THERE are many fine places of worship in Ealing but, of all of them, St Mary's is one of the biggest and most beautiful, with a rich and fascinating history
The story of St Mary's is one of a church that has endured the merciless ravages of history, war and neglect.
Its history begins more than 1,000 years ago, though historians have difficulty in establishing exactly when the structure was first built.
In the 19th century, excavation work at the site in St Mary's Road uncovered stonework from Norman times, though no pictures exist showing the building in its original form.
During the 16th century, Ealing was still mostly underdeveloped countryside and the church served parishioners from miles around.
The parish included Brentford, Southall and Acton. When the vicar at the time, Richard Smart, carried out a census, the results showed there were only 427 residents in the whole area.
Within the parish boundaries, there were only two main roads running from London to the west but these were important trade routes, and it was not unheard of for weary travellers to stop at the parsonage to rest their horses and enjoy some refreshment.
In 1642, England was in the grip of civil war as Royalists and Parliamentarians did battle across England. Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarian troops, the Roundheads, laid waste to numerous churches during that time, and St Mary's was one of them.
A parliamentary survey carried out in 1650 described St Mary's as 'ruinated and lying open since the plundering'.
To make matters worse, the Great Plague came soon after, bringing disease and death to much of the country.
The combination of these factors meant that St Mary's spent years in a state of severe neglect and deteriorated beyond repair.
In a mercy killing of sorts, the original medieval structure was pulled down in the late 1720s. In its place was built a Georgian structure, which would form the basis of the church we know today.
Ealing's population increased dramatically in the 19th century as the expansion of railways meant people could come and go more easily.
The peaceful village had now become a busy town and St Mary's became a vital part of life there, connected to everything from overseeing the local workhouse to providing schools and helping to improve local roads.
Along the way, Brentford separated from Ealing and the parish flock became smaller. By 1860, the community realised it was time to make St Mary's a polished, venerable house of worship for local residents.
Christ the Saviour Church had also opened nearby, so there was already stiff competition.
This marks the most important era for St Mary's in terms of aesthetics as the Victorian architect SS (Samuel Sanders) Teulon set to work transforming a humble village church into what he envisioned as a magnificent Byzantine shrine.
This was accomplished without the need to carry out any major demolition work. Instead, Teulon simply added to what was already there by enlarging existing sections of the building and adding beautiful flourishes or colour and decoration.
In those days, however, money was in short supply and the parish struggled to get the funds needed to fulfil the extent of Teulon's vision. As a result, some of his ideas, including a tall spire, were never realised.
On May 30, 1866, the building was ready to serve the local flock and was consecrated by Bishop Tait, who remarked, somewhat ambiguously, that 'St Mary's had been transformed from a Georgian monstrosity into a Constantinopolitan basilica'.
The work did not stop there. The vestry on the north side was extended in 1887 and the organ was rebuilt and enlarged in 1927.
Another period of extensive refurbishment came in the mid 1950s, when the church was redecorated again. A lounge was added to the south part of the church in 1959 and then extended in 1978 to form a part of the church known as The Polygon.
Restoration work began a decade later, when it was identified that urgent work was needed to maintain the tower, nave, chancel and roof, as well as the interior.
Work has continued well into the early part of this decade to ensure that St Mary's is returned to the splendour of its heyday.
What began as a simple structure has endured to become one of Ealing's finest religious buildings, and is still serving its community. * To find out more about the work which goes on at the church, visit the website www.stmarysealing.org.uk