St Agnes Kennington

Destroyed by the diocese of Southwark after some war damage.

South London’s Anglican parish of St Agnes Kennington was established in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The church sits alongside the green space of Kennington Park, formerly Kennington Common, which is an ancient site of executions and political rallies. The nearby Kennington Park Road follows the line of the ancient Roman Road of Stane Street that runs for 90 kms from London Bridge to the south-coast port city of Chichester (Roman Noviomagus Reginorum).

The current building (1957-58) was designed by Ralph Covell (1911–88) – also the church organist –  and was consecrated by the Bishop of Southwark  on 24 May 1958. It replaced an earlier building.

The earlier church building was designed by the great Victorian architect  George Gilbert-Scott Jnr. (1839-97) and consecrated by the Bishop of London on 20 January 1877. 

The rapidly developing  district it served was taken out of the parish of St. Paul Lorrimore Square. Along side the church Gilbert-Scott also designed a vicarage and a school. The site – given by the Church Commissioners – had previously been occupied by a vitriol factory established by a Richard Farmer about 1796 in what were then open fields.

St Agnes Kennington, London, UK. The nave looking towards the chancel screen (1898). [Source. RIBA 58067]
St Agnes Kennington, London, UK. The nave looking towards the chancel screen (1898). [Source. RIBA 58067]
According to British History Online the building was designed in a 14th-century Decorated style, using Bath stone dressings. The unusually lofty nave rose to about 60 feet. A most imposing feature of the church was the six-light chancel window, 40 feet high, with stained glass designed and executed by C. E. Kempe (1837–1907). Over the chancel screen was a loft, intended to be utilized for an orchestra on the occasion of high festivals, surmounted by an arched beam and massive cross.

Many of the internal fittings  were completed by Scott’s pupil Temple Moore (1856–1920), some of these were moved to the new church e.g. the chancel screen and loft (1885–89), reredos (1891), font canopy (1893), and choir stalls (1902). 

Interior of St Agnes Kennington c.1890. [Source: Architectural Review 5 (1898-99) 63]
Interior of St Agnes Kennington c.1890. [Source: Architectural Review 5 (1898-99) 63]
This church was demolished after the Second World War following minor aerial bomb damage. A campaign  to save the magnificent building from demolition was one of several heritage ‘causes célèbres’ championed by the poet laureate Sir John Betjeman (1906-84), but in this case to no avail. Writing in The Spectator magazine (30 September 1955, p.14) he said of St Agnes Kennington

Despite representations from famous architects, such as Sir Ninian Comper, from the Central Council for the Care of Churches and from the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Bishop of Southwark is going to pull down St. Agnes, Ken- nington, and build a smaller church on its site. St. Agnes was designed in 1877 by George Gilbert Scott, Jnr., the father of Sir Giles, and it has long been thought the finest work of the Gothic Revival in South London, and one of the finest in England. No financial arguments can really excuse this vandalism, nor is it true that the parish lacks parishioners. Most of the fittings of the church survive, and the architect appointed to repair it after the war, Mr. Stephen Dykes Bower, resigned from his post rather than agree to the destruction of a building which could perfectly well be repaired.

Later, in his Collins guide to the parish churches of England and Wales (Collins: London, 1958) – a book he dedicated to the memory of St Agnes Kennington – Betjeman noted tersely that the building was  “destroyed by the diocese of Southwark after some war damage.

The pipe organ

The earliest mention of an organ in St Agnes Kennington comes from the British Organ Archive (Boa-ref=7656), which names the firm of Gray and Davidson as the builder. The earliest description of what was probably that organ comes from 1886.

In St Agnes Kennington there is a small organ; it is splendidly placed on the loft above the screen. […] Though more diversified effect could be produced with a larger instrument it suffices for its purpose, and no one would believe that it has only an 8ft. pedal stop and about six others on one manual. […] Raise the organ high up on a wooden floor, give it plenty of room to speak, and a comparatively small instrumnet will do a s much duty as a large one. (‘On Church Organs’ by “Church Times” in Musical Opinion 10/111 (1 December 1886) 114-5)

Another description is found in the Proceeedings of the Musical Association 1880-90.

We find ourselves in a good-sized parish church […]  high aisles, no chancel arch or break inthe levels between east and west. A shallow transept of the full height of the church projects north and south immediately at the entrance to the chancel. At this point the church is crossed by a high screen, with a loft on it. A small organ stands just in the north transept on the loft, and having plenty of space about it, tells with good effect. It is, indeed, far more effective than most organs three times its size put into the regulation rat hole.” (p.155)

On 5 June 1890 a St Agnes Organ Fund committee was established, the Duke of Newcastle among its members. Its aim was to replace the organ of 7 stops – reportedly acquired second-hand 14 years previously from a neighbouring parish – with a new organ divided between the north and south ends of the chancel screen, in accordance with the architect’s intentions and at a cost estimated to be £1500. [Parish Magazine Xi/7 July 1890]

