Rather plain and quirky to play

St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London NW1 1UL

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).

7th-centiry altar stone with five incised crosses, Old St Pancras Church, London NW1. Source: http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com
7th-centiry altar stone with five incised crosses, Old St Pancras Church, London NW1. Source: http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com

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.

St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Church plate c16-c20, seen c.1980. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/63.
St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Church plate c16-c20, seen c.1980. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/63.
H.C. (1854) 'Interior view of St Pancras Old Church, St Pancras.' Source: London Mteropolitan Archive, ref. p5380390.
H.C. (1854) ‘Interior view of St Pancras Old Church, St Pancras.’ Source: London Mteropolitan Archive, ref. p5380390.

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.

t Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel [c.1870?]. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/1-2.
St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel [c.1870?]. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/1-2.
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.

St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel and baptistry (south side) [11 December 1880?]. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/1-2.
St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel and baptistry (south side) [11 December 1880?]. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/1-2.
The images above shows the church before 1888 when the organ was moved under the tower (about which see below).

St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel, early c20. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/63.
St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel, early c20. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/63.

The organ

  • 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.
  • 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 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.

References

 

One of the best furnished churches in London

St Augustine of Canterbury, Langdon Park Road, London N6 5QG

“One of the best furnished churches in London”, said the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman (1906–84) about the north-London Anglican church of St. Augustine of Canterbury. The church is a Grade-II-listed building that faces the Archway Road, just north of the distinctive bridge spanning that road – created in 1813 by John Nash (1752-1835) – and from which the name of the road and the surrounding district is derived.

The church as we see it today was created in several stages during the late 19th and early 20th centuries by three architects: John Dando Sedding (1838–91), Henry Wilson (1864–1934), J. Harold Gibbons (1878-1958). It is a distinctive mix of late Victorian Gothic and early twentieth-century Arts and Craft styles.

The foundation stone of the new church was laid in 1887 and the part-finished buidling was consecrated in 1888, the next stage of work being undertaken by Henry Wilson, one of Sedding’s pupils. However, the west front was not completed until Easter 1914, the work of J. Harold Gibbons. The west front is adorned with a life-size stone Calvary, which led to a noisy Protestant demonstration seeking to stop the dedication of the church later that same year; 20 June 1914.

The church of St Augustine of Canterbury, a view of the nave detroyed by fire. (Source: Paul Bell, 2012).
The church of St Augustine of Canterbury, a view of the nave detroyed by fire. (Source: Paul Bell, 2012).

A disastrous fire on the night of 11 January 1924 entirely destroyed the nave and required a major programme of rebuilding, which was undettaken by J. Harold Gibbons. It was at this time he added the 2-bay  organ gallery on the south side of the chancel, and a new Sacristy.

The current pipe organ dates from 1925-6, and was built by the London firm of A. Hunter and Sons of Clapham (London UK). The atractive case – designed by J. H. Gibbons – dominates the south side of the chancel. Although the instrument has remained incomplete for lack of funds it serves well, and sounds impressive in the generous acoustic.

The church contains some fine fittings, artworks and stained glass by – among others – Henry Farmer (fl. early c20), Lawrence King (1907-81), J. Linthout & Co. (Bruges), Margaret A. Rope (1882–1953), Adrian Gilbert Scott (1882–1963), Christopher Whall (1849–1924),  Nathaniel Westlake (1833–1921).

In 1930 Gibbons completed the Lady Chapel, with a decorative scheme by Nathaniel Westlake, Henry Wilson, and Christopher Whall.

On 13 October 1957 St. Augustine’s was the venue for the first liturgical performance of the “Twentieth-century Folk Mass” by Rev. Geoffrey Beaumont CR (1904–71), a product of the once influential Twentieth-century Church Light Music Group. According to Beaumont, the composition was the result of a chance conversation with a priest-colleague in London’s then impoverished East End who was deeply concerned that church music was utterly foreign to the majority of people.

From the first litrgical performance of Geoffrey Beaumont's "A Twentieth-century Folk Mass" Celebrant: Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald. (Source: Church Times Archive).
From the first litrgical performance of Geoffrey Beaumont’s “A Twentieth-century Folk Mass” Celebrant: Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald. (Source: Church Times Archive).

