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The Church of St Mary the Virgin and All Saints was built during the incumbency of Fr George Preston, replacing the earlier Parish Church of St John the Baptist which had served the Parish from 1835 and had been situated on what is now the site of the War Memorial and Gardens on the east side of the High Street.
The architect was J S Alder and the new church building was consecrated on 12 June 1915 by the Bishop of London, but remained unfinished for 50 years. During the incumbency of Fr Cecil Charlton the west end with its modern narthex, designed by Lawrence King, was completed.
The Church is 108 feet long internally, from the glass façade of the narthex to the apse behind the high altar, the maximum width is 60 feet. The wings on each side of the covered area in front of the narthex add 8 feet to the overall length.
The building is throughout of greyish Bath stone on a brick core. All the windows and arcade mouldings are of a simplified Decorated design.
Three doors in the glazed from of the narthex match those opposite, leading from the narthex into the nave. Above the narthex is a balcony behind which is an immense modern window the full width of the nave and rising 40 feet to the crest of the false roof which runs the length of the Church. The window consists of 17 lights with random rectangular panes of clear glass and illuminates the whole nave.
On either side of the narthex are four rooms. The lower ones are entered from the aisles: the north room is the St Michael's Chapel. This is used both for small services and meetings. The processional cross hung on the west wall came from St Michael's Church, a temporary building that was erected in Church Road in 1904 and burnt down in 1942.
On the north wall is a bas-relief of the Madonna and Child, made by the monks on the Island of Caldey. The corresponding room on the south side is the Parish Office. Access to the balcony is obtained near the Office. The two upper offices are accessed from the balcony.
Looking to the east window and high altar from the narthex one sees a wide, tall nave of four bays with high Gothic arcades under a false wagon roof about 50 feet high to the apex. On both sides there is a wide aisle.
The simply sculptured stone font came from the old St John the Baptist Church. Above it hangs a cover of painted wood, a modern version of the fine late Perpendicular covers of East Anglia. Near it, on its white and gold stand, is the Paschal candle, the great symbol of 'Christ risen', which is lit from Easter Eve to Pentecost and on every baptism throughout the year.
On the left hand side of the chancel steps stands a bronze Madonna and Child which came from St James, Hampstead Road, beneath a canopy which was the gift of the late Lawrence Jones, author of several books on old English churches and a churchwarden and Reader at St Mary's for nearly 40 years.
Attached to the opposite pier is the sculptured Victorian stone pulpit which was also brought from the old St John the Baptist Church.
Raised up on steps in front of a shallow apse is the broad stone high altar bearing the Latin inscription 'Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis' ('The word was made flesh and dwelt among us' John 1 v 14). The altar is surmounted by a large crucifix, believed to have been designed as a processional cross and originating in Belgium. Six tall candlesticks flank the crucifix, three either side.
Ranged along the south side of the chancel are four round-headed arches the contrast oddly with the Gothic form of all the other arches. One of these opens into the vestry passage and two are at the rear of the Choir. In the sanctuary, the fourth arch frames the blank recess for the sedilia.
On the north of the chancel is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament where the Reserved Sacrament is stored in a tabernacle on the altar. This chapel also serves as the Lady Chapel and is used during the week for daily Eucharists.
The whole chapel was refurbished in memory of Fr Frederick Perkins, OGS, a much loved Assistant Curate and later Honorary Assistant Priest, and on the marble floor on the right hand side of the stone altar can be seen his memorial tablet.
Most of the window glass in the north aisle and all that in the south aisle is grisaille with centrally-placed symbols, but the whole of the east window of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and some lights on the north side are filled with stained glass. The rather dark glass in the centre window represents the adoration of the infant Jesus by the shepherds. The light to the left depicts St Thomas Aquinas and St Barbara, whilst that to the right, St Clare and St Bonaventure. The three-light north window is grisaille, but the middle one is in memory of Robert Goodache, a much loved schoolmaster, and depicts an imaginary portrayal of Our Lady as a child in an act of self-dedication in the Temple in Jerusalem.
Two of the four lights in the first bay of the north aisle have stained glass. That on the left showing Archbishop Randall Davidson is in memory of Joseph Parsons, first Secretary to the Parochial Church Council (PCC) and Churchwarden from 1927 to 1930. The other depicts Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, Bishop of London and is a memorial to Fr Andrew Bowing Crispin Robinson, Vicar from 1922 to 1956, whilst below the window is a glass case containing the hood of a cope which was worn by Fr Robinson.
