Ealing REWIND: A history of Hanwell St Mary’s

By Isabel Millett

24th Apr 2022 | Local Features

In 1826, Pigot's Directory of London described a 'small and respectable village' with a 'very pleasant situation [where the] air is considered exceedingly pure… several families of distinction, sensible of these attractions, have fixed their abode here'.

The small and respectable village in question was Hanwell, at the centre of which in 1826 was the church of St Mary

Now familiar to us in Ealing as the church by the Bunny Park and Hanwell Zoo, there has been a church on this site since before the Domesday Book was completed.

The present church is Victorian and one of the first designs of George Gilbert Scott, consecrated in 1842. Its spire above the bell tower is visible for some distance around, towering high over the Brent valley below it.

Thanks to the first survey of the churchyard for more than 40 years that was undertaken in 2020, new light has been shed on some of its interesting residents, as well as Hanwell during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Among those buried in the vaults in the crypt of the church is General William Edmeston and the man who brought the umbrella into common usage in London, Jonas Hanway.

Jonas Hanway brought the umbrella into common usage in London

General Edmeston, a hero of the British expansion in 18th century North America, was subsequently held captive by the father-in-law of Alexander Hamilton, around whom the eponymous musical is based.

In the churchyard is the plain tomb of Mary ("Molly") and Margaret ("Peggy"), two daughters of artist Thomas Gainsborough who, a year apart in age, died within six years of one another.

Children from the nearby Central London District School – known locally as the Cuckoo School – were buried at St Mary's, as were local tradesmen, their families and staff from the County Asylum, until the churchyard was officially closed in 1885. 

The earliest surviving stones now date from the early 1700s, with one William Sheppard, citizen and haberdasher, buried at St Mary's in 1707.

One of the exciting discoveries recently revealed by Ruth Mercer, Chris and Helen Cosstick from Hanwell St Mary's Graveyard Survey Group was of a beautifully carved gravestone dating from 1742, buried deep beneath the ground.

Why it had been buried remains, for now, a mystery.

Using a range of documentary sources, Ruth, Chris and Helen have been able to piece together the histories of many people laid to rest in the churchyard. A free open weekend in the summer will give residents the chance to learn more about St Mary's, hear the stories of Hanwell's earlier residents, and – in a rare opportunity – see the crypt.

Join members of Hanwell St Mary's Churchyard Survey Group on Saturday and Sunday, 16-17 July, between 2-4pm, at St Mary's Church.


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