St Paul’s Church
St Paul's Church
St Paul's is a parish church in the West Barnet Deanery located some 10 miles from central London. It is situated in the delightful surroundings of Mill Hill Village. A 'Blue Plaque' on the west wall commemorates the building of the church in 1833 by the Evangelical Christian politician William Wilberforce, who was one of the leaders of the campaign to abolish both the slave trade and slavery.
On leaving Parliament, Wilberforce resided at Uxbridge whilst seeking a suitable retirement home. After a long search he purchased an estate of some 140 acres at Highwood Hill. At that time Highwood lay at the northern extremity of Hendon Parish in a group of hamlets - Highwood Hill, Bittacy Hill, Mylespit Hill and Holcombe Hill, which collectively form the Mill Hill of today. The names indicate the topography of high ground with extensive views over farmland vales growing mostly hay.
The parish was in the shape of a long narrow rectangle aligned north south bisected by a small river which, being prone to winter flooding, made north south travel difficult. The parish church was in the south some 3 miles distant. The choice of Highwood, apart from its rurality which appealed to Wilberforce's love of nature and of walking, may have been influenced by the knowledge that the then vicar was intending to build a chapel at Mill Hill. When after three years it was not forthcoming, Wilberforce determined to build one for his and his neighbours' benefit at his own expense. The actual siting, patronage and materials used in its construction caused controversy and delay such that though building commenced in 1828-9 the chapel was not consecrated until a few days after Wilberforce's death in 1833.
During the building period, Wilberforce's financial circumstances changed dramatically when he undertook responsibility for heavy losses incurred by his son. He refused all offers of assistance from his many friends other than gifts for his new chapel. One such gift is the treasured 'east' window containing a painted glass panel by Charles Muss depicting the 'The Dead Christ Mourned (The Three Maries)'; his only extant signed work. The church designed by Samuel Hood Page, is of brick, stuccoed and painted. It corresponds closely with the 'Commissioners Gothic' of 1818 in having a small chancel and a simple gallery at the west end supported on cast iron pillars.