The first time that Sir George Gilbert Scott was able to reproduce a building based on the Saint-Chapelle arose from his Evangelical connections. In August 1847, the Reverend John William Cunningham (1780-1861), the Vicar of Harrow, commissioned him to refit, restore and structurally secure his church, St Mary’s, on top of Harrow Hill. Cunningham was a well-known Evangelical preacher and was at Cambridge at the same time as his father. Scott had just completed another work in Cunningham’s parish. This was the chapel of St John at Wembley, which was built in 1846 at the expense of the Misses Copland of neighbouring Crabs House.
Bearing in mind Scott’s extensive travels at the time and the various other works that he had in hand, it is easy to understand why his efforts were so unsatisfactory at St Mary’s. He strengthened the Norman tower, rearranged the seating by taking the galleries out of the north transept and the chancel, replaced the north porch, added a north chapel, and virtually rebuilt the chancel in the Decorated style. Externally, all the tracery was renewed, battlements were added to the nave and aisle roof parapets and the whole church, apart from the tower, was faced with shiny flints with Bath stone dressings.
The founder of Harrow School, John Lyon, is buried in the church and until 1838, when Cockerell built it a separate chapel, it had been used by the School for its services. No doubt ample funds were available, which meant that, in spite of the wholesale nature of the work, everything was completed by 1849. This seems to confirm that the speed at which Scott’s restorations were carried out was often reflected in the quality of the finished work. Slow-moving works, usually because of fund-raising problems, seem to have produced better restorations, perhaps not surprisingly, than those carried out quickly.
Pevsner, N., and Cherry, B., London 3: North West, Buildings of England (Penguin Books, London, 1991), p. 142.
Watkin, D., The Life and Work of C. R. Cockerell (Zwemmer, London, 1974), p. 135.