The Streatham Window, the leftmost of the three windows at the east end, tells the history of the parish in stained glass.
In the roundel at the top are symbols representing St Leonard, patron saint of prisoners, plus the arms of the three dioceses of which Streatham has been a part: Winchester (until 1877), Rochester (1877-1905) and Southwark (since its formation in 1905).
Our story begins at the top left of the main light with coins found in the locality, indicating a Roman settlement at Streatham (the name means a cluster of houses on the street). The earliest documentary record dates from AD 675 when lands at Totinge cum Stretham were granted to the Abbey of Chertsey. After the Norman conquest, these two manors were given to the Benedictine Abbey of Bec in Normandy and the Domesday Book records that there was a chapel on this site. The window shows the Abbot of Chertsey and St Anselm, Abbot of Bec.
The right hand light depicts Sir John Ward, a friend of the Black Prince with whom he fought at Crecy. He holds a model of the new church that he built for the parish circa 1350. Although most of that church has long since been replaced the flint tower still stands and is the oldest part of the present building.
In 1394 a certain John Brabourne, having fallen foul of his landlord, claimed sanctuary in the church but was forcibly removed by bailifs; He appealed to the Bishop of Winchester and Richard II caused him to be released and ordered his three captors to do public penance, as shown here, by walking through the parish in their shirts holding lighted tapers while being horse-whipped by the Rector.
Over the years the Manor of Streatham, and with it the patronage of the church, changed hands many times, passing to Eton College (denoted by the three lilies) in 1439 and eventually to the Howland family (the coat of arms with lions, on the right) in 1599. The memorial to John Howland dominates the west porch. In 1695 the 13 year old Elizabeth Howland married the 14 year old Marquis of Tavistock and thus the patronage passed to the Duke of Bedford (the arms surmounted by a goat) with whom it remained until the 20th century.
On the left is the head of Edmund Tylney (d. 1610), Master of the Revels to Elizabeth I and James I and apparently a rather vain man who went to great lengths to design his own memorial complete with the names and arms of all the nobles to whom he was related (see Chapel of Unity). No doubt its maker, a ďstone cutter neare unto Charing-crosseĒ was so relieved at Tylneyís demise that he omitted to add the date of death.
Below him are the Thrales of Streatham Place. Henry Thrale, a wealthy brewer and MP for Southwark, and his wife Hester entertained many distinguished guests including Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was a frequent visitor to this church, and James Boswell. Several of the family are interred in a vault in the crypt; to judge by his coffin, Henry was a man of impressive proportions. The Thrale memorials for Henry and his mother-in-law, Mrs Salusbury, with Latin epitaphs by Dr Johnson, can be seen on the north wall of the church.
Another view of the church shows how it looked after rebuilding in 1778 with the addition of a spire. (See below for a painting of the church around the same time.) It was altered again in 1831, when the nave was completely rebuilt to the design of J T Parkinson and enlarged with an apse at the east end and a crypt underneath (hitherto, the Thrales and other local worthies would have been buried beneath the floor). Initially the crypt was prone to flooding, due to shoddy workmanship until the contractors, under threat of legal action, carried out the necessary remedial work. Later it became the abode of a tramp known as Black Tommy who even had his mail delivered there.
St Leonardís was a very fashionable place to worship in the 18th and 19th centuries and a chapel of ease, dedicated to All Saints, was built in Sunnyhill Road. While the gentry attended Matins at St Leonardís, their servants would go to their own service at All Saints, which began 10 minutes later and finished 10 mins earlier. The chapel is now the Refuge Temple.
Until this time the church had ministered to an extensive parish bordering those of Battersea, Camberwell and Croydon. During the 61 year incumbency of Canon J R Nicholl (1843 - 1904) the population of Streatham swelled from 8,000 to 100,000 with the coming of the railways and the outward expansion of London. Christ Church, in 1841, was the first of 13 daughter churches seen in the lower left panel.
Also shown here is Dyceís fountain which originally stood opposite the church and is now on Streatham Green. William Dyce RA was the archetypal Victorian polymath; a fore-runner and teacher of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he painted The Baptism of Ethelbert in the House of Lords and the Madonna and Child which featured on one of the 2007 Christmas stamps, designed the florin coin, composed church music and founded the Motet Society. As churchwarden of St Leonardís, he was responsible for designing the Chancel when the church was again extended in 1863. (His rebus, a pair of dice, could be seen in the old east window.) Externally it has changed little since then. A delightful watercolour (see below), painted in 1879 from a vantage point some where near the present junction of Stanthorpe and Bournevale roads, looks across a meadow rich in yarrow and cornflowers towards a row of ancient cottages which stood opposite Streatham Green with the spire of St Leonardís in the background.
Some old postcards (see below) show the interior of St Leonardís as it was in the late 19th and early 20th century - note the fine Jacobean pulpit. It may look a little dark and cluttered to modern tastes but it was typical of its time. The oldest picture, dated 1890, shows the church apparently decorated for Harvest Festival. The only significant alteration to the church in the early 20th century was the erection of a wooden rood screen which was both undistinguished and unpopular. (However it did eventually provide us with the Black Madonna.)
The bottom of the right hand light of the window shows St Leonardís engulfed in flames on the evening of 5 May, 1975. The cause of the fire is not known (it may have been a spark from a bonfire, an electrical fault or even arson) but the flames, fanned by a strong east wind, swept through the Nave and up the tower, destroying all the interior woodwork, the roof, the bells and much else.
However, thanks to the leadership of the then Rector, Michael Hamilton-Sharp (whose kneeling figure is shown on the right), the restoration project was under way by the following morning and the church re-opened for worship within two years, although we had to wait a little longer for the organ, bells and stained glass windows. The restoration was entrusted to the late Douglas Feast RIBA (his emblem is on the left), whose inspired design produced the present light and airy interior within the shell of the 19th century walls.
The Streatham Window was designed by John Hayward.
Old pictures of the church
Engraving from a drawing by Charles Burton, c. 1824
Watercolour (Augustus C Wyatt), 1879.
Photograph (C E Hill), 1890.
Postcard (Clayton & co), early 20c.
Postcard (Misch & Stock), early 20c.
Postcard (R C Johns & co), early 20c.