In 2013 we celebrated 100 years of the St. Andrew’s Church building. This history is one of a ‘plain chapel with a strident bell’ within which meets a church congregation who enjoy the ‘preaching of the simple gospel of Jesus Christ’!
Park Chapel: the beginning
The first building on the site, built in 1718, was simple. It was only one storey with a small turret on the roof containing a single bell. This simple building was called Park Chapel. It was built by Sir Richard Manningham, a local landowner, to serve the growing population living in the neighbouring village of Little Chelsea.
Thus began the long tradition of, as described in an eighteenth century newspaper, “a tenacious adhesion to the evangelical doctrine”. This trust in the simple gospel taught clearly from the Bible began with the first worshippers at the chapel in 1718. Park Chapel served the local community throughout the following decades with a congregation growing as London itself grew and expanded.
Park Chapel: the eighteenth century
Eventually, in 1810, Park Chapel was enlarged, increasing the capacity to 1,200. However, the same bell remained in the turret on the roof. In 1812 the Reverend John Owen was appointed and the church moved into a very active phase. It became noted for its preaching and one visitor described the services as “glowing with fervour”.
The church expanded its social activities with the congregation very generously and sacrificially giving to support the work. The local branch of Scripture Union, the international mission movement, had its birth in the church and at one stage there were three different schools run by the church.
A newspaper report of February 1876 described the Sunday morning service at Park Chapel this way:
“we find in this plainest of buildings with the simplest service possible... a congregation full to overflowing... It is evident that Reverend Gregory has found the preaching of the simple gospel effectual in arousing his people to a life of faith and good works.”
By the end of the nineteenth century it became apparent old age was catching up with Park Chapel. It was eventually decided to tear down the old building and a new building be built in its place.
St. Andrew’s: the twentieth century
A Mr Cyril Sloane Stanley gifted the freehold of the site and Mr Charles Bannister, a member of the congregation, paid all the costs of construction so long as a Bible-believing ministry remained. St. Andrew’s was designed by the firm of Sir Arthur Blomfield. The main substantial decoration is the large east window of stained glass and the main continuation from Park Chapel is that the bell tower contains the same strident bell. On its consecration the new building was allotted status as a parish church. The foundation stone is inscribed with the aspiration “to preach the simple gospel of Jesus Christ which was for so long taught at Park Chapel”.
The first vicar of the parish was the Reverend Robert Henry Keable, the last minister of Park Chapel. >One congregation member, Miss Birch, gave the four houses on Park Walk to the north of the church (including today’s vicarage!) for the church’s use.
Plaques in the church commemorate those from the Parish who gave their lives in the two world wars. St. Andrew’s itself suffered curious damage during the Second World War. A barrage balloon broke free from its moorings in Regent’s Park. Its dangling mooring cable entangled with the weather vane on top of the steeple and broke off the top.
Reverend Keable retired in 1918 and the church seems to have gone through a very tough period for the next 50 years. In 1968 it was agreed to merge with the church of St John’s at World’s End.
St. Andrew’s: today
Almost 50 years on, by the grace of God, things are looking brighter for the church. We pray he will stir his people here once more to grow in love for him, for one another and for his very needy world. St. Andrew’s remains a rather ‘plain chapel with a strident bell’ and our vision here at St Andrew’s is to continue what has gone on here ever since 1718. That is “to preach the simple gospel of Jesus Christ which was for so long taught at Park Chapel”, for the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.