|St John the Evangelist and Old Stanmore Church Churchyard||Harrow|
The churchyard contains the ruins of the old brick church of St John the Evangelist, built in 1632, and the new church, which was built in 1850 when the old church was too small and also found to be unsafe. The parish had strong connections with the many local dignitaries with estates in the area, to whom there are notable monuments in the church and churchyard. These included Stanmore Park, Stanmore Hall and Bentley Priory, the latter at one time the home of Lord Abercorn and Lord Aberdeen, whose son Douglas Gordon was Rector and one of the donors of the new church.
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The old brick church was built in 1632 to replace an early C14th church in Old Church Lane dedicated to St Mary, which itself was predated by a Saxon church that was probably the earliest church here. By the time it was proposed to replace St Mary's as the parish church, the village of Great Stanmore had moved to the north and it was here that land was donated by 3 parishioners: Mrs Barbara Burnell, the widow of Sir John Burnell (d.1605), a member of the Clothworkers' Company; Sir Thomas Lake of Canons (q.v.) and Mr Robinson. The church was built at the expense of Sir John Wolstenholme (1562-1639), a Collector of Customs and founder member of the Council of the Virginia Company of North America. The church, a brick building in classical style and with early work by Nicholas Stone, was dedicated to St John the Evangelist and consecrated in 1632 by William Laud, the Bishop of London, who was later to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Arrested in 1641 for High Treason, Archbishop Laud was beheaded in 1645. The brick church remained the parish church until 1850, although by 1845 it had become too small and was also thought to be structurally unsafe.
It was replaced by a new church that was built between 1848-50 on an adjacent field donated by Col. Hamilton Tovey Tennent, who lived in a large mansion in Green Lane. It was designed by Henry Clutton (1814-1895) and contains many of the memorials from the old church, which were moved here. The foundation stone was laid in the presence of Queen Adelaide, who was then living at Bentley Priory (q.v.), and this turned out to be her last public appearance. The new church of St John the Evangelist was consecrated by the Bishop of Salisbury on 16 July 1850, having cost £7,855 0s 3d, paid for through subscriptions and donations, including £1,000 from the Rector, Revd. Douglas Gordon, the son of Lord Aberdeen, who himself made a donation of £2,000.
In 1851 demolition of the old church got as far as removal of the roof and part of the south wall, but the parishioners objected strongly and the church was eventually left as a stabilised ruin, the nave used for burials. Beneath the old church on the north side was the Bentley Priory Vault and among those buried here were Lord Abercorn and Lord Aberdeen, George Hamilton Gordon, 4th Earl of Aberdeen who had married Lord Abercorn's daughter and was Prime Minister under Queen Victoria from 1852-55. His coffin was only rediscovered following works to make safe the old church in the early 1990s. The ruin had gradually become covered in ivy, and suffered vandalism over the years. Another victim of vandalism was the Victorian mausoleum of the Hollond family of Stanmore Hall, which was reduced to a horizontal stone slab as a result. In 1989 the Great Stanmore Old Church Working Group was set up and following fund-raising works to consolidate the structure were completed in 1992.
Among other monuments found in the old church are those for Sir John Wolstenholme and other members of his family. They had come to Stanmore in 1540 and may have lived in the original Manor House where Sir John was born. A merchant adventurer, he financed 2 expeditions to the north-west passage in 1610 and 1615. Cape Wolstenholme at the entrance to Hudson's Bay, Wolstenholme Settlement and Wolstenholme Sound were named after him. He set up Wolstenholme Town in 1618, the first English settlers along James River in Virginia, but in 1662 its townspeople were massacred; the old foundations of the town were excavated in 1970.
The large churchyard is surrounded by clipped hedging and contains a WWI war memorial and some good monuments of the C18th and later are among the tombs scattered in the grass. They include that of Philip Jackson, an C18th chest tomb in the north-east corner of the old church; the urn tomb to Mary Wood, north of east end of Old Church; and the tomb of W S Gilbert (d.1911) to the south west of the newer church. Col. Mark Beaufoy (d.1827) is also buried here, an astronomer and physicist who in 1820 erected a 20 foot obelisk in the grounds of what is now RAF Bentley Priory, then Glen House, with inscriptions giving the height above sea level, latitude and longitude and compass bearings. At 23 he was the first Englishman to climb Mont Blanc and became Governor of Harrow School.
Among the trees in the churchyard are two notable yew trees, a large Wellingtonia and a fine oak tree. At the entrance from Uxbridge Road there is a lych-gate and a lodge, an Arts and Craft style building with decorated ceramic wall tiles.
Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 3: North West' (Penguin, 1999 ed); Walter W Druett, 'The Stanmores and Harrow Weald Through the Ages' (Hillingdon Press, 1938); Jean Crowden 'The Brick Church' in The Salubrious Air', Stanmore and Harrow Historical Society (n.d.)