There have been three churches on the site of St Benet’s over the years. The first was a tin mission hut built in 1881 when the parish was founded. The church was built on land owned by St John’s College, Cambridge. Within a few years, an architect called Joseph Peacock was commissioned to built a large, impressive church in what was then a very run down end of town. In the end, only his nave was built, but this building was consecrated in 1885.
By 1909, plans were afoot to finish the structure Peacock had left incomplete. Bodley and Garner were employed to create a chancel and sanctuary. It has a characteristically lofty ceiling with beautiful stencil work, and black and white marble paving. The high altar and chancel were perfectly suited to the tractarian worship which had been the tradition of the parish since its foundation. The first parish priest was Fr Frank Oakley Rowland, a committed Anglo-Catholic, who has been succeeded by a series of priests in the catholic tradition to this day.
It was noticed in the 1920s that subsidence under the nave Peacock had built was causing significant structural damage. It appears springs of water under the church had been doing lots of damage to the foundations. In fact, by 1927, the nave was condemned as dangerous and pulled down, leaving standing only the sanctuary which Bodley had constructed.
It took a surprisingly short time, however, to rebuild St Benet’s. The new nave, built by Cecil Hare onto the surviving Bodley sanctuary was consecrated in 1928. All that is left of Peackock’s earlier church is our font. The new nave echoed the proportions of Bodley’s earlier chancel, has lots of clear glass, and a barrel roof.
St Benet’s has a lovely side chapel used for the daily Mass. In addition, many of the fixtures and furnishings came from two other churches which at various stages in our parish’s life were closed to be incorporated into our parish, namely St Luke’s, Osney Crescent (which has since been re-opened), and St John’s, Kentish Town.
The immediate feel of the church when one enters is one of gracious light and space. However, many parts of the church building are in need of restoration and renewal. Last year, we raised nearly a quarter of a million pounds to replace and repair the roof. We are very grateful to all the funding bodies and charities that helped make the work on our historic building possible. Our task now is to redecorate and restore the interior, as well as to think about how we might remodel our sacristies to provide better lavatories and kitchen facilities.