St. Matthew’s Church

At the junction

You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.
Oliver Goldsmith

St. Matthew’s Church stands at the junction of the routes between Town, Longwood and Levelwood

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Below: First BuildingCurrent Building

Location Map stmatthewschurch

Location map

St. Matthew’s church is at Hutts Gate in the Longwood District, at the junction of the routes between Jamestown, Longwood and Levelwood.

It is designated as a Grade II listed building and was on the initial list for the 2008 Seven Wonders of St Helena, but did not make it onto the short list.

The First Building

The original building was constructed in 1861. The cornerstone was laid in December 1861 by Governor’s wife Lady Drummond Hay, but actually the rest of the building was pre-fabricated in England and shipped out. The church had a wooden structure clad with cast iron, measuring only 18m by 8m. It had a small rectangular sanctuary, about 2.5m deep, with a porch or vestry on each side, an entrance porch at the West end, and a small belfry, built within the walls of the church at the South-west corner. The Font came from the old Country Church. St. Matthew’s Church was consecrated on 14th May 1862 - St. Matthias’ Day.

In 1887 the bell from the St. Paul’s Cathedral was installed in the belfry and in about 1898 the Lych Gate was erected.

‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905 describes the church as a small iron church at Hutts Gate.

Here are some images of the original church:

In the churchyard is an unusual pink stone memorial to Dr John Vanderstraaten (34), formerly of Ceylon, who died as parish surgeon of St Helena on 16th June 1864, erected by patients and friends as a tribute of gratitude and esteem.

What is now the vicarage, just across the road from the church, was occupied by Marshall Bertrand during the first few months of Napoleon’s exile here, the Bertrands later moving to Bertrand’s Cottage. The vicarage was also occupied by Denzil Ibbetson. Charles Darwin also stayed here on his visit to the Island. The vicarage ceilings are claimed to be made of packing cases that once contained Napoleon’s stores.

The Current Building

The original structure was found to be badly decayed when a new Priest arrived in 1911, and it is said that the iron sheets were holding up the wood, rather than the other way around. A complete re-build was proposed. Bishop Holbech initially opposed the expense but relented and the church was completely reconstructed, starting in 1915. The new stone building was, in effect, built around the old structure, meaning that services could continue while the works progressed. The inner building was removed when the outer structure was complete. Only the roof trusses remain from the original structure, though the Font is the original one from the old building (itself from the former Country Church). Work was completed in 1918 but there was no re-dedication because, technically, the church had never closed.

One window has a memorial stained glass panel depicting St. Michael which dates from World War 1; since 2006 an outer sheet of glass protects this important window.

Very soon after construction was completed problems arose. The roof was found to leak, and the North wall started cracking due to having been built on inadequate foundations. By 1923 it was reported:

The crack in the west wall and the general sinking of the north wall must be attended to. The sanctuary also is in a deplorable condition, resulting in actual mould on the very altar itself, destroying the linen and frontals and making the pavement green. Ferns are in fact growing out of the wall behind the pulpit and when the rain is blown against the east wall the water can be seen running off the inside wall and down the pavement.

In 1924 the chancel arch had become dangerous and was replaced by a simpler one; the sanctuary was roofed with corrugated iron; and the north wall taken down and rebuilt on the line of the north wall of the original church. More repairs were needed in 1933 to address the ingress of rain and the structure was rendered on the weather side to provide protection. Further restoration work was completed in 1958.

By 1925 the churchyard had become full and H W Solomon gave land on the lower slopes of Halley’s Mount for an extension (clearly seen when driving on the road towards St Pauls), which was consecrated in December that year. The churchyard and extension were full by 1953 so since then burials have been conducted at the nearby Dungeon Cemetery; strictly a secular graveyard but with plots being consecrated as required.

In 1974, Crallan reported:

Hall Church, 6 bays and Chancel, East porch, rose window & bell turret in East gable, North aisle under main roof run-down, W.s pointed with latticed panes in timber frames, rubble masonry with bare minimum of dressings.

In June 2017 it was announced that an appeal had been launched to fund £50,000 for vital repairs. The building is Listed, Grade II.

One Priest is worthy of note: Canon Hands, who served from 1868 to 1910, thought to be an island record. He retired to Willow Bank but continued to help out with services until he died November 1928, being buried with his wife in the churchyard.

In April 1937 the vicar announced that, in future, Baptisms of children born in wedlock would be held on Sundays, and those of children born out of wedlock on weekdays.

Credits:
{a} From ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, by John Melliss, published in 1875{b} St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (SHATPS){c} Andrew / Peter Neaum{d} Matt Joshua{e} Rambling Wombat

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Footnotes:
{1} Are you wondering why the altar decoration has changed colour between the two Interior pictures? Well according to Anglican church practice the altar colour varies according to the season of the year (pre-Christmas; post-Christmas; Pre-Easter; etc.) so clearly these were taken at different times of year.

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St. Matthew’s Church | Copyright © John Turner

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