By September 1893 the new organ was in place above the chancel screen and the specification was published in the Musical Opinion (see image). A descriptive account of the instrument (below) together with a photograph of the console appeared in the May 1899 issue of the St Agnes parish magazine.. (Vol XX/5 36-38) [LMA P92/AGN048]), as follows:

Console of the pipe organ by Brindley and Foster in St Agnes Kennington, London. (UK). [Source: Parish Magazine, May 1899, p. 37)
Console of the pipe organ by Brindley and Foster in St Agnes Kennington, London. (UK). [Source: Parish Magazine, May 1899, p. 37)

The organ contains twenty [sic] speaking stops, seven couplers, three pneumatic pistons to Great, four pneumatic pistons to Swell, three composition pedals to Great and four to Swell, and, on and off, Great to Pedal and a pedal to bring down Swell reeds onto Choir manual. The diapason work on the Great Organ is on the largest scale. The large Open Diapason is placed on the south side, the lower octaves forming the front, while the small Open Diapason forms the front of the north side.

The Great Organ contains nine stops. The “Rohr Flute” is a very useful stop. It is made of metal, although in tone would lead one to believe that it was a wooden stop. The 4ft “Harmonic Flute”brightens the whole tone of the Great Organ. The “Posaune” is also an effective 8ft reed.

The principle stops of the Peadal Organ are on the south side, viz. the 16 “Bourdon,” 16ft”Open Diapason” (an excellent example of Brindley & Foster’s  fine diapason work), and a 16ft “Trombone,” making with the 8ft “Cello”and echo “Bourdon”(which are on the north side) a very fine Pedal Organ.

The Swell Box, of ample proportion, is placed on the north side and is acted upon by vertical venetian shutters. It contains eleven stops and a “Tremulant.” The Solo reed stops, the “Orchestral Clarionet” and the “Orchestral Oboe” are very charming in quality.

The Choir Organ contains four very useful stops.

The whole Organ is built on the “Tubular Pneumatic” principal, upwards of forty miles of metal tubing having been used for the action. Its is blown by hand, two bellows on the screen, and a reservoir high up in the roof of the South Transept. […] All the organ now wants is a handsome case.

In 1901 the organ was cleaned and overhauled by the firm of Brindley and Foster at a cost of £32, chiefly to allow the organ to be used with “much less noise.” (Parish Magazine January 1902, p. 11. [LAMp92/AGN/053]). It is not clear exactly what was the problem.

In 1911 a new case was provided by Temple L. Moore (1856–1920) the designer of the screen on which the organ stood.

There is currently no detail about whose job it was actually to hand-pump the organ but by 1912 the organ was described as “blown by electric motors.” (Dictionary of Organs and Organists by Frederick W. Thornsby. London, 1912).

In 1926 the organ was moved to a west gallery and then was eventually broken up as the church was prepared for demolition after the Second World War.

The pipe organ we find in the church today was newly installed in the west gallery in 1960 by the firm of N. P. Mander Ltd. (now Mander Organs). The opening recital – on Thursday 16 February 1961, 8pm – was given by the then organist of Westminster Abbey Sir William Mckie (1901–84) – formerly assistant organist of St Agnes Kennington, 1921-27. Also performing was Harry Barnes (1909–85) a singer from the Westminster Abbey choir. (Musical Times, Feb 1961, p. 106). The same organ is heard here (2016) played by the composer Matt Geer who is also the resident organist.

Organists

  • 1880. Choirmaster. Mr Powell. [Parish Magazine, 1/i Jan. 1880]
  • 1880-99. Organist and Choirmaster. Willim Hedgecock (1864-1932) [The Musical Times (MT) 73/1075 (1932) 848] / [Thoresby’s Dictionary of Organs and Organists (1912 ) 286] [Parish Magazine, 1/v May1880. Paid in 1882: £71 13s 4d. [Parish Magazine 3/v May1882]. He was also a Professor at Gulldhall School of Music, and Director of Music at Crystal Palace.
St Agnes Kennington, London. Organist recruitment advert. 'Musical Times' 30/671 (1899) 55
St Agnes Kennington, London. Organist recruitment advert. ‘Musical Times’ 30/671 (1899) 55
  • 1899–1905.  Cyril G. Church (1871–?) [The Musical Times (MT)  83/1198 (1942) 376] / [Thoresby’s Dictionary of Organs and Organists (1912) 259]. Salary £91. 16s (Annual Statement for 1899. [P92/AGN/050]).
St Agnes Kennington, London. Organist recruitment advert. 'Musical Times' 40/748 (1905) 362
St Agnes Kennington, London. Organist recruitment advert. ‘Musical Times’ 40/748 (1905) 362
  • 1905.1921. Harvey Grace (1874–1944) [MT 71/1048 (1930)  534] Pioneering editor for Novello and Co. of the organ works of J.s. Bach (1685–1750)and the organ works of Jospeh Rheinberger (1839–1901).
St Agnes Kenning London. Recruitment advert for an assistant organist. '[Source: Musical Times'Advert 54/848 (1913) 685]
St Agnes Kenning London. Recruitment advert for an assistant organist. ‘[Source: Musical Times’Advert 54/848 (1913) 685]

