St Thomas, Agar Town: gone but not quite forgotten …

In 2019 I found myself helping out with the music at the lovely early nineteenth-century church of St Clement King Square in Islington (London) where – following rebuilding work in the 1950s – a second-hand organ was installed, taken from the newly redundant church of St Thomas Agar Town, near Kings Cross (London). Here is a little post about Agar Town and its church, all now long vanished.

In 1816 William Agar (1767-1838), a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, acquired from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners a 21-year lease on land south of present-day Agar Grove and built there a mansion for himself; Elm Lodge. Extensions were applied to the lease in 1822 and again in 1839 (following Agar’s death) on behalf of his son, also named William (1814–1907).

Agar’s son  began to issue his own 21-year building leases on small strips of his land  and thus developed the neighbourhood known as Agar Town, a shanty of hastily built housing and workshops. While Agar Town survived little more than 21 years, its reputation as a noted place of urban poverty remains.

Housing in Agar Town c.1855
Housing in Agar Town c.1854 [Source: ‘London Shadows’ (1854) George Godwin. (London: G. G. Routledge & Company)]

Time was when the wealthy owner of a large estate had lived here in his mansion; but after his departure the place became a very ’abomination of desolation’ […]  a dreary and unsavoury locality, abandoned to mountains of refuse from the metropolitan dust-bins, strewn with decaying vegetables and foul-smelling fragments of what once had been fish, or occupied by knackers’-yards and manure-making, bone-boiling, and soap-manufacturing works, and smoke-belching potteries and brick-kilns. At the broken doors of multilated houses canaries still sang, and dogs lay basking in the sun […] and from these dwellings came out wretched creatures in rags and dirt, and searched amid the far-extending refuse for the filthy treasure by the aid of which they eked out a miserable livelihood; whilst over the whole neighbourhood the gas-works poured forth their mephitic vapours, and the canal gave forth […] upon the surface of the water […] a thick scum of various and ominous hues. Such was Agar Town before the Midland Railway came into the midst of it.”

Image of Paradise Row, Agar Town.
Paradise Row in Agar Town c.1854 [Source: ‘London Shadows’ (1854) George Godwin. (London: G. G. Routledge & Company)]
A report in 1847 stated that about 5,000 people lived in Agar Town. There was no provision for sewerage or running water, and no proper roads.  With no school, church or chapel to serve the area – other than the Old Saint Pancras church, which was in the process of being restored – a temporary iron church was therefore erected in Agar Town, together with a Ragged School.

St Thomas Agar Town (Engraving: 1858)
Design (c1858) by S. S Teulon, of the never completed church and school of St Thomas Agar Town, London (UK). [Source: London Metropolitan Archive. Saint Pancras HA 13724]
As the Agar’s – and their tenants’ – various 21-year leases expired or were abandoned the Church Commissioners steadily took back ownership of the site and began planning improvements. In 1860 construction began on the first permanent church on Elm Road in Agar Town  (to be dedicated to St Thomas) and a school, both designed by S. S. Teulon (1812–73). However, within just a couple of years the Commissioners sold almost all of its Agar Town land to the Midland Railway “for a considerable sum” to accommodate the Midland Railway’s rapidly expanding infrastructure associated with the new St Pancras station. Within just two months of the sale Agar Town was cleared  – including its incomplete church and school site – all to be replaced with railway sidings; and the remaining Agar Town inhabitants moved to neighbouring districts like Kentish Town.

The second church: Elm Road/Wrotham Road

The  Church Commissioners used some of the money it earned from selling most of its Agar Town land to create on the remainder some new streets of substantial middle-class housing and to build another church of St Thomas – also by Teulon – at the junction of Elm Road and Wrotham Road, 1863-4. This church – damaged by aerial bombing in the Second World War – was demolished after 1953, the parish being absorbed into St Michael’s Camden Town. However, the church’s organ survived, being rebuilt at St Clement King Square, London EC1.

It is somewhat ironic that the railway infrastructure  that swept away Agar Town has itself now been swept away to be replaced by housing, and (high-tech) workplaces. Plus ça change …

Picture of old gasometer and new housing.
Part od the newly (c.2010) redeveloped area of what was once Agar Town and then railway yards.

The pipe organ

The first organ in the church was a loan instrument by the firm of Gray and Davison (NPOR; DBOB). in 1868 a permanent instrument was provided by the firm of T. C. Lewis (Musical Standard, 28 March, 1868).

Musical Standard, 28 March 1868
St Thomas Agar Town, London (UK), specification of the organ by T. C. Lewis (1868)

The third organ in St Thomas Wrotham Road was installed in 1875 by the local firm of Henry Willis; a two-manual mechanical-action, hand-blown  instrument located in the south cnacel aisle (NPOR). It remained unaltered throughout its life there. (Morrell). At the demolition of the church the organ was moved to St Clement, King Square and rebuilt there.

