St Mary's Church, Acton

This church dominates central Acton, as it has for centuries. There has been a church dedicated to St. Mary in the centre of Acton since about the twelfth century (the Doomsday survey of 1086 does not refer to one). The present building is very dissimilar to that small medieval building which existed in varying guises, for several centuries. The older building is thought to have had small windows and low walls made from flint. It measured eighty feet in length. It may not have had a tower until the sixteenth century. Over the centuries there were many alterations and repairs made to the church.

It was substantially altered and enlarged in 1837, and completely rebuilt in 1865-1867, with the tower being replaced a decade later. These changes came about largely because the church was too small to accommodate the increasing population of Acton. The cost was about £8,000, most of which was raised by subscriptions given by local people, with sums ranging from two shillings and six pence to £725. The new church was consecrated on 16 May 1866 by the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. Frederick Ouvry of East Acton paid an additional sum of nearly £3,000 for a new tower, in memory of his sister. A new clock was also installed in 1876; again the money was raised by the parishioners.

Among the gifts bestowed upon the church were a number of stained glass windows. The north-east window, to give just one example, was paid for by the two daughters of Mr and Mrs Rickards of Horn Lane in 1866. It shows Jesus washing the disciples' feet and other scenes from the New Testament.

Inside the church are a number of more ancient memorials. These were preserved from the old building. These include a brass of Humphrey Cavell, an Acton lawyer, who died here in 1558.  He left money for a mass to be said for his soul each week for a year after his burial. Long serving rector, William Antrobus, who died in 1853, is also commemorated within the church. The altar can also boast of its antiquity, as it pre-dates the reformation, and has been carved from black Derbyshire marble.

Acton's parish church was the scene of turbulence in 1642, at the onset of the English Civil War, when it was damaged by Roundhead soldiers. The font was defaced, windows smashed and the chancel rails taken into the street to be burnt. Later that year two Roundhead soldiers were buried in the churchyard, probably having died of wounds from the fighting at Brentford. One still visible sign of the strife of those times is the fact that on the memorial plaque to Phillipa Rous, all her husband's titles are erased – he had been a strong supporter of Oliver Cromwell.

More recently, a church hall has been built, and is well used by local groups including, appropriately enough, the Acton History Society. 

We would like to thank Dr Jonathan Oates, borough archivist and local history librarian, for the use of his information.