I have recently had the opportunity to revisit the medieval church of Old St Pancras to help out with the music for the main Sunday service there. This was a rather nostalgic visit since I was organist there immediately after my days as a post-graduate organ student at the Royal Academy of Music (1980-81), and I subsequently taught for a while at the parish school.
Old St Pancras church is modest in scale, comprising just an unaisled nave and chancel with a 19th-century tower on the south side. The history of Old St Pancras church is well documented, dating from at least Saxon times while some would claim that the site dates back to the days of the Roman occupation. Images and maps showing the building in its setting are plentiful.
There was a major rebuilding project in 1848 by the partnership of Alexander D. Gough (1804–71) and Robert Lewis Roumieu (1814–77) when the old tower was relocated and redesigned a 7th-century altar stone was recovered and reinstated. There were modest adjustments in 1888 made by Arthur Blomfield (1829–99), with further work in the 1920s and in 1979-80 by the firm of Erith and Terry (Cherry & Pevsner, p.348).
The architectural superstructure and the extensive burial ground – with its many famous ‘inhabitants’ – are well described in any number of publications and webpages, as too the various funerary monuments inside the building. There are inventories of the church from the 13th century that list service books, vestments, plate and describe a high altar and two nave altars (dedicated to Our Lady and to St. Nicholas, with a tabernacle), a rood with images of Our Lady and St. John, and images of St. Catherine and of St. John the Baptist. (Survey of London). But surprisingly (to me) there is little information about the church’s later furnishings and decoration.
The parish’s main archive dates from the 19th-century and is deposited in the London Metropolitatn Archive, so I went along to take a look.
In the image above we see the church as it appeared after Gough & Roumieu’s ‘restoration’. Cherry & Pevsner (Buildings of England) state that the c17 pulpit was later cut up to provide the font panels of the altar, shown below. They also state that that the side galleries were removed in 1925, but the pictures below seem to indicate the galleries were removed at some time in the nineteenth century.
In the image above we see Gough and Roumieu’s fixed-bench pews, but it is not clear who made the screen or when it was installed, or what happened to it subsequently.
The images above shows the church before 1888 when the organ was moved under the tower (about which see below).
- 1868. The earliest indication of a pipe organ comes in Mackson’s Guide to the Churches of London and Its Suburbs for 1868, with the reference to a Miss Wright as the honorary organist (p.65), and subsequent editions showed Miss Wright as organist up to and including the year 1884.
- 1872. Mackson’s Guide notes the organ is a 1-manual instrument (p. 74), and this may be the 7-stop instrument recorded in the National Pipe Organ Register at N17059.
- I am tempted to imagine that this instrument might be the 1-manual organ that was in the Long Room of the nearby Bagnigge Wells pleasure garden; auctioned off in a sale there in 1813.
- 1880. The ledgers of the organ-buildring firm of Gray and Davidson – now in the British Organ Archive (BOA) at Birmingham University, UK – noted “tuning; 1880 new 2m org, no.10423, £270”. (Vol. 8A, p.27). This is possibly the 2-manual, 15-stop instrument shown in the National Pipe Organ Register at N17057. Mackson’s Guide does not note the 2-manual instrumnt until the 1884 edition (p. 119).
- 1882. The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 23, No. 472 (Jun. 1, 1882), p.305. ‘Organist. – Wanted, an Organist, Gentleman or Lady, for Old St Pancras Church. Salary £25 a-year. Residence in the neighbourhood desirable. Address, The Vicar, Old St. Pancras Vestry.”
- 1885. Mackson’s Guide of 1885 (pp. 131-2) shows the organist is now a Mr P.E. Rivers.
- 1888. Building works supervised by Arthur Blomfield proposed to build “in connection with the new Vestry, an Organ Chamber abutting upon and opening into the Chancel” allowing the organ to be moved from the west gallery at a cost of £700. (P90/PAN2/48/ ‘Restoration of Old St Pancras Church’ [1888?]).
– The organ chamber was never built but the Gray and Davidson ledgers of 1888 refer to moving the organ. (Vol. 9A, p. 36). But moved where? If this instrument is the one noted in NPOR (N17057) that listing refers to the organ being in the south transept, which might then mean that in 1888 the organ was placed under the tower on the south side. This would make sense of the 1906 reference, below.