That first liturgical performance of Beaumont’s mass-setting was broadcast live by the BBC and caused quite a stir at the time. The Daily Express declared that “this disturbing racket . . . was one of the most incongruous things ever seen on TV”, while the Musical Times  dismissed it as music suited to the fetid atmosphere of a night club or cabaret.

This recording (below) was made by the original performers in the run up to the performance at St. Augustine’s: Cantor, John Alldis;  Musicians/singers, The Peter Knight Orchestra and Singers; Conductor, Peter Knight;  Organist, William Davis.

References

Piecing together Our Lady of Willesden

St Mary’s Church, Neasden Lane, London NW10 2TS

Willesden is an ancient settlement dating back to at least Anglo-Saxon times. It lies approximately five miles north-west of Charing Cross as the crow flies, a little way west from the main A5 road (the Roman ‘Watling Street’) that runs from the capital and on past Willesden. Until the coming of the railway in the 1870s the area remained largely rural and sparsely populated; around 300 residents in 1086 and only 751 in 1801. (British History Online). The area is now densely built up and largely residential with an ethnically diverse population. A crisis food-bank run by the Trussle Trust operates next door to the church, a reflection of the area’s many deep pockets of deprivation.

According to the UK National Archives the story of the parish dates back to at least 937 when Aethelstan (c.894-939) the first king of England defeated the Danes at the battle of Brunanburh (Bamburgh, Northumberland). As a thank-offering Aethelstan gave the royal manors of Willesden-cum-Neasden to St Paul’s Cathedral, whose clergy (Dean and Chapter) still nominate the parish priest at Willesden.

The present-day church building seems to date from the thirteenth century with additions made in the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Notable fittings are the Purbeck-marble font c.1150, the fourteenth-century inner door to the south porch, fourteenth-century nave arcades, some sixteenth-century altar plate, pre- and post-Reformation memorial brasses and a striking ‘Black Madonna’ image of the Virgin Mary (1972) created by the English sculptor Catharni Stern (1925-2015).

From the late-1400s until the English Reformation period (c.1530 onwards) Willesden church was one of a number of well-known pilgrimage destinations for those seeking succour of the Virgin Mary through prayer before her image, which – at Willesden – was placed in the chancel of the church.

Contrary to the fanciful stories about this shrine that have circulated since the nineteenth century, there is no reliable evidence of: – a curative holy well; – appearances of the Virgin; – miracles, – holy relics; – any description of the shrine itself.  While the relatively few primary sources we have are reliable and clear on the place of Willesden in the devotional life of England, it is entirely unclear how the particular tradition of Marian pilgrimage arose at Willesden, given that images of Our Lady then would have been ubiquitous in every place of worship.

Within the church today there is no architectural evidence to indicate the presence of a medieval shrine, indeed the building seems typical of so many formerly rural Middlesex churches of this age.

The earliest reliable mention of devotions to Our Lady of Willesden dates from 1502 when Queen Elizabeth (1466–1503), wife of Henry VII (1457–1509), sent money to Willesden and other Marian shrines across England, perhaps to solicit prayers for the impending birth of her seventh child. Also, in February 1503, shortly after the Queen’s death, an allowance of money was paid:

to a man that went on pilgremage to our lady of Willesden by the quenes commaundement. (Valentine, 8)

Legal records provide more evidence. In 1509 Elizabeth Sampson of Aldermanbury (London) was accused of insulting the statue of Our Lady of Willesden. In 1521  William Dorset of King’s Langley (Hertfordshire) was accused of stopping his wife from making a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Willesden on the grounds that it was a waste of money (Valentine, 9)

Memorail brass of William Litchfield (d.1517) in St Mary's church Willesden. ©Andrew Pink 2017
Memorail brass of William Litchfield (d.1517) in St Mary’s church Willesden. ©Andrew Pink 2017

In 1517 William Litchfield (var. Lychfeld, Lichfield &c), Vicar of Willesden and Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral died and was buried in the chancel of Willesden church before the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Litchfield also gave to the church a gilt chalice, ‘the same to remain to the use of the said Church and the honour of the Blessed Virgin for ever.’ (Wadsworth et al, 12) and this chalice is still in regular use. Litchfield’s memorial brass can be seen in the floor of the chancel.