References

 

 

St Clement King Square, EC1: saved by accident

The fine-looking early c19 Anglican church of St Clement King Square is little known, though quite unjustly so. Admittedly it is barely visible to most passers by, being tucked  away along a cobbled cul-de-sac beside a small, quiet urban park (King Square) and overwhelmed by later c20 housing developments.

The church building – originally dedicated to St Barnabas – was designed by Thomas Hardwick (1752–1829) and competed in 1826 at a cost of around £17,000. Hardwick’s design was part of a middle-class garden-square housing development built on land owned by St Bartholomew’s Hospital, and was intended as a chapel-of-ease to St Luke’s Old Street.

This article’s rather oblique title derives from the fact that tn the late 1930’s the church was designated for closure in favour of other nearby church buildings, specifically:

      • St Clement, Lever Street (1863–5; arch. George Gilbert Scott, 1811–78)
      • St Matthew, City Road (1847–8; arch. George Gilbert Scott. Additions 1866: arch. G. E. Street, 1824–81)
      • St Paul, Pear Tree [Peartree] Street (1868; arch, Ewan Christian, (1814–95).

However, as a result of aerial bombing during the Second World War those churches were damaged beyond repair and were closed. St Barnabas, itself bombed – but not irreparably – was retained and renovated by the Norman Haines Design Partnership to create a fine neo-classical interior. It was re-dedicated on 12 June 1954 as the church for a newly created parish of St Clement with St Barnabas and St Matthew Finsbury. The people here are very warm and welcoming, and the building is also well used for concerts of music, not least by musicians from the nearby City University.

The pipe organ

The first organ in this building was by the firm of William Hill and Sons, but was lost when the church suffered war damage. The rather nice two-manual organ we find today is derived from the mechanical-action organ by Henry Willis that was originally installed (1876) in St Thomas, Agar Town (1860-61; arch: S. S. Teulon, 1812–73) . That church was closed and demolished in the early 1950s at which point the Willis instrument there was salvaged by the firm of Mander and Sons for re-use, some of it here. The case, console and electro-action are new.

References

Our Most Holy Redeemer & St Thomas More, Chelsea

Having previously written about the Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden and its connection with Sir Thomas More and his family, I was very happy recently to have the opportunity to visit Chelsea (where More lived at the end of his life) to play for a Sunday mass at the church which – since his canonisation in 1935 – bears More’s name.

The site in Upper Cheyne Walk was formerly occupied by Orange House, one of a terrace of eleven houses (c.1710), of which the other ten remain. Orange House was the location (1876–82) of workshops belonging to  the well-known ‘Arts and Crafts’ potter and ceramic artist William de Morgan (1839–1917). The present building was consecrated in 1905, built to the Renaissance-style design of Edward Goldie (1856–1921).

George-Maydwell-Holdich (1816-96). [Source: Organ Historical Society opf Australia ohta.org.au]
G. M. Holdich (1816-96) [Source: ohta.org.au]
At the west end of the church is an organ gallery and pipe organ that replaces an earlier instrument destroyed by aerial bombing during the Second World War. The present  instrument was made by G. M. Holditch (1816–96) for a church in High Wycombe. It was described there as  having an “elegant case of ebonised wood, generously gilded on moulding and ornamentation.” (NPOR). Since then that case has largely been lost and the instrument been much adapted by unknown hands. Although now rather unattractive in appearance this instrument is nonetheless well suited to congregational accompaniment.

References

A Bevington brought to light …

The present  church of St. Thomas with St. Andrew and St. Philip Kensal Town (London, W10, UK) replaces an earlier building and was opened in 1967; built to the design of Romilly E. Craze (1892-1974).

The former church here was opened in 1889, built  to the designs of Demaine and Brierley of York, J. Demaine being described as ‘Diocesan Surveyor’.  The building was demolished following aerial bombing during the Second World War. It has not been possible to locate any pre-war images of the interior of this building.

The pipe organ

The pipe organ in the 1889 building was lost to war damage; details of that instrument are given in the National Pipe Organ Register. The present west-gallery instrument is a second-hand 1-manual organ by Bevington and Sons of Rose Street, Soho, London.  This address. and the builder’s plate  would give the organ a date between 1867 and 1896.

While the previous location of this instrument is unknown,  its recent history can be traced in the PCC minute books as follows:

        • PCC Minutes 21.9.1965. “Organ & Choir. It would be possible and most Desirable. to site Both of choir & organ at West End When type of organ has been decided upon and the Organ Builder so that they can consult with Mr Craze” [Romilly E. Craze was the new building’s architect].
        • PCC Minutes 20.10.1965. ”Makers of Compton Organ inform us that if we PURCHASE  our organ now they will Guarantee to maintain present day price.”
        • PCC Minutes. 5.4.1967 “Organ.  Letter from Diocesan House re organ Stating that they cannot see their way clear to supply cash for organ. Mr Craze is going to see Secondhand Organ which is for sale at £675. For the remodernising and installation of the organ final cost would be approx. £1000.”
        • PCC minutes 16.4 1972 “The 16 stop American reed organ has been given to the Cecil Club.” [The Cecil Club, 1-5 Wedlake Street, was a nearby local authority facility for senior ciizens]

References

The Kensington Chapel

Ground plan (c.1939) of the Kensington Chapel, Allen Street, London W8 [Source: Survey of London]
The Kensington Chapel – Allen Street, London W8 – was opened in 1855 to serve as a Congregationalist place of worship.

