St Mary’s Chapel, now known as St Mary’s Church, is a Grade II* listed Roman Catholic church.
Hampstead though now considered an integral part of London, has retained much of its village charm.
St Mary’s was the first Catholic church to be built in Hampstead after the English Reformation of the 16th century. The Abbé Jean-Jacques Morel, a refugee from the French Revolution, was its first pastor. The little chapel was completed in less than a year and opened its doors to worshippers for the first time in August 1816.
By this time with the final defeat of Napoleon, the majority of French refugees in Hampstead had returned to France and the congregation numbered about a hundred on a regular basis although these numbers were increased in the summer months by itinerant Irish hay-makers who worked in the fields around the village. Education was a priority for the Abbé Morel and he undertook the religious education of both boys and young women at several private Catholic schools in Hampstead. Sometime after the building of the chapel in Holly Place, two schools, one for boys and the other for girls, were set up next to the presbytery and was supported by subscriptions from wealthier parishioners.
St Mary’s Church is located near the top of the hill at Holly Place on Holly Walk
, nestled in a row of Georgian houses between Church Row
and Mount Vernon
. No taller than houses numbered 4 and 5 to either side, the Church’s distinctive façade with bell tower and statue of Virgin and Child was designed by architect William Wardell as the first addition to the original building at the time the law was changed to allow bells to be rung from Catholic churches in 1852.
The sanctuary is decorated with tile mosaics and the painting of the Assumption of Our Lady was a gift from one of the founders of the chapel, George Armstrong, on behalf of his only daughter Frances Hall. This painting can be seen in the earliest photograph of the interior dating from 1878.
In the 19th century a school was built behind the church but demolished in 1907, the land being used to build the present day sanctuary and side chapels. Considerable repairs were made to the presbytery (rectory) in 1978 so that the upstairs now houses the pastor and downstairs a parish centre. The church was closed during 1990 for major building repairs removing the ceiling to reveal the roof timbers that adorn the church today.
St Dorothy’s Convent is nearby at 99 Frognal
. Previously it was home to one of St Mary’s more notable parishioners General Charles de Gaulle who lived there with his family for about a year during the Second World War. The Sisters of St Dorothy’s organise CCD classes for children of the parish who are not attending Catholic schools. South of the Church, the buildings now at numbers 1 and 2 Holly Walk
were part of the St Vincent’s Convent and Orphanage in the 1800s
Hampstead is on a steep hill and the tube station platforms are the deepest on the London Underground network, at 58.5 metres below ground level. It has the deepest lift shaft on the Underground.
Although early records of Hampstead itself can be found in a grant by King Ethelred the Unready to the monastery of St. Peter's at Westminster (AD 986) and it is referred to in the Domesday Book (1086), the history of Hampstead is generally traced back to the 17th century.
Trustees of the Well started advertising the medicinal qualities of the chalybeate waters (water impregnated with iron) in 1700. Although Hampstead Wells was initially successful, its popularity declined in the 1800s due to competition with other London spas. The spa was demolished in 1882, although a water fountain was left behind.
Hampstead started to expand following the opening of the North London Railway in the 1860s (now on the London Overground), and expanded further after the tube station opened in 1907.