Church Building

On this page.....


  • About our Church building

  • Ernest Shearman, the Architect

  • Unfinished Design

  • The side Chapels

  • Great Western Railway

About our Church building

Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, was the inspirational Bishop of London from 1901-1939. He had a vision for expanding the Church of England in London to make provision for the spiritual needs of the growing suburbs, so he planned 45 new suburban churches. In each suburb a mission hut was built, a priest appointed ("London Diocesan Home Missionaries"), and a fledgling congregation planted, who raised funds, and eventually erected new church buildings at each site. Our church is sometimes claimed to be the very first of the "45 new churches" (see the Acton Gazette, 24 July 1931). The mission was launched in 1920 (with a Church Army Evangelist in a mission hall), church construction took place in 1930 and 1931, and the church was opened and consecrated on 18th July 1931.

In the 1990s and 2000s the church experimented with "worship in the round", an ultimately unpopular fad of that era. From 2011 onwards the church was restored to its traditional form, so that now the whole of the nave, chancel, and sanctuary is used for Sunday worship, as well as for the Daily Offices, and Benediction. The chancel is wide and spacious, and the sanctuary dominated by the very large high altar, and three red hanging sanctuary lamps. The rear of the nave is also used for social activities and community functions. There are smaller side chapels (see below), used particularly for weekday masses. There is a large gallery at the west end, which is currently out of use. There is also a large western narthex which is an entrance hall, but also a useful meeting room. A church catering galley was installed in 2012 and new toilets and storage facilities were installed in 2018.

In 2020 we celebrated 100 years since our church community was founded.

On 18 July 2021 we celebrated 90 years since our current church building was consecrated.

Bishop Arthur Winnington-Ingram, who founded our church.

Ernest Shearman, our Architect

St Gabriel's Church is one of the six London masterpieces of architecture designed and built by the architect Ernest Charles Shearman. Sadly, one of his six London churches was destroyed by enemy action in the Second World War, but the other five remain in use. All are broadly similar in style, though different in detail. Shearman built large and lofty churches, with high ceilings, and sweeping gothic arches and arcades of red brick.

One of his signatures was the elaborate rose window - always with plain glass, as the detail was in the tracery of the stonework. Each of his London churches had a rose window, except St Silas, Kentish Town, which had a half-rose. St Gabriel's was designed with two rose windows. Sadly, only one was installed (on the south transept, at high level) as funding for the other window could not be found.

There are two excellent published biographies of Shearman, both of which we highly recommend:

TITLE: "Ernest Charles Shearman (1859-1939): An Anglo-Catholic Architect"
SUBTITLE: An illustrated introduction to his life and work
AUTHOR: John Salmon
PUBLISHED: Anglo-Catholic History Society, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9560565-0-4
SIZE: Approximately 200 pages, lavishly illustrated

TITLE: "Ernest Shearman"
SUBTITLE:
Ecclesiastical Architect, 1859-1939
AUTHOR:
Diana Beckett
PUBLISHED:
2QT Publishing Limited, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-914083-21-1
SIZE: Approximately 110 pages, lavishly illustrated


Unfinished Design

The other rose window (see previous section) was to have been massive, and in the west wall, which remains unfinished. There are other unfinished parts of St Gabriel's. The towers to the east of the transepts should each have been topped with a spire, as should the matching towers on the west end of the building. A planned ambulatory around the eastern apse was also never built. The largest side chapel was never built - Shearman usually provided several side chapels in his church designs. Most significantly, the parish halls and offices planned for the north side of the church were never built - the church still owns the land beside the church building where these facilities should have been constructed, and we hope that one day the funding will be available to provide them. Also incomplete are the planned tiling on the floor, and the planned vicarage next to the church.

The side Chapels

Side chapels exist in most churches and cathedrals. They are smaller self-contained worship spaces, particularly suitable for private devotions, or for weekday services with smaller attendances. Very often a side chapel has its own dedication (patron saint). Here are details of our side chapels:


Chapel of St Mary (Lady Chapel)

The beautiful Lady Chapel (Chapel of Our Lady - St Mary) is used regularly. Much of our mid-week worship takes place in this chapel. The chapel has a neatly carved wooden altar, above which Shearman provided an aumbry for the reservation of the blessed sacrament. The aumbry is still in place, but is now redundant owing to the installation of a tabernacle above it. The former wooden reredos has been moved from this altar to the church's shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and its place is now taken by a magnificent modern work of art - a painting of the Annunciation by John Pelling (see details at art and devotion for more information). This chapel is also home to a striking statue of St Anne (the mother of the Virgin Mary). Fully carpeted, and with comfortable seating, this chapel is a haven of peace, and we encourage visitors to use it as such. Even on a Sunday morning the Lady Chapel is reserved as a place of quiet for private prayer, before, during, and after the main services.

