St Mary the Virgin, Harmondsworth, Middlesex

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Feature Sets (3)


Harmondsworth is on the W edge of the traditional county, under a mile from the Buckinghamshire border. It is now in the S of the London Borough of Hillingdon.  It retains some of its village character despite being squeezed between Heathrow airport to the S, the M25 to the W and the M4 to the N St Mary’s stands at the N end of the village, E of the celebrated late-medieval tithe barn. The church consists of a chancel with N aisle, nave with N and S aisles and a S porch, and a tower at the W end of the S aisle, alongside the porch.  A 19thc vestry towards the W end of the N aisle now contains lavatories and is linked to a later 20thc flat-roofed parish room; extremely unprepossessing from the exterior but providing a large and surprisingly airy space for functions.

In detail, the three-bay S arcade of the nave, and the reset S doorway are the oldest parts, dating from the 12thc.   The S aisle is shorter than the N, owing to the presence of the tower at its west end.  The ground storey of the tower was formerly a baptistery and still contains an octagonal Purbeck font; originally 13thc but with a shiny new bowl.  The 13thc N arcade is of three bays too, but the E bay has been partly replaced (see below).  The chancel was rebuilt in 1396-98, after the church passed to Winchester College, and has a small S doorway and a three-bay N aisle with a four-centred arcade of c.1500 of which the two E bays form a Lady Chapel, and the third bay houses the organ.  The chancel aisle is contiguous with the N nave aisle, and there was clearly an intention to extend the four-centred arcade of the chancel westwards to replace the older nave arcade, but this only reached the apex of nave bay 1.  The upper storeys of the tower are of brick and date from c.1500; the tower is capped by a small cast-iron cupola.  The S porch is 19thc.  Construction is of flint with a good deal of ashlar rubble incorporated. Romanesque sculpture is found on the S doorway and the S nave arcade.


Before 1066 the manor of Harmondsworth was held by Earl Harold, and it became William I’s at the Conquest.  In 1069 he gave it to the Benedictine Abbey of Holy Trinity, Rouen, along with the church.  A cell was founded at some time after 1086, probably in the 12thc, and a prior is first mentioned in 1211.  According to VCH, the prior was effectively the Lord of the Manor; a situation that lasted until 1391, when the priory was dissolved and its lands, along with the manor, passed to Winchester College.


Exterior Features


S nave doorway

Round headed, three orders.

Height of opening 2.18m
Width of opening 1.24m
1st order

Continuous and consisting of e voussoirs on each jamb and eight in the arch.  Each voussoir except the lowest on the E jamb is decorated on the face with a design in low relief as follows (numbering continuously from the foot of the W jamb to the foot of the E jamb).

1. Worn quatrefoil daisy motif in recessed circle, incomplete at foot.

2. Interlace knotworkdesign of two concentric rings with an interlace quatrefoil superimposed.

3. As 1 but complete

4. Quatrefoil with central drilled boss and splayed petals.

5. Complex concentric interlaceknotworkdesign with a central quatrefoil and ponted spurs at the angles.

6. Whirling quatrefoil motif superimposed on a relief ring.

7. Octofoil daisy with drilled central boss and fluted petals.

8. Relief design of a central ring with four others around it, interlacing.

9. Palmette design of four pairs of trilobed leaves arranged along a central stem.

10. Multi-petalled daisy, similar to 7.

11. As 10.

12. Interlace design two concentric double rings with a quatrefoil with a bossed centre superimposed

13. As 2 but with two triple concentric rings

14. A confused foliage design with a central drilled clasp from which untidy loops of foliage emerge symmetrically to either side.

15. Similar to 12.

16. Worn but clearly similar to 7.

17. Badly worn disc with an angular daisy.

18. As 17 but larger and partly cut off by the E capital.

19. As 2.

20. As 8.

21 Starlike quatrefoil flower with a half-daisy in each quadrant.

22. Angular quatrefoil flower overlapping relief double-ring, with central boss and a boss in each quadrant.

23. As 7.

24. Uncarved, probably a replacement.

The inner faces of the jambs and soffit of the arch are left uncarved.

