Back in June I made a visit to All Saints, Edmonton, north London.
The east end of All Saints church Edmonton, north London, c.1880, showing the 15th-century tower.
The east end of All Saints church Edmonton, north London, c.1980, showing the 15th-century tower.
All Saints church, Edmonton, north London, c.1980, a view of the south side, looking east.
Edmonton is an ancient settlement, rural and well-to-do and genteel in tone until the coming of the railway and London’s massive c19 expansion. I was born in the area at a time when the population was largely blue-collar lower-middle and working class.
All Saints is where, as a schoolboy in the 1970s, I learned to play the organ and sang in the choir. It was interesting to return after 40 years, and even to be remembered by some of the old ‘uns I bumped into.
All Saints church, Edmonton, north London, The present-day organ seen past the north side of the chancel arch.
All Saints church, Edmonton, north London, The present-day organ seen in the first bay of the chancel, north side.
All Saints church, Edmonton, north London, The present-day organ seen in the chancel, north side. Peggy Dell – who in the 1970s kept teenage choristers like me out of mischief – looks on.
The organ dates back to 1772, the gift of a City businessman called Samuel Spragg who had his country house in the parish. The organ was originally the work of George England (fl. 1740–88). Over the years and as the building has been altered much of the original work by George England has been removed. A recent renovation of the organ has restored the organ to the condition of its last major rebuilding in 1927, but in doing so it seems to me that quite a bit of the tonal vivacity that had been covertly added since 1927 – and which I remember from my school days – has been lost.
However, the church itself is most attractive, with fine nineteenth-century painting on the east wall. With its pleasant churchyard, sadly cleared of the majority of ancient tombs, the church is worth a visit, especially on a fine summer evening when the bellringers are practising.
Lamb’s Cottage. Church Street, Edmonton, north London
Plaque to John Keats on a building in Keats Parade, Church Street, Edmonton, north London.
Lamb’s Cottage, Church Street, Edmonton, north London. Photograph sourced (xi. 2021) from estate agent website kingslygroup.com.
The essayist Charles Lamb (1775–1834) and and his sister, the writer Mary Lamb (1764–1847) are buried in the churchyard, and their house survives opposite the church on Church Street.
The poet John Keats (1795–1821) was a trainee pharmacist in a shop nearby. A more recent building on the same site in Church Street was still a pharmacy when I was a teenager, but it is currently a betting shop; a blue plaque notes the facts.
During the summer of 2016 I had the chance to use the organ at the church of St Benet & All Saints in Kentish Town, north London, and to attend some Sunday services. While the parish adheres to traditional ‘high’ Anglican principles its worship is very nicely fitted to modern liturgical sensibilities.
St Benet’s Kentish Town, exterior, south side.
St Benet’s Kentish Town, the nave.
St Benet’s Kentish Town, the chancel.
St Benet’s Kentish Town, the chancel ceiling.
St Benet’s Kentish Town, the nave pulpit.
St Benet and All Saints church, Kentish Town, London; west end, c2016. [Source: londonremembers.com]
St Benet’s is an impressive building perched atop a hill overlooking the valley of the Fleet river. It is built on a site given for this purpose in the late 1870s by St. John’s College, Cambridge, then developing its land-holding in the area for well-to-do housing. The parish was formally established through an ‘Order in Council’ before Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 2 March 1881 [LMA].
The first church building was a temporary ‘tin mission’ building – later used as the church hall- that opened for worship on 17 July 1881
The first permanent building was built to the design of the architect Joseph Peacock (1821–93), opened for worship on 31 October 1885.
St Benet and All Saints church, Kentish Town, London; ground plan (1877). Drawing by Joseph Peacock. [Source: RIBA ref. RIBA94818]
St Benet and All Saints church, Kentish Town, London; north elevation (1877). Drawing by Joseph Peacock. [Source: RIBA ref. RIBA94818]
St Benet and All Saints church, Kentish Town, London; west elevation and cross section (1877). Drawing by Joseph Peacock. [Source: RIBA ref. RIBA94819]
Contemporary photographs show how Peacock’s designs were translated into brick and stone. In particular the planned chancel was never realised so that the east end of the nave terminated with a solid wall. For a short period c.1901-05 the east wall was decorated to “give the impression of a stone screen pierced by various openings […] a young local artist, Mr W. Kingsley, painted three huge canvases in tempara to represent stained glass windows glowing in richest colours and a rising Belgian artist very kindly painted in a more than lifelike crucifix.” (In junilaeo, p.16).
