Whitchurch Lane's original function was as a footpath providing access to St Lawrence's Church in Little Stanmore. The good people of Edgware helped to create this path and even today, the Parish of Whitchurch extends down Burnt Oak Broadway. Coming from the other direction, worshippers would have skirted the Canons Estate, proceeding via Marsh Lane. Eventually the path became a lane connecting the old Watling Street (Edgware High Road) with Honeypot Lane and, apart from the church ground, was flanked on one side by parkland and the other by meadows; at one point a bridge crossed a small stream. The completely rural nature of the Lane is adequately illustrated in photograph number 16 on page 26 of this volume.
The sequel to the history of the Lane was of course, similar to that of many others about which we have written; with the advent of the late 1920's and early 1930's the developers moved in and entirely changed the scene. The building of Canons Park Station enticed more residents into the area and helped to double the Stanmore population from the figure of about 2,000 earlier this century. In referring to the new railway, the 1931 edition of 'Metroland' comments "The Approach to Stanmore is through pleasant parkland. Homes at present there are practically none, except near Whitchurch".
St Lawrence's was originally known as The White Church because of the white stone from which it was built; this name was gradually abbreviated to Whitchurch and both district and lane later adopted this designation.
Three churches are thought to have stood on the same site in Whitchurch Lane; the first was probably a Saxon building which replaced an early heathen shrine. A further church was built in the Gothic style, probably during the 14th century, when the site was held by the Augustinian Canons of St Bartholomew. Some rebuilding was undertaken in the 16th century when the Tudor tower was added, but when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the church became subject to private patronage.
In 1710 Mary Lake, daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Lake, married James Brydges, and the Canons Estate, which had been in the possession of the Lake family for a hundred years, passed into the hands of Brydges, son of the Baron Chandos of Sudeley.
There is considerably more information about both Brydges and the Canons Estate in the next narrative, but our immediate concern is with his interest in the Church of Little Stanmore or Whitchurch, dedicated to St Lawrence. In 1715, the Honourable James Brydges (who four years later was created Earl of Caernarvon, and Duke of Chandos) authorised the demolition of the old church and the building of a new one which was completed in 1720. Only the old Tudor tower of the previous building was retained which remains to the present day.
The main church building, which was rededicated for divine service at Easter 1716, was the work of John James and it was completed in the baroque style, which was very fashionable in the early 18th century. The designer was James Gibbs and wood-carving was undertaken by Grinling Gibbons.
The beauty of the church interior was enhanced by ceiling paintings depicting eight miracles, by Louis Laguerre. On the north and south walls are pictures of the three graces (faith, hope and charity), the Evangelists - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and two Saints, Peter and Paul. These are thought to be of Venetian origin - probably by Franscesco, assisted by the Lombardy painter, Gaetano Brunnetti. There is a picture on each side of the altar painted by Bellucci and two other paintings by Verrio are on either side of the organ. The pulpit is original and formed part of a three-decker which was altered in 1854 to give more seating accommodation: the altar was installed in 1897 and the choir stalls in 1905.
The west gallery, is approached by an oak staircase leading to a spacious pew used by the Duke and his friends with provision for his bodyguard at the sides. In an ante-chamber on the north side of the church are the old hatchments, coronet and tattered banner of the Dukes and Duchesses of the Chandos family. In the chapel is a monument to the Duke with two of his wives in a kneeling position. The three bodies lay buried in a tomb beneath the monument. The chapel and its paintings were restored before the war, thanks to the efforts of the Archaeological Society and the Reverend Frank Cooper.
George Frederick Handel, the famous German composer, who died in 1759 and is buried in Westminster Abbey, enjoyed the patronage of the first Duke of Chandos until 1721. He composed well-known anthems and oratorios whilst in the Duke's service and legend has it that he was inspired by the rythmic hammer of the local smithy, William Powell, when he composed part of a well-known suite. Subsequently, Powell became known as the 'Harmonious Blacksmith' and his smithy is still preserved in Edgware High Street; his grave is in St. Lawrence's churchyard.
One of the most modern additions to the church is the Lychgate at the entrance, erected to the memory of Doctor Alexander Findlater, DSO, who is reputed to have been 'a friend to all in the village'. The gate was dedicated in March, 1934.