The Parish Church of Saint Matthew’s, Kensington Olympia, was built in 1870-71 to meet the spiritual needs of the rapidly expanding West Kensington area – a world very different from our own.
Saint Matthew’s was designed and built by the prolific church architect, Sir Arthur Blomfield, in 1870-1871. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, Blomfield was one of the last great Gothic revivalists.
The design of the church is in Blomfield’s early Gothic style, heavily influenced by the work of famous Gothic Revival architects William Butterfield and G.E.Street. The foundation stone was laid by society beauty, Lady Rosamond Barrow, and the church consecrated on St. James’s day 1871. The Parish was officially created in 1872.
St Matthews news - proposal for new church September 1869
A painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) of Lady Rosamond Barrow, 1826
At that time the Victorian development of the London suburbs was in full flow and people would simply not move into an area unless there was a church – hence Saint Matthew’s and many others. It was pewed from side to side, front and back, with little ‘dicky’ seats that pulled out from the pews into the aisles. It was full every Sunday, regularly having a congregation of 400.
Linked to Saint Matthew’s was the Mission Church in Redan Street – now a nursery school – which was for the lower orders – servants and the poor who lived in Redan Street, Hofland Road, and even Masbro Road.
In the era of “Mods and Rockers,” Saint Matthew’s was firmly on the side of the “Rockers.” The church ran a very successful youth club for motorcyclists which attracted a large number from all over west London.
The church was funded by ‘pew rents,’ the nearer to the front your pew, the more you had to pay. There was a sliding scale of costs. The church was so warm in summer that three ventilators were installed in the roof to help keep the temperature down. The majority of the churchgoers came from Sinclair Road where they had live-in servants. They would not have kept a carriage themselves but one was always available from the livery stables – which became the Nomis Studios. You can still see the original arch just into Hofland Road.
The end of the First World War marked a watershed in the history of Saint Matthew’s and the area.
The wealthy families that lived in Sinclair Road moved further out to the expanding suburbs on the district line. The large houses were divided and became cheap rooming houses for a transient population. The whole area suffered a social and economic decline.
The post-war period saw the re-generation of the parish with the building of the Springvale Estate. At that time a plan was seriously considered to demolish Saint Matthew’s and replace it with a combined church and hall on the corner of Blythe Road and Faroe Road.
The Second Would War added to the general decline. Both the nearby railway and the Osram light bulb factory on Brook Green became targets for German bombers, resulting in considerable damage in the area. The church was damaged and subsequently closed for the rest of the war.
The Lady Chapel is full of brass plaques in memory of those men of the parish who gave their lives in WW1. A plaque on the back row of the choir records the men who died in WW11.
Built of yellow London stock brick with bands of red brick and stone window tracery and details, the roofs are banded in stripes of green and grey slate. The church is made up of a broad central aisle with north and south aisles, transepts and a chancel; there is a bell-cote over the chancel arch which contains two bells. The church stands in dramatic contrast to the Italianate detailing of the houses in Sinclair Road.
The central panel above the altar shows the Resurrection of the Lord, the two side panels portray Our Lady and St Gabriel at the Annunciation; there is a profusion of intricate carved grape vines in the Devon style. Above the three in the East Window is depicted The Ascension of The Lord; in this way the East end of the church proclaims the fundamental mystery of the Christian faith in the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.
Dominating the church is the magnificent altar-piece, installed in 1898 as part of the remodelling of the chancel which included carved panelling and the choir stalls – to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Historic records are kept at the London Metropolitan Archive and any enquiry about records predating 1970 should be directed to them. For records from 1970 onwards please contact the parish priest. Some later records are also at LMA but we will advise if this is so in your case. It will also take a few days to respond to your enquiry while the relevant documents are found so please be patient. Also, please be aware that there is sometimes a statutory fee for searches and copies of registers.