Southfields lies to the south-west of central London in the London Borough of Wandsorth. With the coming of the railway in the 1860s the rural landscape was steadily built over. The Anglican church of St Barnabas (Diocese of Southwark) was built in the period 1906-08 among ‘roomy’ middle-class villas and is the work of the architect Charles Ford Whitcombe (1872-1930), a prolific designer and restorer of churches. In 1916 he emigrated to Queensland Australia.
The church of ST. BARNABAS, Southfields, was begun in 1906 and is still incomplete. It has a chancel and nave with aisles to both; the nave has a tall clearstory. Toothings are left in the walls for a future north-west tower. The walls are of red brick with stone dressings; the roofs are covered with slates, and a flèche stands above the chancel arch. [‘A History of the County of Surrey’ (1912)]
At first glance the building presents a modest profile, set back from a wide busy road. However on approaching it we find a rather impressive stately building. It seems to be designed in a not untypical rather plain Victorian Gothic ‘Perpendicular’ style, but on close inspection, and particularly once we are inside, we sense a more Edwardian-era ‘Arts and Crafts’ sensibility at work; large and spacious with generous use of colour, light and space with carefully designed fixtures and fittings.
Since it first opened the church building has had a chequered history. By the 1920s the building was suffering catastrophic subsidence of the western foundations and rain-water damage to the walls – inside and out – from a poorly executed design. Remedial work was carried out c.1929 and a plan for a newly embellished sanctuary – much as we see it today – was approved. [LMA DS/F/1929/23/1-6].
Notes attached to the catalogue of the parish records held in the London Metropolitan Archive [P95/BAN] state that the church: “was badly damaged by incendiaries in 1941, and not fully restored until 1955” . More recent alterations to the interior at the west end – to provide meeting-room facilities – have managed not to upset the elegance of the interior whose cool light is created by the distinctive green tint of the windows.
The pipe organ
The first organ in the church appears to have been a hand-blown instrument, with payments recorded for: “Organist, Choir, Blower, and Music. £67” (Parish magazine May 1910, p.5). This may be a reference to a pipe-organ at St Barnabas that is mentioned in the records of the organ-builders Hill, Norman and Beard Ltd.: “1919. Vol=02 Page=281 Job=1648 small : advice & estimate £5”
From parish magazines of the 1920s we find articles headed: ‘St Barnabas Thank Offering for Victory and Peace’. These describe a fundraising project to provide a new organ -£1600 – as well as new vestry accommodation and a chancel screen – £3000. (Parish Magazine, March 1920, p. 4). The idea to include the screen had been dropped in later issues of the magazine. There is no further mention of the new organ until a reference is made of adjustments made to it in the late 1920s. This may well be the three-manual organ by G.H.C. Foskett (London) that is shown in the National Pipe Organ Register [N17318] – surveyed 1947 – describing the organ on a north-chancel gallery. Given the survey date it would seem that the organ was largely unscathed by the fire-bombs dropped on the church – as we have earlier noted – in 1941.
The present two-manual organ – also on a north-chancel gallery – dates from 1962 and is by the firm of Henry Willis with later adjustments undertaken by Michael Buttolph.
- ‘Charles Ford Whitcombe‘, Wikipedia. accessed 1 February 2019
- ‘Church Building Society Records’, Lambeth Palace Library. Online resource, accessed 1 February 2019
- ‘Parishes: Wandsworth‘, in A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 4, ed. H E Malden (London, 1912), pp. 108-120. British History Online [accessed 8 February 2019].
- ‘St Barnabas, 146 Lavenham Road‘, National Pipe Organ Register. Online resource accessed 1 February 2019
- ‘St Barnabas Southfields’. Diocese of Southwark Faculty Records, London Metropolitan Archives.
- ‘St Barnabas Southfileds‘, Diocese of Southwark: Find a Church. Online resource, accessed 1 February 2019
- ‘St Barnabas Southfields’. Parish magazines. London Metropolitan Archive.