Walter Percival Starmer (known to his family as Percy) was born in 1877 in Teignmouth, Devon, where his father, the Reverend Henry Starmer, was minister of the Independent Zion Chapel, transferring in the same year to Wycliffe Chapel in Alfreton, Derbyshire.
Starmer attended Norwich School of Design and Birmingham School of Art. He exhibited in and around Norfolk between 1904 and 1905 and in 1910 he was advertising drawing and painting lessons by post from his address at the Breezemount Studio in Mundesley, a popular Norfolk resort and fishing village. Between October 1908 and March 1909, Starmer travelled with his sister, Ethel, to Russia and China and then to Korea and Japan, staying with missionary organisations associated with the Bible Society.
Soon after the outbreak of the First World War, Starmer volunteered to serve with the Red Cross as an ambulance man and later in the war was commissioned to record the contribution of the YMCA in the war zone. Several of Starmer’s watercolours are reproduced in Sir Arthur Yapp’s book “The Romance of the Red Triangle” - the story of the coming of the red triangle and the service rendered by the YMCA to the sailors and soldiers of the British Empire (1919). The red triangle was and is, of course, the symbol of the YMCA. In May 1919, Starmer’s exhibition “War Sketches” at the Dimmock Gallery in Norwich featured some sixty images of scenes and events in Northern France made between 1914 and 1919, and thirty of his watercolours are now in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.
In 1918, while in Arras, Starmer met the Vicar of St. Jude’s Church, Basil Bourchier. In August 1914, Bourchier had become chaplain to a Red Cross unit in Belgium. The unit fell into the hands of the Germans who persisted in regarding Bourchier as a spy. He was tried by court-martial and sentenced to death, but was reprieved and held as a prisoner of war until 1916.
St. Jude-on-the-Hill, in Hampstead Garden Suburb, is one of the most distinctive of modern English churches. The ecclesiastical masterpiece of Sir Edwin Lutyens, of cathedral-like proportions, it expresses the unconventional Christianity of the founders of the model community of Hampstead Garden Suburb and the radical outlook of its early inhabitants. The church was consecrated in 1911 and Bourchier saw the interior of Lutyen’s church as a blank canvas waiting to be filled. There are different accounts of the timing and the way in which Starmer was asked to submit his murals for the church, but after meetings and eventual approval, he began working on the Lady Chapel. The scheme was unveiled in December 1921 and is of women in the Bible and (in the west dome) eminent women. It is a memorial to those who died in the First World War. In 1922, Starmer was asked to continue his work through the rest of the church. He produced a model to demonstrate his scheme to the church council and revised his initial estimate of four or five years to ten years to complete the project. Starmer was also commissioned to design a west window which the Bishop of Willesden dedicated in April 1937. Starmer returned to paint a memorial to Michael Rennie (the son of the third Vicar of St. Jude’s) in 1942, and to touch up his other work through the 1950s. A wooden plaque in his memory was placed on the west wall in 1965.
St. Jude’s Church is well worth a visit - there is so much to see and admire, including an interesting memorial to the horses killed in the First World War.
Saint Jude's Church
Hampstead Garden Suburb
London NW11 7AH
Vicar: Father Alan Walker - 020-8455 7206
The church is open to visitors on summer Sunday afternoons.
Contact Father Walker if you would like to bring a group or visit at another time.
Father Alan Walker, author of “The Centenary Book of St. Jude-on-the-Hill. Hampstead Garden Suburb.