St Benet and All Saints, Kentish Town, London. exterior, west end, c.1900, facing east. [Source: ‘In jubilaeo’ (London: 1935)]
St Benet and All Saints, Kentish Town, London. high aktar, c.1900. [Source: ‘In jubilaeo’ (London: 1935)]
St Benet and All Saints, Kentish Town, London. the vicarage, c.1930, since demoilished. [Source: ‘In jubilaeo’ (London: 1935)]
St Benet and All Saints, Kentish Town, London. high aitar, c.1901-5. [Source: ‘In jubilaeo’ (London: 1935)]
A rather stylish seeming parish room and song school was designed (1880) by Harry Sirr (1860-1945) but alas the building was never erected.
In 1906 a spacious and lofty new chancel was added to Peacock’s nave, to the design of Cecil Greenwood Hare (1875–1932). As we see from Hare’s drawing of the project, an organ was to be placed in a north-side gallery at the east end the nave, but the organ was eventually located in a north-side gallery within the new chancel.
St Benet and All Saints, Kentish Town, London. the new chancel exterior, c.1930. [Source: ‘In jubilaeo’ (London: 1935)]
“Proposed New Chancel,. St. Benet’s Church, Kentsh Town, CECIL G. HARE, Architect. Builder: Dorey and Co., Ltd., Brentford. Hangings: Watts and Co., 30 Baker street, W.” [Source: Academy Architecture and Architectural Review. Vol. 33 (1908), 13.]
St Benet and All Saints, Kentish Town, London. Chancel, c.1910. [Source: ‘In jubilaeo’ (London: 1935)]
St Benet and All Saints, Kentish Town, London. the Blessed Sacrament chapel, c.1930. [Source: ‘In jubilaeo’ (London: 1935)]
St Benet and All Saints, Kentish Town, London. Interior, c.1935, facing east. [Source: ‘In jubilaeo’ (London: 1935)]
The church by Peacock seems to have been poorly designed and despite several attempts to shore-up the walls Peacock’s work was dismantled and rebuilt (1927-28) to a new design by Cecil Greenwood Hare, incorporating Hare’s 1908 chancel and using much material from Peacock’s former structure. This is the church we see today.
An often repeated canard about the demolition of Peacock’s church is that it was unknowingly built over underground springs of water that undermined the foundations. However, the Diocesan surveys undertaken prior to the rebuilding by Hare reveal the problem to have been a timbered roof that was too heavy for the walls; that roof is briefly glimpsed in the images on this page. There is no mention anywhere in the surveys of problems caused by underground springs. [LMA]
The pipe organ
As we see in the 1908 image (above) the organ was originally ro be sited in a gallery at the north east corner of the 1884 nave. This instrument had been designed as a house organ by the eminent London firm of Gray and Davison and was exhibited at the Great Exhibition (1861). During the construction of the new nave this organ was placed in storage.
After the completion of the nave a new organ gallery was created not in the nave but in the north-west corner of the chancel and in 1933 the rebuilt and somewhat enlarged instrument was installed by the little-known firm of Richards & Matthews of Finchley. In its elevated chancel position the reinstalled organ struggled to support worship in the nave. The pipe organ is no longer in use.
In 2000 the parish purchased a large, brand new electronic (pipeless) instrument from Wyvern Organs; more … . The instrument’s specification is large by any standard
Name plate on the Wyvern electronic organ at St Benet’s Kentish Town.
The Wyvern organ at St Benet’s Kentish Town: console, stop jamb, r/h side (Choir, Great, Couplers).
The Wyvern organ at St Benet’s Kentish Town: console, looking east.
The Wyvern organ at St Benet’s Kentish Town: console, stop jamb, l/h side (Swell, Pedal, Couplers).
The Wyvern organ at St Benet’s Kentish Town: console, looking west.
Built to an early form of digital technology whose reproduction of organ pipe sound is not uniformly good to our present-day ears, the Wyvern instrument is nonetheless rather nice to play, not only for the well-designed console, keyboard action and powerful amplification but also for the extraordinarily resonant acoustic of the building. Despite my caveats this ‘new’ instrument is perfectly able to support the needs of parish worship in general and congregational singing in particular. The folk of St Benet’s do sing well.
A small confession here is that on my first visit I was a bit disappointed to find only an electric, pipeless instrument to play on, even though I knew the pipe organ here to be no masterpiece. You see, I had played it before, some 30 years or so ago and rather enjoyed it … not so much for the instrument but for the crows-nest position of the organist!
But this rather splendid electric, pipeless machine has won me over to the potential of the pipeless organ.
Trivia/l point: according to Rev’d Dr Peter Anthony, the priest in charge, the large crucifix above the high altar was originally part of the set decoration for the 1964 film ‘Becket’.