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St John the Baptist, Holland Road in Kensington, London, by James Brooks (1825-1901). This magnificent Grade I listed parish church was built from 1872 onwards. Construction work started with the apse and continued westwards, taking many years to reach the west front. This front then had to be completed by John Standen Adkins, who carried on the practice after Brooks and his son had died, and who brought his own ideas to bear on the design — unfortunately perhaps adding "fussy turrets" to the porches (Cherry and Pevsner 458). The church is built of Acaster rag rubble with Bath stone banding and copings ("St John the Baptist"), and it is in Brooks's typical Gothic Revival style, with aspects of early French Gothic. It stands on a perpetually busy road, but still impresses from the outside by its height, spread and robustness.

Nave, Looking East

Left: Looking up the central aisle towards the Sanctuary. Right: Taking in the "banded shafts of the vault" (Cherry and Pevsner 458).

The church is almost like a cathedral inside, being vaulted, spacious and atmospheric. Adkins enclosed the main central porch to make it a baptistery. After that (looking east) comes a tall clerestoried nave of four bays, the kind of curtailed transepts that Brooks liked, and a wide crossing. Then there is a two-bay chancel with chapels either side. The one to the south side is the Lady Chapel, and the one to the north is dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. On this side too is the small Blessed Sacrament Chapel which Adkins added in 1912.

Left to right: (a) Closer view of the impressive triple-arched stone chancel or rood screen, also added later (1895; the statuary is later still). (b) The pulpit, to the north side of the chancel. (c) Another view of the pulpit with its high wooden canopy, taken from the south.

The screen dates from 1894-1900, and the figures were added afterwards by the architectural and ecclesiastial sculptor and sculpture teacher J. E. Taylerson (1855-1942), who was responsible for much of the later carving here. It is discussed separately, as one of the three stone screens spanning the chancel and side-chapel arches (see "Related Material" or click on the picture of it for more information). The pulpit is an important focal point before the chancel.

Figure carving on the pulpit.

Like the stone screens, the pulpit is a work of art. Designed by Brooks himself, it features St John the Baptist — naturally — along with the "four Latin doctors" (listing text). Seen here, in the centre, is St. Jerome in his flat-topped cardinal's hat with a model of a church with a tower (plans for Brooks's church to have a tower were abandoned), with John the Baptist on the right with a lamb on his Bible. Beyond him can just be glimpsed the end of the whip at the shoulder of St Ambrose. The other figures would be those of St Gregory the Great and St Augustine, one at each end of the group. The pulpit was executed in 1902, after Brooks's death, by the firm of H. H. Martyn of Cheltenham, a name well worth remembering: founded by Henry Herbert Martyn in 1888, this firm had a brilliant reputation (see "H. H. Martyn"). Clearly, no expense has been spared in fitting out the church in this prosperous neighbourhood.

The two ambos, particularly elaborate reading stands. Left: The one on the north, just behind the Paschal Candlestick. Right: The one on the south, showing its fine carving and richly coloured marble.

The two ambos were also executed by H. H. Martyn. With their coloured marble columns and quatrefoil inlays they are of similar design to the pulpit. The equally ornate Paschal Candlestick [closer view] came later, and was designed by Adkins (see listing text).

Where St John the Baptist differs from Brooks's East End churches is precisely in its detailing, sculptural embellishment, and rich fittings. Oddly perhaps this recommends it less to his admirers, who respond more to the austerity and elemental nature of his economically built East End churches (see, for example, Curl 108, and Dixon and Muthesius 217). Some of the elaboration is down to Brooks himself, who, with more funds at his disposal in the Kensington area, personally designed not only the grand pulpit but also the font with its soaring canopy — despite the fact that he was not usually a "fittings man" (Saint 18). But Adkins also played his part in detracting from the "bold, severe dignity" praised earlier on by Brooks's contemporaries with reference to his work in poorer areas (see "Mr Brooks's Churches"). The fussiness of the turrets on the west front is matched by other elaborations inside, such as the extra tier and pinnacles that Adkins added to the huge stone reredos in the apse. What is lost in spareness and solemnity, however, is gained in terms of display, and there is no doubt that much of the effect of the church comes from the splendour of its fixtures and fittings.

Related Material


Adkins, J. S. "James Brooks: A Memoir." R.I.B.A. Journal. 17 (23 April 1909): 493–516 (see Appendix A for a list of his principal works).

Cherry, Bridget, and Nikolaus Pevsner. London 3: North West. London: Penguin, 1991.

Curl, James Stevens. Victorian Architecture. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1990.

"H. H. Martyn." Grace's Guide (British Industrial History). Web. 14 May 2015.

"List Entry" (for St John the Baptist, Holland Road). Historic England. Web. 14 May 2015.

"Mr Brooks's Churches." Architecture, Vol. 4. 20 August 1870: 108. Google Books. Free Ebook. Web. 14 May 2015.

Saint, Andrew. "The Late Victorian Church." The Victorian Society Studies in Architecture and Design, Volume Three: Churches 1870-1914. Ed. Teresa Sladen and Andrew Saint. London 2011. 7-25.

Sheppard, F. H. W., ed. "The Holland Estate: Since 1874." Survey of London: Volume 37, Northern Kensington. London, 1973: pp. 126-150. British History Online. Web. 14 May 2015.

Tyack, Geoffrey. "Brooks, James (1825–1901), architect." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 14 May 2015.

Created 15 May 2015