Photographs by John Salmon, and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit John Salmon and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.


The chancel of St John the Baptist, Holland Road in Kensington, London, by James Brooks (1825-1901), with additions by J. S. Adkins. Built from 1872 onwards, the Grade I listed parish church has its chancel in a polygonal, vaulted apse, with a smaller vaulted Lady Chapel to its south. While the nave is said to owe something to "English Cistercian prototypes of the thirteenth century," the chancel has more of the distinctly French flavour of the west front, "the style being Burgundian" (Sheppard). Its vault is the more impressive for being relatively narrow. The listing text describes this part of the church as follows:

The CHANCEL is floored with stone slabs and encaustic tiles arranged diamond-wise, and contains stalls carved (by M. Spencer, daughter of the second vicar) with foliage, scrolls and shields bearing the Instruments of the Passion. In the arches to north and south are more stone screens, again with iron railings and gates; there is a frieze of shields emblazoned with various musical instruments, and above are statues of musician angels along with saints and Old Testament figures associated with music.

Left: Along the south of the chancel, parclose screens with arcading, with the figures of heavenly musicians above. Right: Close-up of the three angels, with two Old Testament figures between them. Second from the right is King David the Psalmist, with his harp.


The sanctuary, behind the low wooden altar-rails of 1897 with their Gothic arches, is rich in every detail as well as in general effect. The marble flooring with its geometric design in rich colours dates from 1902, long after the high altar itself (dated 1895 in the listing text) was installed. This gives some idea of the slow and thoughtful progress in beautifying the church.

The three painted panels of the High Altar's frontal depict the Resurrection, the Entombment (in the centre) and the Harrowing of Hell, showing Jesus with the Devil vanquished, calling forth the worthy.

As so often, the reredos is the most impressive feature here. It is vast, of carved arcaded stone with painted and gilded panels, lining the three easternmost sectors of the apse. According to the listing text, the panels of the top two tiers show "patriarchs, prophets, saints and angels," while "in the gabled central panel is represented the Adoration of the Lamb":

The reredos as a whole is intended to represent the Heavenly Jerusalem as described in Revelations 7:9: "a great multitude…of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb."

To add to its ornateness, Brooks's assistant John Standen Adkins rebuilt Brooks's 1895 structure in 1909, adding a lower row of pink marble arcaded memorial panels, with gilded angel figures in the spandrels against a deep green background, and also the "tall pinnacled piers" on each side of the central part (see listing text). Over all, though partly hidden by the top of the gable, a Hardman window depicts Christ in Glory. It is a richly decorative ensemble, serving as a visible paeon of praise in this cathedral-like setting.

Left to right: (a) To the right of the altar, a memorial panel against a plainer background. (b) The north wall of the sanctuary, with the flanking arcading added by the Adkins, with the gilded angels in the spandrels and the green and gold frieze. (c) The piscina on the south wall, with a similarly rich background.

Seen in the sanctuary too is Adkins's sturdy Bishop's Throne of 1916 ("A Brief History"). The chancel alone shows that here was a church by Brooks in which several factors united to produce a much more highly ornamented interior than the one originally intended: a wealthy congregation; "a vision of a liturgical ceremonial somewhat more elaborate than that favoured by the Cistercians" ("A Brief History"); and an assistant architect who took over in the Edwardian period, and, quite naturally, had his own ideas and taste.

Related Material


"Brief History of St John the Baptist." The Church of England. Web. 20 May 2015.

"List Entry" (for St John the Baptist, Holland Road). Historic England. Web. 20 May 2015.

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. 20 May 2015.

Created 20 May 2015