St Stephens Rochester Row, Whitehall

Rochester Row is close to Victoria Street (south along Artillery Row and Greycoat Place for 3 minutes), and at its other end joins Vauxhall Bridge Road, between Victoria Station and Vauxhall Bridge and Tate Britain.

St Stephens Church church was built by Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, of the Coutts banking family, as a memorial to her father, with encouragement from Charles Dickens, her friend. As well, she built the school in Rochester Row (1849), and contributed to the Almshouses opposite the church. The church, in 14th Century decorated style, was designed by the architect Benjamin Ferrey, a pupil of the elder Pugin.

The exterior of the church is notable for its tall spire - an ill-fated structure, which was struck by lightning in the last century, and damaged by bombs in this one, which lead to its removal after WW2. The current one, tall enough to be something of a landmark, was installed only in 1994. There is a statue of St Stephen above the porch, and this and various decayed small heads were carved by Peter Wright of Vauxhall Bridge Road close by. He also produced more small heads and leafy bits around the windows inside the church. High on the tower, rather too high to appreciate, are four larger weathered statues of saints.

The chief interior features are a chapel and a window. The Tennant Chapel (1904) has bright mosaics in a na´ve style showing four saints and good winged heads above on the right. The window is the Window of the good Shepherd (1890), apparently by Burne-Jones, though the side panel figures have rather un-Burne-Jonesish faces.

We may also note another stained glass window - overornamented by Wailes in 1850; a bust of William Tennant, and below it a 1918 plaque to Montague Herbert bearing small mosaics with angels; and a memorial to William Brown by G. G. Adams, dated 1855.

Facing the church are the well composed United Westminster Almshouses, erected 1882, consisting of a centre block with two detached wings. On the street-facing sides of the wings are a series of plaques commemorating the various charitable donors, commencing with Revd James Palmer who was the first in 1656. A white stone bust of Palmer is to the left, and a bust to an 18th C donor, Emery Hill, in dark stone, is to the right.

Round the side of the church is the Burdett-Coutts and Townshend School, very square, very grim, dating from 1876 with improvements in 1924.

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