THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST LAWRENCE, MEREWORTH Welcome to our magnificent church!
General history and appearance
St Lawrence’s Church was built for John Fane, 7th Earl of Westmorland in 1744-46, replacing the medieval church beside Mereworth Castle half a mile to the east. It was probably designed by Roger Morris, who had assisted Colen Campbell, the architect of Lord Westmorland's new Palladian 'castle' 20 years earlier. The eye-catching tower and spire have similarities to several significant town churches, notably James Gibbs’s baroque St Martin-in-the Fields in London. You enter via the massive and unusual semi-circular Tuscan portico, through a circular vestibule with elegant stairs curving up to the gallery and the bells.
Interior ‒ St Lawrence’s is unique among country parish churches, with one of the most remarkable neo-classical interiors in Europe, designed like a Roman basilica with baseless Doric columns. All the surfaces are painted in trompe l’oeil to deceive the viewer that the decoration is three-dimensional ornate plasterwork and marble. Note especially the barrel-vaulted ceiling and beneath it the frieze containing the symbols of the Trinity ‒ הוהי (Hebrew for Yahweh, God the Father), IHS (Latinised Greek abbreviation of Jesus) and a dove (the Holy Spirit). If you walk towards the altar and turn round you will see the intriguing organ pipes painted high above the gallery where the choir and instrumentalists performed originally, later used by Lord Falmouth's family from Mereworth Castle.
Maintenance ‒ A Grade 1 ‘listed’ building, the church in recent years has undergone an extensive programme of work, which restored the interior to the appearance parishioners saw in 1746, strengthened the spire and refurbished the clock and bells. This work cost around £1 million, funded by English Heritage with much support from local people and charitable trusts. The quality of the work was recognised by a Georgian Group Architectural Award in 2009. The church is much loved by parishioners but support is always needed to fund essential maintenance and improvement work.
It is possible to buy postcards as well as a most interesting booklet which tells you more than this note can about St. Lawrence’s fascinating history, architecture and artefacts.