Local cartophiles1 and others with a damp afternoon and nothing else to do will be interested to learn that the small slice of paradise that we call home sits within four church parishes – St Mary’s to the south, St Stephens to the east, All Hallows to the west and the gloriously named St Margarets-on-Thames to the north.
Apart from estate agents who appear to believe that St Margarets is a village with a maypole, morris dancers and a market cross now buried beneath the chip shop, most residents know that our community takes its name from a house built in the 1830’s by Archibald Kennedy, the 1st Marquis of Ailsa. It was on the riverside close to where Richmond Lock now stands. The local parish church, All Souls on Northcote Road, was built in 1898 and with it came the newly established parish of St Margarets. Then the church authorities discovered that there was already a parish called St Margarets so to avoid confusion they changed the name to St Margarets-on-Thames… and very nice too.
To reinforce its parochial status the church erected on an arch by the main entrance a statue of St Margaret casting a maidenly eye over the parish and the community that carried her name. She stood there for nearly a century until a few years ago, fearing that she might plunge to the ground and dispatch the next passing parishioner, the statue was taken down. The young limestone lady, clad in a medieval hoodie and holding a large sword was placed, stained and half forgotten, in the church garden.
Like all things the fortunes of churches are not fixed and as All Souls approached its 100th anniversary in 1998 its congregation was declining into single figures and its long term future as a parish church was in serious doubt. – and still stony St Margaret slept on in her bed of fallen leaves.
Fortunately this situation has now dramatically reversed. Thanks to the efforts of Michael Colcough, the Bishop of Kensington and a small congregation ‘borrowed’ from St Stephen’s Church in East Twickenham, All Souls, once a dull and dusty Victorian pile has become a vibrant hub of the community with an eye firmly on the future. Along with a nursery group, mother and toddler ‘drop-in’ centre and coffee and cake club for older residents the church is now drawing up plans for a transformation of its exterior. Walls are to be knocked down to open up access, rusting screens will be removed to reveal stained glass windows and open spaces will be created for people to gather… and although the church may not realise it the first step to this restoration has already been taken. The statue of St Margaret has been resurrected and cleaned. Once cast down and overlooked she now stands upright and confident in the church garden for all to see. Children play around her feet and visitors meet in her company. She is back where she was 100 years ago… but not quite.
All that is needed now to celebrate her reappearance and the revitalisation of the church and parish that she represents is for her to be placed back in public view, casting once again a maidenly eye over the parish and the community that carries her name.
1 cartophile n. One who greatly admires and enjoys maps
— from Martyn Day