St George the Martyr, Borough High Street, Southwark, and its Monuments

St George the Martyr occupies an island site, with traffic round three sides, but with the advantage that the wide road in front of it gives some space in front of the Church, so that we can appreciate its portico and great stone tower to the full. The portico occupies the full height of the building, two tall stories, with tall Ionic pillars to the sides, bearing a curved pediment enclosing a design of three winged cherub heads floating among clouds (if you like pediments, see this page, and for cherubs, see this page). The principal doorway is within the portico, with a lunette above within a rounded arch. To the sides are further doors, and all three entrances are reached up a short flight of steps. The tower, directly behind the portico, is square at its lower stage, then with three stages of octagonal form, the lowest with a clock upon it, and pots above the corners of the storey below, and at the very top is the stone steeple. The overall impression of that tower is of massiveness, almost too heavy for the building underneath. Because of a curve in the road, this tower can be seen along Borough High Street, and forms a convincing terminus to the view.

St George the Martyr, Borough High Street.

The rest of the building is a flat-roofed boxy affair, thus a basilica, of red brick with stone dressings, a balustrade at the top near the front, brick again further back, and in total six bays long, with a projecting central portion at the back, lower to the sides, and in the centre with an angled roof, the only one visible on the building, a Venetian three-light window (so with a central arched window and lower sides), and a stone ornament, consisting of a broad cartouche with festoons of carved flowers to the sides.

Cherub heads within the curved pediment.

The Church received some £6000 for rebuilding under the 50 New Churches Act, and was put up from 1734-36, to the designs of the architect John Price. Various improvements and changes have been made since, but the exterior is essentially the original Georgian one of nearly two centuries ago.

Inside, the chief feature is the grand ceiling, an oval plaster affair with low relief cherubim flying around, with gilt wings and carrying ribbons; many more winged cherub heads are scattered amongst the clouds in a regular design, most pleasing in a 1900s way, and in fact this ceiling dates from a beautification by the architect Basil Champneys in 1897. There are galleries in dark brown wood on both sides and to the entrance, with the organ above, and these together with the full set of boxed-in pews make a contrast with the white and gilt walls and ceiling. The monuments are many, and largely rather simple in design, and are along the walls on the ground floor and at gallery level.

St George the Martyr, interior and Basil Champneys' ceiling, and tall pulpit.

Monuments

The Church contains about 40 wall panels, showing various of the simpler types of memorial, mostly from late 18th and early 19th Centuries, with odd bits of carving - elegant Greek pots or urns in high relief are a particular speciality - but no figural sculpture, and several where the monumental mason signs their work. In addition there are a couple of early 17th Century brasses, without pictures alas. We take them mostly in date order.

18th Century monuments

We have a series of about 11 Classical panels dating from the 18th Century, all except one from the last two decades or so, including the coloured marble so prevalent in monuments of the period, and a variety of small pots and urns on top. Four of them seem to be by the same, anonymous stonemason, and there are several signed pieces.

Revd. Heald and Mary Pigeon monuments, early and late 18th Century panels.

19th Century Monuments

There are almost 30 monuments from the 19th Century, 20-odd from early in the Century, and the remaining 10 from Victorian times. This period sees the abrupt end of the use of coloured marbles, so what we find are white-on-black panels, or in one case reversed, and in several cases the backing being painted white, so we cannot tell if the original black stone is underneath, or some white panelling in wood or plaster to suggest a lost or damaged backing plate. The main types of design are the tomb chest end, which has a border and backing made with feet, and with an upper shelf, on which is a lid, or sometimes more of a pediment. There are a few unusual examples too, including double monuments where a second, later generation is added as a separate panel to an existing one, and one example of a monument carved as a hanging, unrolling scroll; always nice to come across one of these. The carving is fairly minimal in the majority of examples, with a few honourable exceptions.

Gothic panels: Kirkham and Searles.

Florance Young Family:

Mary (Young) Rippingall - Classical panel with pediment and pilasters.

And having finished with the Youngs, back to the chronological sequence:

20th Century monument:

Brasses:

There is also a modern brass to William Neville, d.1910, panel with black capital text, and a few principal letters picked out in red, and an inscribed red line border, all set on a wooden panel. This is typical of the style favoured by the panel makers of the late 19th and earlier 20th Century.

Also in the Church

The beautiful oval ceiling with its plaster decorations was mentioned at the beginning of this page. A stone plaque on the wall notes the 20th Century restorations of the Church in 1939, after WW2 bomb damage, and that it was ‘greatly beautified’ in 1952. Also worth a mention are:

Font, coat of arms, note of reburial.

Churchyard

The Church is on an island site surrounded by traffic, but across the road is a garden made from the Churchyard, largely cleared, but with broken remnants of tombstones made into a rockery, with the odd early 19th Century date still discernable on the fragments.

With many thanks to the Church authorities for permission to show pictures of the monuments inside St George the Martyr; their website is http://www.stgeorge-themartyr.co.uk/history/.

Re-used tombstones in the rockery.

Top of page

Borough High Street sculpture // Trinity Church Square statue and Church nearby // Mosaic in Red Cross Garden nearby // Eastwards to Tooley Street statues, Bermondsey

Or eastwards from St George the Martyr along Long Lane to St Mary Magdalene, Bermondsey // Borough to Bermondsey: churches and sculpture

Some other London Churches // Introduction to church monuments

London sculpture // Sculptors

Home

Visits to this page from 14 May 2016: 1464