The church with the open doors
The frieze of stone flowers at the top of Holy Trinity’s tower is one of its remarkable features. Two bands of carved flowers, one above the other, go round its four sides. The upper band has star shaped flowers, which have been compared to a daffodil or wild rose, while the flowers in the lower band are reminiscent of orchids. Though high up, the frieze can be seen clearly from ground level.
Elaborate ornamentation is a fundamental part of Victorian Gothic style. It was based on medieval models. The Victorians drew on a huge variety of decorative forms, both drawn from nature and imagined, using plants, animals, birds and geometric shapes.
The flowers at Holy Trinity are unusual, especially those in the lower band. While not a direct representation of orchids, they show many of their features.It is likely that they are unique to Holy Trinity, as the standard pattern books used by Victorian architects show nothing similar.
The explanation may lie in Tooting’s prominence in horticulture in the mid 19th century, and the church’s connections with it. William Rollisson, who was churchwarden 1858-69, was a prosperous businessman and the owner of Rollissons’ Nurseries in what is now Upper Tooting Road. This was a thriving enterprise that catered to the rising aspirations of the middle classes to create gardens to underline their prosperity and status. The Nurseries employed their own ‘plant hunter’ who was sent to Asia to find new species.
‘Orchid mania’ was rampant in mid Victorian times, with collectors vying with each other to find exotic new species, and a huge trade developed in their supply. Orchids were a leading speciality of Rollissons, along with tree ferns and other exotica. There is no direct evidence, but it is credible to suppose that Rollisson, who was churchwarden at the time the tower was commissioned, worked to to get stylised orchids included in the design for the tower frieze.
Inside the tower there is a stone spiral staircase going up to a wooden platform at the level of the clock from where wooden ladders give access to the bell housings and roof level. Initially there was one bell, and a further one was added in [ ].
The church’s baptistry sits below the tower with three wall paintings [link] from the early 1900s. The original font was replaced by the current one in [ ]. The fine rose window was donated in memory of Augusta Cree, wife of the first vicar, Rev Edward Cree, who died at a sadly young age.
Pollution and weathering over the decades took their toll on the frieze, as with the tower’s masonry as a whole. During the recent restoration of the tower, it was discovered that the orchids had become eroded to the point that almost all needed to be replaced. New carvings were designed to exactly replicate the originals and carved by the master masons of the building contractors Universal Stone Ltd. The frieze now stands out crisply and clearly for passers by to admire.
Funds were raised by inviting members of the parish to dedicate a flower to the memory of a loved one. About 20 flowers have been so dedicated and over £16,000 raised.