63. St Martin’s Church, Blackheath
The beautiful little church of St Martin’s was dedicated in 1893 by Bishop Thorold of Winchester, to serve the growing community of Blackheath. It was designed by the Art Nouveau architect, Charles Harrison Townsend, being the only Grade II listed building of his in the village and a prime example of the work of the Arts and Crafts movement. Said to have been modelled on an Italian wayside chapel, but suited to its English heath surroundings, St Martin’s is in basilican form (oblong hall) instead of the traditional cruciform (cross shape).
It is believed that St Martin’s is built entirely of local materials, even down to the ironstone from the heath (smelted at the Royal Mint), from which the candleholders and lectern are made. St Martin’s striking wall paintings are by the American-born artist, Anna Lea Merritt, was the first woman artist to have a work acquired by the Tate collection. The church murals are unique for using a new process that would allow them to stand the test of time and means that they have retained their colour intensity after some 120 years. They are a historically significant example of an outstanding achievement for a female artist of the time and are the only surviving example of Anna Lea Merritt’s mural work from the 19th-century. The murals were successfully cleaned and restored in 2011.