Written by Ava Salzer, collection care volunteer, and Roxane Burke, collections and conservation officer.
Over the last year, we have been in contact with the collections team, Collections Officer Jessica Woolf and Borough Archivist Lindsay Ould, from the Museum of Croydon. After their visit to Fulham Palace in the summer, they kindly invited us to take a look at their museum’s collection care activities since lockdown began. We also discovered the Bishops of London had links to Croydon, specifically to the historic Surrey countryside of Addington. The village sits only a short bus ride from Croydon town centre. In the 19th century, Addington Palace was the new home of the Archbishops of Canterbury and later their resting place at nearby St Mary’s Church.
The original manor was built sometime in the 16th century and was owned by the Leigh family, who became Lords of the Manor of Addington, until the title went without issue in the early 18th century. The grounds were then bought by the British-born merchant Barlow Trecothick, who had grown up in colonial Boston, Massachusetts. In his later years, he became MP for the City of London and even served as Lord Mayor. Trecothick employed architect Robert Mylne to build a new Palladian-style house at Addington, but he, unfortunately, died before it was completed.
The estate was then passed onto his nephew, James Ivers, who had to change his surname to Trecothick in order to inherit. James managed to complete work on the grounds and hired landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to design its gardens. Due to financial troubles, the estate was sold off by an Act of Parliament in 1807 and purchased as the new summer home for the Archbishops of Canterbury. They had previously been in residence for 500 years at Croydon Palace, the grounds having become dilapidated over time.
Over the course of their stay in the 19th century, the mansion was renamed Addington Palace and was enlarged by architect Richard Norman Shaw. In total, six Archbishops of Canterbury lived there and five were buried at nearby St Mary’s. These include two previous Bishops of London, William Howley (1813-1828 and Archibishop of Canterbury 1828-1848) and Archibald Campbell Tait (1856-1868 and Archibishop of Canterbury 1828-1848). In 1897, the estate was sold, and ownership of the building was transferred to the Borough of Croydon. It is now recognised as a Grade II* listed building and was used as a wedding venue until recently.
Our next stop was to The Church of St Mary the Blessed Virgin, Addington, which was about a 10 minutes’ walk from Addington Palace. A church has been on this site since at least the Norman conquest!
Since 1080 A.D. there has been a church on the site of St Mary’s. This small but remarkable church is characterised on the outside by its flint facing. The historic churchyard includes a prominent memorial in the Gothic Revival style (typified by Gothic architectural motifs) to Archbishops Sutton, Howley, Sumner, Longley and Tait. This memorial is encircled with each of the Archbishops’ crests, their names and lifespans, decorative gargoyles and other memorial text. Bishop Howley is actually buried in the church’s crypt which has not been accessible since a building extension covered the entrance.
The church’s stunning interior has stained glass windows, a barrel-vaulted ceiling and encaustic tile floors. Similar encaustic tiles can be found in the Fulham Palace chapel! The chancel is adorned with ochre and rust patterned Victorian wall paintings that feature stylised, floral motifs. Gilded rays are also painted, extending from the tops of stained-glass windows which reflect light shining through. The memorial tombs for the Leigh family (who owned Addington Palace) dating back to the early 16th Century are another prominent feature of the church’s interior. Built-in marble and carved with representations of the deceased complete with Tudor dress, these memorials flank the left-hand side of the altar.
St Mary’s also has a working belfry with bells dating as early as 1380! The raised bell tower was a later addition to the church as the building was extended in the 1800s. From the ground floor, you can still see the holes in the ceiling through which the bellpulls would have dropped down before the extension. This area of the church also holds a framed print of Archbishop Howley’s funeral which processed through Addington. A print on display shows the carriage marked by Howley’s crest in the town street surrounded by people on foot and horseback.
St Mary’s became a place of worship for the Archbishops during their summer stays at Addington Palace and they regularly processed from their residence there to the church via the ‘rose walk’. This procession walk is now sadly inaccessible due to the changed contemporary landscape, however, the gate by which the Archbishops would arrive at the church is still present in the wall of the churchyard.
The current church is Grade I listed, and its history and building are beautifully upkept by people like Lindsay. Thanks very much again to Jess and Lindsay for being so generous with their time and knowledge!