- 1890. Arthur Carwithen was appointed organist in February 1890. (Parish Magazine October 1896 [P90/PAN2/71])
- 1894-5. Mackson’s Guide of 1894-5 shows the organist is A. Carwithen (pp. 121-2).
- 1896. Arthur Carwthen left the parish in September to be organist at St John’s, Friern Barnet. (Parish Magazine October 1896 [P90/PAN2/71]).
– Arthur Carwithen was succeeded by Herbert Nelson “of St Faith’s Stoke Newington”.
– Mr Major Freeman jun. was appointed assistant organist. (Parish Magazine September 1896 [P90/PAN2/71].
– the organ was fully cleaned ‘and rewired’ at a cost of £25. (Parish Magazine, September 1896. [P90/PAn2/71]); also mentioned in the Gray and Davidson ledgers (Vol 10, p.110).
- 1902. Mr Freeman ‘left’ in the summer of 1902 and was replaced by Mr C.F.J. Wright, formerly of St Phillip’s Clerkenwell. (Parish Magazine, November 1902. [P90/PAN2/77]).
- 1906. In August the Parish Magazine noted that a leak in the roof – between the tower and the nave – had damaged the organ by Gray and Davidson who repaired it for £47.10s. [P90/PAN2/80].
- 1919. In October the assistant organist was Mr J. R. Copland (Parish Magazine, October 1919 [P90/PAR2/93]).
- 1922. Gray and Davidson ledgers show that £300 was spent on ‘work’ on the organ. (Vol. 12, p.741). At some point in the next couple of years Gray and Davidson stopped looking after the organ.
- 1926. The organ-building firm of Hill, Norman and Beard was now looking after the organ and the company ledger, also in the BOA (Vol. 6, p.104) notes the sale of the 2-manual Gray and Davidson organ for £75.
– In the surviving Hill, Norman and Beard ledgers there is no mention of a new instrument to replace the one that was sold, but it may be that they provided the 2-manual 13-stop instrument shown on NPOR at N17056 (unidentified maker) located in the west gallery.
– This may all relate to the building work of 1925 that is mentioned by Cherry & Pevsner, and others.
- 1948. The organ-building firm of Mander and Sons installed in the west gallery a second-hand Brindley & Foster instrument from St. Peter, Cephas Street, Limehouse – NPOR [D03546] – but quite why is unknown. It is the current instrument, rather plain and quirky to play having a cramped console; a narrow, straight and flat pedal board, an awkward ‘kick’ swell, and sharp tuning. The best to be said of it is that it provides a solid unadorned accompaniment for the liturgy.
- ‘Alexander Dick Gough‘, Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 17 August 2017.
- ‘Archaeological findings at the site of the St Pancras Burial Ground and its vicinity: large-scale excavations at St Pancras International‘ by Phil Emery and Pat Miller. The London Archaeologist Vol.12 No.11/ Winter 2010/2011. 290-7. Online resource [PDF}. Accessed 17 August 2017.
- Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner (2002) ‘St Pancras Old Church and Burial ground’ in Londond 4: North. Series: The Buildings of England (New York: Yale University Press), pp 348-9.
- ‘Bagnigge Wells’ in Warwick Wroth’s Pleasure Gardens of London.
- British Organ Archive. Online resource, accessed 10 October 2017.
- ‘Gough, Alexander Dick (1804-71)‘ by Peter Howell, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online resource, accessed 17 August 2017.
- London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions (volume 3) by H. B. Wheatley and P Cunningham (London: John Murray, 1891)
- Charles Mackeson (1866-89) A Guide to the Churches of London and Its Suburbs (London: Metzler).
- The Parish of St Pancras Part 2: Old St Pancras and Kentish Town, ed. Percy Lovell and William McB. Marcham (London: London County Council, 1938). Series: ‘Survey of London: Volume 19’. [PDF} Online resource, accessed 17 August 2017.
- ‘Robert Lewis Roumieu‘, Wikipedia. Online resource, accessed 17 August 2017.
- ‘St Pancras‘, in Old and New London by Edward Walford (London, 1878), vol. 5 pp. 324-340. Online resource. Accessed 17 August 2017.
- ‘St Pancras Old Church, Camden Town‘, The Church of England: A Church Near You. Online resource, accessed 17 August 2017.
- ‘St Pancras Old Church‘, The National Pipe Organ Register. Online resource, accessed 17 August 2017.
- ‘St Pancras Old Church‘, Parish of Old St. Pancras [parish website]. Online resource, accessed 17 August 2017.