Chapel of St Mary, also known as the Lady Chapel.

Chapel of St Francis of Assisi

On the south side of the nave, and featuring the second-largest window in the entire church (second only to the transept rose window) is the Chapel of St Francis of Assisi. The extraordinary Francis, founder of the Franciscan movement, regarded all animals and plants as his brothers and sisters. He engaged with the "green agenda" centuries before it was a political issue, and urged Christians to practice careful stewardship of God's creation. The Chapel of St Francis, which includes a two-foot tall statue of the saint, is a spiritual focus for us not only in devotion, but also in terms of our determination (as a church family) to engage with environmental issues, and to discover ways of reducing our carbon footprint. A triptych icon altar-piece by Cristi Paslaru (see details at art and devotion for more information), featuring Francis and other saints, is a focus of devotion here. The Chapel is used for private prayer, and for the celebration of mass on weekdays.

The Chapel of St Francis of Assisi, with the Paslaru triptych.

Chapel of St Michael & All Angels

On the north side of the nave sits the little Chapel of St Michael and All Angels. This little chapel is a focus for private prayer, and a place where many visitors to our building choose to pray and light a candle. The attractive altar (made of wood, with an inset altar stone) is dedicated to the great Archangel Michael and all the heavenly host. A large statue of our patron, the Archangel Gabriel, stands in this chapel, and is much loved by our congregation. Icons of the archangels Michael and Gabriel flank the altar cross, on the screen. Smaller weekday masses are sometimes said in this little chapel, which is designed to accommodate around 7 or 8 people comfortably.

The Chapel of St Michael and All Angels, with the statue of St Gabriel.

Chapel of St Dorothy

In the spring of 2020 the world was changed by the Coronavirus - and that included the English Church. For the first time since Christianity came to the British Isles, all of our parish churches and cathedrals were closed by order of the Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Parish Priests were urged to worship and say mass in the private chapels at their homes, or (where such a chapel did not exist) to establish one. So here in North Acton the Vicarage Morning Room ( a bright room with huge windows and doors opening onto the vicarage garden) was cleared out, cleaned, and then converted into a new chapel, dedicated to the martyr St Dorothy. It continues to be used regularly for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, with the offering of intercession for the needs of the parish.

The Chapel of St Dorothy
set up for the Easter Vigil mass of 2020, during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham (Walsingham Shrine Chapel)

There is a prominent Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, forming a very small chapel in the church. There is a lovely statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, donated by a former church member who died in 2009. Our parish engages in regular pilgrimage to Walsingham, both privately, and on corporate pilgrimage days and weeks. The ornate votive lamp was originally the church's sacrament lamp, but was repurposed after a new sacrament lamp was acquired. There is a small altar in the shrine chapel, and although there are no seats, mass is very occasionally offered here.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham (shrine chapel).
The Banner of St Matthias, above the little chapel.

Chapel of St Matthias

The little Chapel of St Matthias is not in regular use. Two Stations of the Cross (from our set of 14) are to be found in this little side chapel. Also, fluttering high above the chapel is the Banner of St Matthias. Installed around 70 years ago, this banner has now faded to a dull colour, but was once bright green and yellow; it is decorated with two axes, since the axe is traditionally held to be the instrument of martyrdom of the holy Apostle St Matthias.

The Chapel of St Matthias, with Stations of the Cross.

Great Western Railway

The community of North Acton is a railway village, planned and built by the Great Western Railway (GWR) following the expansion of that company in the "Railways Grouping" of 1923 (following the Railways Act 1921) which united 120 smaller British railway companies into just four large regional companies. The GWR bought the fields north of Acton and constructed our community in order to house managers, supervisors, drivers, firemen, cleaners, and firelighters from the Old Oak Common locomotive depot. The principal designer and architect of the estate was William Atkinson, who lived in the house (built by him) that is now our Vicarage.

Although the houses on the estate were sold off by British Rail in the 1970s, the area retains a distinct railway history and character. We still have locally the Great Western Railway Allotment Association, and other little reminders of our past. In St Gabriel's Church, as well as celebrating our Patron Saint (the Archangel Gabriel), we have always had a framed photograph in our vestry depicting the GWR Saint-class 4-6-0 locomotive "Saint Gabriel" (number 2922) built at Swindon in 1907, and in service until the end of the second world war.


The cabside number plate of GWR locomotive 2922 "Saint Gabriel". A photograph of the engine hangs in our church vestry.