In 1525 the two youngest daughters of the catholic saint Sir Thomas More (1478–1535) – Elizabeth and  Cecily – were married at Willesden, in a chapel (‘oratorio’) at the house of the MP Sir Giles Alington (1499-1586), Alington was the second husband (m.1524) of More’s step-daughter Alice Elrington (nee Middleton, d. before 1564). The house and chapel were 2.5 miles from Willesden church at West Twyford;  property that came to Alington on his martiage to Alice, it having been the property of Alice’s first husband Thomas  Elrington (d.1523). (Places in Brent, 1)

Thomas More made reference to the shrine at Willesden in his Dialogue concerning heresies (1528/9). Later, in An Answer to Thomas More’s Dialogue (1531), the avowedly Protestant William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536) complained of those who endlessly repeat:

Our lady of Walsingham pray for me; Our Lady of Ipswich, pray for me; Our Lady of Wilsdon, pray for me. (Valentine 13)

During 1527 the reform-minded priest Thomas Bilney (c.1495–1531) was arraigned for preaching against pilgrimages, even doing so in Willesden church itself in Whitsun week that year.

'Priests pulling Bilney out of the pulpit, Saint Georges churche in Ipswich', in John Foxe (1653) 'Actes and Monuments (Book of Martyrs)'.
‘Priests pulling Bilney out of the pulpit, Saint Georges churche in Ipswich’, in John Foxe (1653) ‘Actes and Monuments (Book of Martyrs)’.

You do not well to goo on pilgremage to our Lady of Walsinghan, Ipswiche, or Wyllesdon, or to any other place and there to offer for they be nothing but stocke and stones, therefore it were better to tary at home and pray to God there. (Valentine, 11)

Thomas More later stated that the character of his Protestant interlocutor in the Dialogue concerning heresies was actually based on Thomas Bilney.

More’s biographer Thomas Stapleton (1535-98) says that More regularly made pilgrimages on foot to shrines up to seven miles from London, thus encompassing Willesden. One such pilgrimage to Willesden was during the first week of April 1534, with More staying at the home of Giles and Alice Alington just days before his final arrest and eventual execution/martyrdom. (Mitjans, 67)

Pewter pilgrim badge of Our Lady of Willesden. Design of the Virgin and Child within a crescent moon, 1466-1500. Museum of London 001349
Pewter pilgrim badge, Our Lady of Willesden; the Virgin and Child within a crescent moon, 1466-1500. Museum of London 001349

In recent times a distinctive design of medieval pilgrim badge often found in the London area – although not in Willesden – has been attributed to the shrine of Our Lady of Willesden. (Spencer)

The end came for Our Lady of Willesden in the autumn of 1538 when:

all the notable Images unto the whiche were made anie speciall Pilgrimages and Offerynges were utterly taken awaye as the Images of Walsingham, Ypswiche, Worcester, the ladie of Wilsdon with many other.  (Edward Hall, d. 1547, cited in Valentine, 15)

There is no record of the value of any items associated with the shrine at the time of its demise, nor is there any record of a revival of the Willesden shrine during the Catholic restoration that took place in the brief reign (1553-8) of Queen  Mary Tudor. Even so, as late as 1563, in the Second Book of Homilies, a newly reformed Church of England was still inclined to warn against idolatrous invocations to: our Lady of Walsingham, our Lady of Ipswich, our Lady of Wilsdon and such other. (Valentine, 15)

Today, all that remains to connect the medieval shrine directly with the present day are the prominent modern statue of Our Lady and the chalice of 1517. But who knows what still waits to be discovered in the archives or under the ground?

The church is well worth a visit if you are ever in the area. The building is open during the day (check parish website) and the people are very friendly. And despite its location on a busy main road, as you walk up the little lane to the church entrance with its vast burial ground beyond, it is not hard briefly to forget the gritty urban location.

The rather fine pipe-organ is the work of J. W. Walker and Sons, and is a two-manual mechanical-action instrument installed in a newly built west gallery in 1983. One third of the cost of the new instrument was met by a generous donation from John Roberts of Virginia, USA, whose antecedents had once lived in Willesden.