The architect was Andrew Trimen (1810–72), a favourite of the English Congregational Chapel-Building Society, and the builder was Thomas Chamberlain (n.d.). The total cost of £8,748 included the purchase of the site from the Phillimore family.

Subsequent additions included the eastern hall and meeting rooms (1856). A new school was provided to one side of the chapel 1868–9 designed by G. Gordon Stanham costing £5,000; subsequently demolished and the site redeveloped.

The chapel building was severely damaged by aerial bombing in 1940 and was not restored to use until 1958, with upgraded minister’s accommodation, halls and meeting rooms.

The pipe-organ

The present west-gallery instrument was installed in 1958, replacing an earlier instrument that was lost when the building suffered war damage. This two-manual and pedal pipe organ is by the firm of Henry Willis and bears two dates: 1868 and 1958. The earlier date suggests the organ had previously been elsewhere, currently unknown. The specification can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register (see ‘References’ below).

Advertisement in the Musical Times, February 1959, for an organist at the kenisington Chapel, and its newly installed Willis organ.

Previously the chapel’s organ had its pipe-organ placed at the centre of the east wall, as we see in the first pipe-organ image above. The history of this former organ is unclear, the first available evidence – dating from 1921 – notes that it was rebuilt in 1890 by the firm of Hele and Co.

A description (1921) of the rebuilt organ in the Kensington Chapel, Allen Street, London W8.[Source: ”Dictionary of organs and organists” F. W. Thornsby, ed. (London, 1921 2nd edition) 145.
References

St Mary Newington

The ancient parish of St Mary Newington is located in the London Borough of Southwark on the south bank of the River Thames about a mile from London Bridge. In its original form it was  geographically commensurate with the ancient manor of Walworth.

The first known church was located at present-day Newington Butts – where the old churchyard still remains as a public park. Here the tern ‘Butts’ probably refers to the triangle of land between the roads, seen on old maps. We find the term used elsewhere in the area south of central London referring to odd corners of land.

The old churchyard sits close by the junction of two major Roman-era roads leading into London: Stane Street, running  from the Sussex-coast port of Chichester to the City; and Watling Street, running from the Kent-coast ports of of Dover, Richborough, Lympne, and Reculver to Westminster. This junction is now better known as ‘Elephant and Castle’, so named after a tavern that once stood here.

While details of the parish clergy can be traced back as far as 1212 the earliest known mentions of the church building date only from the middle of the sixteenth century. In 1719 ir was described as being:

very small, built of Brick and Boulder […] a double Roof covered with Tile, and the Walls with a rough Cast; the Windows are of a modern Gothick; the Floor is paved with Stone [….] Here are three Iles [aisles], and the Roof is supported with wooden Pillars[…] This Church contains 43 Foot in Length, 54 in Breadth, 22 in Heighth, and the Tower (wherein are five Bells) 44 Foot but to the Top of the Turret near 60 Foot. (John Aubrey: History of Surrey)

Next to the church was a moated rectory.

In the early eighteenth century major building work took place to shore-up the church’s crumbling walls. However, by 1779 the building was found to be in such a poor condition that it was entirely rebuilt and enlarged.

In the early 1870s the decision was taken that this church too should be pulled down, in order to accommodate a road-widening scheme. The old churchyard was retained as a public space. A replacement parish church was put up further south along Stane Street, which by then – as now – was known as Kennington Park Road. Meanwhile back in the old St Mary’s churchyard a clock tower was put up to mark the site of the former church.

The newly relocated St Mary Newington church was opened in 1876. It was built to the designs of James Fowler (1828–92) in the Early English style.  The roofs of the nave and chancel were of hammer beam construction, the height of the nave from floor to ridge was 70 feet, and its length 100 feet. The 3-manual organ was by the firm of T.C. Lewis.

Following aerial bomb damage during the Second World War Fowlers’s church was pulled down, leaving only a fragment of the west front and the tower. These now serve to frame the street side of a small courtyard in front of the current building.

The latest church building and fittings (1957-8) were designed by Sir Arthur Llewellyn Smith (1903-78). The church is described as being in a stripped Neo-Classical style built with yellow stock bricks with Portland stone dressings and copper roof. The organ – by the firm of Henry Willis – is in a west gallery, with a detached console in the north transept. Stained glass windows are signed H. Powell. A practical connection with the parish’s long history is kept in the form of silver altar plate, which includes: two silver cups and a paten (1675), a silver flagon (1681), two silver covers (c.1727), and two silver salvers (1783).

References