2nd order

En-delit detached nook-shafts, each in three sections, carried on replacement chamfered drum bases.  The W shaft is decorated with nested chevron, alternately fat and thin rolls.  The E has basket weave carving, best preserved on the lowest section. The capitals are badly worn: both are scallop types; the better-preserved W capital a triple-scallop.  Neckings are plain rolls and impost blocks are chamfered.  The arch is carved with 19 bird beakheads, each on its own voussoir but voussoirs 10 and 11 from the W, at the arch apex, have both been trimmed drastically, presumably when the doorway was reset. The bird designs are similar to one another, all being triangular with sharp beaks curving over an inner angle roll and large, bulbous oval eyes, but thyere is a good deal of variation on the treatment of the eye-sockets, the depiction of feathers and the extent of drilling on the beak.

3rd order

Perhaps originally continuous.  It has the same from of lateral chevron ornament on arch and jambs, consisting of a fat angle roll and a face hollow separated by a double quirk.  Resetting of the doorway has disturbed the relationship between this order and the second.  On the W jamb the 3rd-order chevron continues alongside the 2nd-order capital, whereas on the E the capital interrupts the chevron ornament.  It might also be significant that both jambs have evidence of nailhead ornament remaining on either side of the chevron angle roll; a feature not found in the arch.  There has been a good deal of replacement and recutting of the voussoirs, and the chevron is irregular in its angularity, in the number of units on each voussoir, and in its state of preservation.  Of the arch voussoirs, perhaps only the seventh from the W provokes any confidence.

There is no label.

Interior Features



S arcade

3 bays, pointed, of clunch. The arches are plain with very slight chamfers to N and S, and labels on the nave side only, chamfered on the intrados.  The piers are cylindrical and the E respond a half-cylinder.  The W respond is flat.  Piers are carried on tall block plinths, chamfered at the top, carrying spurred bases with paired rolls. The capitals are generally repaired with obvious inserts and are described below.

E respond capital

Plain multi-scallop with plain roll necking and plain hollow-chamfered impost.

Pier 1 capital

Multi-scallop with plain roll necking and plain hollow-chamfered impost, but some variation in the scallop forms. Those on the N face have plain cones, with vertical rolls between three at the W end.  The remainder of the cones are sheathed.

Pier 2 capital

As E respond capital, but with suggestions of a trumpet form of cone.

W respond

No capital but a plain hollow chamfered impost.The pier below is hollow chamfered with pyramid stops.


Pevsner (1951) describes the S doorway as the most elaborate piece of Norman architecture in the county next to Harlington, which shares features with this doorway including beakhead (but of a different kind), similar chevron and similarly ornamented nook-shafts.  Harlington is more elaborate but probably a product of the same workshop.  Such features suggest a date in the 1130s, both earlier than the nave arcade and aesthetically very different.  Pevsner suggests that the arches, being pointed, must date from after 1200.  For the present author a date in the 1160s or possibly the ‘70s is acceptable for the entire arcade, especially in view of the suggestion of trumpet scallops in the capitals.  This leaves the font, omitted here but dated c.1200 by Pevsner and the EH listing.  While the supports might be 13thc, the bowl is surely a modern replacement, especially as it has no signs of any locks or staples.


  • B. Cherry and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. London 3: North West, Harmondsworth 1991, 324-25.

  • Historic England Listed Building 202846.

  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Middlesex, Harmondsworth 1951, 95.

  • Victoria County History, Middlesex, 1 (1969), 193-204.

  • Victoria County History, Middlesex, 4 (1971), 7-10; 17-19.

Exterior from NW
Exterior from NW
Tower from SE
Interior to E


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TQ 057 778 
now: Greater London (from 1965)
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Middlesex (to 1965)
medieval: London
now: London
medieval: St Mary the Virgin (pre-Reformation)
now: St Mary the Virgin
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter 
Visit Date
26 April 2012