References

  • Diane K. Bolton, et al, ‘Willesden‘, in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden, ed. T. F. T. Baker and C. R. Elrington (London, 1982). British History Online. Onoline resource, accessed 1 April 2017
    NB the references to the shrine are not up to date and thus not reliable.
  • Bindoff, S. T. (ed.). ‘Alington, Giles (1499-1586)‘, in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558. (London: History of Parliament Trust, 1982). Online resource, accessed 1 April 2017.
    This item also details the marriage of Alice Middleton to Thomas Elrington of Willesden.
  • [Brent Council] Places in Brent: Twyford and Park Royal. Information leaflet. Online resource, accessed 19 April 2017.
  • Daniel Lysons, The Environs of London: Volume 3, County of Middlesex (London, 1795), British History Online. Online resource, accessed 1 April 2017
  • Frank Mitjams (2008) ‘Thomas More’s Veneration of Images, Praying to Saints and Going on Pilgrimages‘, Thomas More Studies 3, 64-69. Online resource accessed 1 April 2017,
  • St Mary’s Willesden: the pipe organ (National Pipe Organ Register). Onine reosurces, accessed 1 April 2017,
  • Parish information (Diocese of London website). Online resource, accessed 1 April 2017
  • Brian Spencer. Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges. Series: ‘Medieval finds from excavations in London’, vol. 7. (Woodbridge: Boydell Press with Museum of London, 2010)
  • Kenneth J. Valentine. Our Lady of Willesdon (London: Willesden Local History Society, 1988; 2nd ed. 2005)
  • Cliff Wadsworh et al. 1000 Years of St. Mary, Willesden (London: Willesden Local History Society, 2006)
  • [Wikipedia] Catharni Stern. Online resource, accessed 1 April 2017
  • Willeseden Local History Society (Society website), Online resource, accessed 1 April 2017

An old thing in Aldgate

St Botolph’s Church, Aldgate High Street, London EC3N 1AB

Last Saturday, at St Botolph’s-without-Aldgate church in central London, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Organ Club. The church building is home to what is considered to be  England’s oldest parish-church pipe organ still in its original position with most of its original insides still present.

The church building is named after an East Anglian saint who died in 680 and it is located at the site of a former entrance gate to the City of London, the Aldgate (removed 1761). A church building here was already in existence here by 1115. It was substantially rebuilt during the sixteenth century and survived the Great Fire of London (1665).

The present church building dates from 1741-45 and was built to the designs of John Dance the Elder (1695–1768) who re-aligned the building from its former east-west axis to a north-south one.

The area covered by the parish of St Botolph straddles an administrative border that separates the City of London from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

From the later seventeenth century the parish came to be characterised by poverty, disease and poor housing with only a minority of wealthier inhabitants and was in receipt of substantial poor relief and a high level of charitable giving. As the City of London has developed so the resident population of the parish has dwindled significantly and now the parish is dominated by office blocks and riven by busy roads, but even so the church itself retains an air of calm within.

The present-day pipe organ was first installed in the sixteenth-century building in about 1704 by the organ builder Renatus Harris (c.1652-1724). It was transferred into the replacement building in the 1740s by the organ builder John Byfield (1694-1751) and in 2005 it was faithfully restored by the firm of Goetze and Gwynn.

YouTube Video: William Boyce 'Voluntary No. 4' from Ten Voluntaries for Organ or Harpischord (London: Thompson, c.1785) performed by Robert Woolley at St Botolph's Aldgate (June 2011)

References and further reading

From Friday Street to Finsbury Park

St Thomas the Apostle, Finsbury Park, London N4

Tucked away in an undistinguished later-nineteenth-century suburb of north London is the Anglican parish church of St Thomas the Apostle, Finsbury Park. The areas will be known to many as the home of the Arsenal Football Club whose former Highbury Stadium (1913-2006) was close by the church. The football club’s new Emirates Stadium (2006) is located a little further away to the south west. The former stadium site is now a housing estate named Highbury Square.

