A beautiful engraving of one of Thomas Atkinson’s earliest church designs

St Nicholas-Tooting
St Nicholas Church, Tooting

I have recently obtained a copy of this wonderful aquatint, published in January 1832 and depicting a ‘South-West view of St Nicholas Church in Lower Tooting, Surrey‘, one of Thomas Atkinson’s first substantial architectural commissions.

The dedication beneath the picture states that the church was designed by Thomas Witlam Atkinson at a cost of £4619 and that it can accommodate 1083 persons. Like many of his other church buildings, it was a Commissioners’ church of stock brick, designed to provide a place of worship for the growing urban populations of the early nineteenth century.

The etching is actually dedicated to the Reverend John Ravenhill, the rector of the old church on the site. Sadly, the 82-year-old Dr Ravenhill died suddenly of apoplexy within two hours of the church being consecrated on 14th February 1833, an event recorded on a plaque inside the church.

The picture itself was engraved from Atkinson’s original by Charles Rosenberg, a well-known engraver who specialised in London genre scenes in the 1830s and later became known as an engraver of maritime scenes. It is tempting to think that the woman and three children on the left of the picture are Atkinson’s first wife, Rebecca, and his three children, Martha, John and Emma.

The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, etc for 14 April 1832 was full of praise, both for the building and the aquatint: “A simple but pleasing ecclesiastical edifice, which does much credit to the taste of Mr Atkinson, the architect. The plate is beautifully engraved by Mr Rosenberg: we never saw an aquatinta ground of greater tenderness and flatness.”

St Nicholas-postcard-1
Postcard of the church

The church, now Grade II-listed, still stands in Tooting, where it is a well-known landmark, often illustrated on postcards. Today it refers to itself as “a church in the Conservative, Evangelical tradition”.

tooting_st_nicholas201216_26
St Nicholas Church today

Thomas Atkinson produced etchings of a number of his buildings, probably to give to potential clients to illustrate his work. In this case, from the dedication beneath the picture, it seems likely that copies were given to the patrons of the church and prominent members of the congregation.

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