One of the four lights in the next window is of stained glass made in 1933 to celebrate the centenary of John Keble's Assize Sermon at Oxford that began 'the revival of the Catholic faith and practice in the Church of England'. Beneath this window is displayed an original letter written by John Keble in 1864, two years before his death, to a Mr Gray.
The high window on the south side of the Church over the Pietà portrays the four gospel writers of the New Testament, with relevant symbols. Lower down are shown the chief Apostles and first Disciples of Christ.
On the south side of the chancel is the All Souls' chapel. The cross on the altar is made of aluminium from the Zeppelin Airship Z31 brought down in Potters Bar in 1916 by Lieutenant Wulstan Tempest. Tempest, in his honour, has had two roads in Potters Bar named after him, Tempest Avenue and Wulstan Park. The cross was presented in 1917 to the church by a Mr Joyce, a plumber of Southgate Road, who made it from metal salvaged from the wreckage. For a time the Z31 crew was interred in the Mutton Lane churchyard.
A reliquary embedded in the altar contains a relic of St Antony of Padua and a fragment of the inner coffin of St Edward the Confessor contained in a silver box.
On the altar rests the Book of Remembrance in which the names of the faithful departed are entered under their obit days, so that they are remembered on their anniversaries. The painting by Michael Leigh behind the altar represents the particular judgement of the soul of a young WWII soldier at the moment of death, amidst a varied group of servicemen; underneath is the legend 'Behold I make all things new'.
On the wall hangs the bell of HMS Poppy, a Corvette, the cost of which was subscribed to by the town of Potters Bar in 1942; whilst at the back of the chapel is laid up one of the battle Ensigns of HMS Poppy.
A Pietà painted by Miss B E Lithiby is in the recess and in front, displayed on an old altar made from an early seventeenth century wooden table, is the Roll of Honour, containing the names of the town's servicemen who fell in both World Wars, and those civilians killed by enemy action. Standards of the Royal British Legion and the Royal Air Force Association, together with flags of the Scouts and Guides, are all laid up on the wall.
The 14 pictures that make up the Stations of the Cross depict Jesus' final journey from His judgment by Pontius Pilate to His crucifixion, death and resurrection. The first station is in the Blessed Sacrament / Lady Chapel. Following stations run anticlockwise so that numbers 7 and 8 are on the west wall and number 14 is in the All Souls' chapel.
Pictures taken by Dr John Salmon - used with permission. View more stations on the Stations of the Cross Facebook group.
The original organ was built in 1885 for the old St John the Baptist Church in Potters Bar by Forster and Andrews of Hull. This organ was moved to St Mary's in 1915, at which time it was still hand-blown. PCC minutes show that plans for an electric blower did not begin until the 1930s.
By the early 1960s the organ was in a parlous state and the firm of Hill, Norman and Beard was entrusted with the work of rebuilding. The rebuilt organ was used for the first time at a special evening service on Sunday 20 October 1963.
Some 'first aid' work was carried out on the pipework in 1984, but by 1991 the accumulation of dirt was such as to necessitate a complete cleaning. Once again, Hill, Norman and Beard was invited to carry out this work. However, the church was fortunate enough to receive a generous legacy from the estate of Miss Vivienne Hedley Baxter which allowed some additions to be made to the organ in her memory. In conjunction with this work, steps were taken to solve a number of problems in the organ gallery itself. The ceiling and walls were refurbished to prevent damp and dirt getting into the organ and the windows were specially treated to prevent sunlight overheating the Swell box and causing the organ to go out of tune. The renovated and extended organ was used for the first time at Evensong on Sunday 20 October 1991 - a happy coincidence!
Further changes were made in 2003, with the replacement of the 1963 console piston action with a new computerised action.
By 2010 the Hill Norman and Beard organ was experiencing major problems and it was decided to replace the organ, perferably with a redundant instrument of a similar age. After almost a decade of fund-raising a suitable instrument, a TC Lewis organ built in 1888 and rebuilt by JW Walker and Sons in 1972 from St Alkmund's church in Derby, was found. St Alkmund's musicianship had changed and the organ was no longer required. In 2019 the organ was transferred to St Mary's by Henry Groves and Son with Paul Hale acting as organ consultant. The new organ entered use just before Christmas 2019 and the inaugural concert was given by Paul on Saturday 14th March 2020.
View the Organ Booklet giving more details on the organs of St Mary's.