The parish of St Thomas the Apostle was formed out of the surrounding Islington parish in 1888 and owes its origin to a decision by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to sell-off a number of churches in the City of London (Union of Benefices Act, 1860).  The reason for the sales was that the burgeoning London suburbs had been rapidly emptying the City of its population and in order to defray the cost of the new suburban churches a number of underused City churches were sold.  St Thomas’s church was paid for by the sale of St Matthew’s Church, Friday Street for £22,005, the advowson of the new parish being held by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The new church building of St Thomas the Apostle cost £7,500 and was the work of Ewan Christian (1814–95), architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It is built of brick and stone in Christian’s favourite Early English style and was consecrated in 1889. It consists of chancel (with a sedila of Derbyshire marble), nave (with arcades in blue stone), aisles, a chapel at the east end of the south aisle, baptistery, organ chamber, north and south porches and a turret.

The church building is largely unaltered since it was opened in 1889 and despite its small scale and modest appearance is – once inside – quite lovely and spacious in feeling. It is well maintained and well used. In the 1990s the chancel and sanctuary were redecorated in a period style by the English muralist Alan Dodd (b.1944).

The pipe organ is original to the building, installed in 1889 by the (now defunct) local firm of Alfred Monk. Inevitably, after nearly 130 years of constant use the organ is now rather tired and in need of some mechanical refreshment, for which fundraising is underway. Even so, while this is no recital instrument it has a strong clear sound and continues to serve the parish well in accompanying the liturgy.

 

v

A Mission to Hackney

St Mary-of-Eton, Hackney Wick, London E9 5JA

Hackney Wick is an ancient settlement in the east of London, once owned by the Templars; ‘Wick’ is derived from a Saxon term denoting a small settlement. Hackney Wick is situated at the southern-most edge of Hackney Marshes, on the west bank of the tidal River Lea, close to the point where it empties into the Thames. Even today some large open tracts of land remain, now used mostly for sports and recreation, not least venues for the 2012 London Olympics.

Canalisation of the River Lea began in the late eighteenth century and from then until the later twentieth century the Hackney Wick waterside became an industrial zone taking advantage of the plentiful supplies of water and easy access to the London Docks; smelting works, paper mills paint making, and other chemical-based process were pioneered here. For example the earliest plastics, Parkesine and shellac, were first commercially produced in Hackney Wick, as too the first dry-cleaning agents and a number of synthetic dyes.

With industrialisation came a massive population increase, since in those days workers lived close to where they worked. Six thousand people lived in Hackney Wick by 1879. The nearby Rover Lea was heavily polluted by factory effluent and sewerage. In the 1880s the social reformer Charles Booth mapped Hackney Wick and noted that most of the the inhabitants were very poor and in extreme want.

At about this time Eton School opened an Anglican mission in Hackney Wick, where there had not previously been a church presence. This became the parish of St Mary of Etion and a fine Gothic-revival church was built (1890-92) to the design of  G. F. Bodley (1827–1907) & Thomas Garner (1839–1906), extended in 1911-12 by C. G. Hare (1875–1932).

From 1959 and throughout the 1960s the Eton MIssion developed a thriving youth club (the 59 Club), hosting up-and-coming bands such as such as Cliff Richard and the Shadows, seen here entertaining Princess Margaret when she visited the Eton Mission in 1962. Although the youth club is no more its motorcycle section is still-thriving as the ’59 Club’, as are the Eton Mission Rowing Club and several football and rugby clubs.

Eton School continued active support of the church until the 1970s. At about the same time all heavy industry began to leave the area. After many years of decline and social deprivation Hackney Wick is now experiencing rapid post-industrial regeneration driven by the arrival of high-tech and creative industries that are taking advantage of the former factory sites and now very pleasant waterside situations. A major and much-acclaimed restoration and redevelopment of the church and its adjacent property was concluded in 2015, providing housing and new church facilities, while retaining the original church intact.

In 1965 a fine two-manual organ was installed in the church at a cost of £3,500 by the firm of Grant, Degens and Rippin (1965), their opus 12. This instrument replaced the existing organ (1898) made by the firm of J. W. Walker. Very little of the old instrument was retained, apart from a few bass pipes. The new organ featured in an EMI recording of some of J. S. Bach’s chorale preludes played by the organist Simon Preston accompanied by the English Singers (ref. HQS 1131).

