved Rebecca who died during the difficult times of the Commonwealth and “to her mother church remained true”. The crucifix with its soft white French stone figure on a slate cross is the work of the sculptress Jane Quayle. The prayer desk was the gift of the local Methodist church.

In the Crypt [15] below, family vaults house the mortal remains of the Thrales and other illustrious former parishioners, while the bones of many more ordinary Streatham folk, exhumed during the 19th century enlargement of the church, lie in deep charnel pits beneath the floor.

At the west end of the building is Sir John Ward’s Tower, the oldest part of the church, built in Surrey flint and surmounted by a brick spire of more recent construction (1841). The Bells are a fine ring of eight in the key of G, cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to replace the old bells broken by fire and water in 1975. The church clock [16] was made by Chas. Penton of Moorfields in 1779 and is still working althought it was recently converted to electric winding. It can be seen from the stairs leading to the Gallery.

Two splendid 17th century monuments dominate the Porch: the Massingberde memorial [17] commemorates a London merchant and Treasurer of the East India Company (d. 1653); the opulent Howland memorial [18] opposite was erected by Elizabeth to her husband John (d. 1686) and symbolises the triumph of life over death. The West Window [19] is an abstract design created by John Hayward using fragments of glass from the old windows.