Historic Urban Sketching at St Mary's, Purley on Thames

For me, nothing beats a morning out sketching in the late summer sunshine, in a place with over a thousand years of history. And so I ended up in the dappled shade of St Mary's Church, in Purley on Thames. 

St Mary's has a really long history.  You can read more about it here. It's been used as a place of worship since its founding, in Anglo Saxon times. Saxon graves were found in the churchyard in a 1981-82 excavation and there is a legend that the original church was destroyed during the Anarchy in the 1150s, when the Empress Matilda's forces burned it to the ground. The church was said to have been rebuilt later in the late 1100s. 

St Mary's, Purley on Thames. Photo © Jo Romero

In any case, the first vicar of St Mary's - a man named John - is mentioned in 1248, and the history of the church - and Purley itself - is steadily documented from the fourteenth century onwards. 

The red-bricked bell tower has the date 1626, with a coat of arms. These are the arms of Sir John St John, a Wiltshire-based Member of Parliament who would go on to support the Royalist side in the English Civil War. 

Fourteenth century gargoyles on the tower © Jo Romero

As with many other churches in the area, the Victorians rebuilt St Mary's in 1870. 

I arrived at the church at about 10.30am on a Saturday morning, it was sunny and warm - but not hot, and after a wander around the building I settled down on the bench at the front of the entrance. I sketched with my pencils, fineliners and watercolours for the next two hours. The bells sounded on each hour - there are six of them, dating from 1627-1787 - and they have a softer ring than some other churches, which added to the calm atmosphere in the churchyard. 

Coat of arms on the tower, © Jo Romero

I really got the sense that St Mary's had a very long and active history. The churchyard was silent apart from birds singing and the odd rumble of a car engine turning around in the car park outside. 

St Mary's was a very serene and quiet place to sketch - the doors of the church were locked, so I couldn't look around inside, but I loved the couple of hours I spent there, recording what I saw from that bench. 

My sketch © Jo Romero

** I take commissions for sketches, including house portraits - I can also draw a building that you love, whether it's a local pub, church or other place for yourself or for a gift.**

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