Even today, the instrument has a bold contemporary appearance; its stark  unenclosed pipework sits on a high platform at the south-west end of the nave. The console was originally placed on a platform opposite but following the full restoration of the organ (2015), during the church’s restoration and redevelopment, the console is now on the floor of the church at the south-east,

From Medieval to Gothick

St Bartholomew the Less, West Smithfield, London EC1

The Smithfield area in the north-west corner of the City of London owes much of its current street plan to the history of its medieval Augustinian priory and hospital, while the historic character of its architecture – some dating back to the Middle Ages– is due in no small part to the fact that the area narrowly escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was relatively little damaged by aerial bombing during the Second World War.

St Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield, looking east.
St Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield, looking east.

The priory church (1123) survives today as the Anglican parish church of St Bartholomew the Great. It is an impressive edifice by any standards although only two-thirds of its former length now survives and most of its priory building have long gone, thanks to the destruction of church property wrought throughou England during the religious battles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital (1123) – known to most Londoners simply as Barts – was founded as an integral part of the Priory and survives on its original site, although most of its historic buldings date back only as far as the early eighteenth century.

Over many centuries Smithfield’s open central core on the edge of the City of London has made it a site of many notable gatherings, for example:

  • From 1123 Smithfield was the site of the annual Bartholomew Fair originally designed by the Priory to mark St Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August. The fair survived the Reformation and the Civil War and by the early 1700s lasted at least two weeks and attracted vast crowds of fun-seeking Londoners. The fair was a regular source of anxiety for various civic-minded groups concerned with public order and public morality but it was not until 1855 that the fair ceased.
  • In 1374 Edward III (1312–77) held a seven-day tournament at Smithfield, for the amusement of his mistress Alice Perrers (1348–1400).
  • On 15 June 1381 Richard III met here the the leaders of the so-called Peasants Revolt. The meeting turned violent and several of the revolutionaries were killed by the London militia, including the peasants’ spokesman, Wat Tyler
  • In 1390 Richard II (1367–1400) hosted a two-day tournament organised by Geoffrey Chaucer, who was then the clerk to the king. The tournament – reported across Europe – was described by Jean Froissart (c.1337–c 1405) in his Chronicles (of the Hundred Years War).
  • Until the late seventeenth century Smithfield was a place of public execution. In 1305 the Scottish rebel William Wallace was executed here. During the sixteenth century it was often religious dissidents who met their deaths on Smithfield, while in the seventeenth century it became a place of execution for swindlers and coin forgers.
  • From as early as 1132 livestock and horses were traded here every Friday, a practice that developed in into the Smithfield meat market that operates today in a splendid Victorian market-hall that covers much of the former Smithfield.

Less well known in the story of Smithfield is the ancient church of St Bartholomew the Less (1184), located within the hospital precinct. It replaced the Chapel of the Holy Cross (1123).

Although the ground-plan of the present church is Norman, the west-end and tower are largely 13th-century structures;  two of the tower’s three bells date from 1380 and 1420. and are still hung in a medieval–period ‘bell frame’. The architect and theatre-designer Inigo Jones (1573–1652) was baptised here. His father was a Welsh clothworker living in nearby Cloth Fair.

In 1789 the nave and chancel of the church was ‘repaired’ (rebuilt) by the hospital’s surveyor and architect George Dance the younger (1741–1825). Dance chose the modern ‘gothick’ style to create a brand-new, light and airy octagon–shaped nave within the church’s medieval walls. At the same time he removed many of the old tombs and memorials.

There have been several organs in the church supplied by various organ-builders as follows:

  1. Richard Bridge, c.1729
  2. John Byfield jun. with John Byfield III, 1794.
    This organ was an ‘annuity organ’, which meant it was installed gratis by the organ builder but in return he provided the organist – in this case his son – and took the organist’s fee. (Organists of the City of London. Dawe: 1983. 33). As I noted in my blog of 24 September 2016, a similar annuity-organ contract was made in 1790 between William Warrell and the parish of St Mary-le-Strand.
  3. John Gray, 1825
  4. Gray and Davison, 1863
  5. William Hill and Son & Norman and Beard Ltd, 1930
  6. N. P. Mander, 1978

Alas, no images of the earliest organs seem to have survived. The current organ’s pipework is located in somewhat cramped conditions, deep-set under a narrow arch at the west end of the church. The organ’s console is in the  south-east corner. The instrument has no pretensions, being simple in looks and plain in tone; even at full-organ it does not overwhelm. However, since it speaks directly along the main axis of the church it is adequate to accompany congregational singing.