All Saints Church looked very different from All Saints today when it was first built. The church was cruciform with a tower at its centre. To the north of the tower was the chancel, and to the south there were two transepts of roughly equal depth to the present aisles.
Nearly 900 years old later little if any of the original fabric of the building remains. During nineteenth century restorations an original Norman west door was uncovered, but was judged incapable of being preserved and unfortunately destroyed.
All that remains of the twelfth-century church in the present fabric are stones where the westernmost nave pillar in the south arcade meets the west wall. It is probable that these stones formed part of the wall of the Norman nave. These are shaped with an axe and not a chisel, an implement which came into use later. The core of the tower, now masked by later work, also dates from this time, and other features which were re-used by later builders are now on display.
Visitors to All Saints can follow a free self-guided trail of the church’s most interesting architectural features and learn more about the history of the building.
Medieval All Saints
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Kingston grew prosperous on the wool trade and the population grew. As Kingston became larger and wealthier the church was enlarged to accommodate the larger congregations and provide more altars for the saying of Mass and statues and pictures for private devotion.
The central tower was rebuilt in the early 14th century and by the end of the Middle Ages it had a wooden spire. In 1370 the Bishop of Winchester ordered that the chancel roof of All Saints Church must be repaired. The chancel may have been widened in the late fourteenth century and the whole building was enlarged in about 1400, when side aisles were added on either side of the nave and the nave itself was probably widened. The wall painting of St Blaise which was painted in the church in the fourteenth century speaks of the importance of the wool trade in Kingston.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century the chancel was enlarged to its present size. A chantry chapel was founded by William Skerne in the south chancel aisle and the Holy Trinity chapel (now the East Surrey Memorial Chapel) was founded on the north side.
Tudor All Saints
The churchwardens were responsible for the maintenance of the fabric and their account book beginning in 1503 shows us the range of work required on the building and its contents. The chancel, the preserve of the clergy, would have been divided from the nave, where the congregation gathered, by a rood screen showing Christ on the cross with the Virgin Mary and St John. The inside of All Saints would have been striking, with bright colours and rich furnishings. The church contained an impressive number of altars and priests to serve them; there were probably six priests at the start of the sixteenth century!
During the Reformation All Saints’ shrines and altars were dismantled and the rood screen was removed. Coloured glass, images, statues and wall paintings were removed, and pews were introduced for seating. All Saints’ interior was much more dull after the Reformation.
Stuart / Georgian All Saints
In 1703 the church spire topped with a weathercock, which was the pride of local townspeople, was destroyed in a storm. The tower was so badly damaged it had to be dismantled. It was rebuilt in brick in 1708, but the spire was not replaced.
Inside, the aisles were rebuilt in brick in the 1720s, and given plaster ceilings. Fashionable pedimented doorways in the classical style were later built at the west end (where the old Norman doorway was bricked up) and at the entrance to the north transept. High box pews and galleries were introduced during the 17th and 18th centuries. There was a gallery at the west end, two on the south side of the church, while another over the north aisle was added in 1793. The galleries provided extra seating to cope with Kingston’s growing population.
Victorian All Saints
All Saints was heavily restored by the Victorians. The first major phase, under the architect Raphael Brandon took place in the 1860s. His work included removing the west gallery (the old organ gallery) and the creation of the great west window, containing stained glass by Lavers and Barraud. The ceilings were also reconstructed. An original Norman west door was uncovered during restorations, but unfortunately it was decided that the doorway was too old to survive, and it was photographed and destroyed.
The second phase of restoration was undertaken by John Loughborough Pearson in the 1880s. Pearson enlarged the two transepts, removed the remaining galleries and gave new roofs to the nave, transepts and aisles. The height of the east and west pillars under the tower was raised, and most of our current stained glass is from this period in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Twentieth century All Saints
After the refurbishment of the East Surrey Memorial Chapel in the 1920s, the church underwent little renovation until the late twentieth century. In 1978-9 the church was reordered by the architect Hugh Cawdron. The High Altar was placed beneath the tower with new choir stalls in the eastern bay of the nave. The Victorian pews were replaced by chairs. These changes reflected new approaches to worship and also the need for flexibility when the church was used for concerts and other events.
Modern-day All Saints
The interior of the church as we now see it is largely the result of a further reordering, combined with redecoration, by architect Ptolemy Dean in 2013-4. A new entrance was created on the north side of the church, opening up All Saints to the main commercial centre of the town. The altar was moved into a more or less central position in the nave, and the east end meets community needs.