  • 1921-1927. (Sir) William McKie (idem) [MT 92/1299 (1951) 218], assistant organist at St Agnes Kennington and later organist of Westminster Abbey.
St Agnes Kennington, London. Advert for organist [Source: Musical Times 61/924 (1920) 78]
St Agnes Kennington, London. Advert for organist ‘Musical Times’ 61/924 (1920) 78.
  • 1927. Francis J. Kennard [MT 68/1012 (1927) 537]
  • 1935. J. E. Arnold [MT 76/1107 (1935) 442]
  • ?
  • [1950s?] Ralph Covell. [See ‘Ralph Covell’ below]
  • 1958. M. J. Foley of 8 Wanstead Place, London E11 [MT 99/1385 (1958) 397]
  • ?
  • 2015.  Matt Geer

References

The quiet chimes of Earlsfield

St Andrew’s Church, Garratt Lane, Earlsfield, London SW18 4SR

The location of St Andrew's church, Earlsfield, London, UK
The location of St Andrew’s church, Earlsfield, London, UK

Today Earslfield is largely a late nineteenth-century south-west London suburb, although the area has an interesting history dating back much further, and which I have discussed in my article ‘On the Wandle‘.

The church of St Andrew, Earlsfield, was built in two stages between 1888 and 1902. Its two-acre site was given by Magdalen College Oxford, then rapidly developing large tracts of its land in the area. Despite the elite landlord the population of the area was then charecterised as “Very poor working class, hawkers and coster-mongers, with a proportion of artisans, railway servants, and a  considerable number of people whose incomes are only sufficient for their own necessities”.

 

The architect for the new church was Edward William Mountford (1855–1908), who undertook a number of church-building commissions in his early career. But he is perhaps best remebered for designing major civic buildings, such as the Sheffield Town Hall (1890) and London’s  Central Criminal Court, ‘the Old Bailey’ (1902).

 

At the time of its construction, the church was described in a newspaper report as follows:

— NEW CHURCH OF ST. ANDREW, GARRATT LANE, WANDSWORTH —
          The buidling is about to be commenced upon a site presetned by Magdalen College [Oxford], close to Earlsfield Station upon the L. &. S. W. Railway, where a new district has recently been formed, with a population of some thousands, mostly of the working classes.
          The church is necessarily very plain, funds being exceedingly limited. The walls are of brick, faced principally with red: the roofs, covered with Brosely tiles, are internally of tie-beam construction, coiled at the collar. The stone is Doulting, the floor of woood blocks.
          On plan, the church consists of nave, 91 ft. by 30 ft.,  with side aisles and transepts, the chancel being 40ft. by 25 ft., also with north and south aisles, the latter forming [a] side chapel. Seating accomodation for 780 is provided. The choir vestry is large, and will be used as a parish room. The cost will not exceed 6,500l.  The architect is Mr. E. W. Mountford.

 

Within the church itself there are a number of interesting decorative features and furnishings, described in 1981 by Bridget Cherry and Martin Pevsner in The Buildings of England, as follows (with some additions):
— Altar front, oak with five painted panels depicting saints but with contemporary heads, said to be portraits of those associated with the building of the church
— Chancel steps – white marble and pavement marble.
— Chancel arcade of brick on square stone piers with shafts at the angles, that to west partly in red brick, some with figure or grotesque stops, one said to be the Architect.
— Chancel floor – Rouge Royal and Black from Belgian Quarries.
— Chancel screen, in slender wrought iron, set on brick plinth, installed 1920’s from church of St. Mary, Trinity Road.

 

— Doors – oak
— Clock. The large external clock overhanging the west front in an iron frame with filigree decoration, is to Mountford’s design and was installed in 1911: “To the glory of God and in loving memory of his late Majesty King Edward VII. The clock on this church was erected by the residents of Earlsfield, 8th February 1911.” The clock – iluminated at night –  is now maintained by the local authority; its chimes have been disconnected.
— Font, resited in south transept, terracotta with blue stone shafts, Doulton & Co., by G. Tinworth, with counterbalanced oak lid. Octagonal, with four scenes depicting Finding of Moses, Hannah bringing Samuel to Eli, The Saviour in the Manger and The Saviour blessing little children.
— Glass; windows depict British saints, east window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne.
— Lectern, freestanding in brass, made by Starke Gardner & Co. designed by Mountford.
— Nave arcade in five bays, deep red brick arches on stone drum piers.

 

— North screen, timber, installed 1935.
— Pendant light fittings, that over pulpit not modified.
— Pews, moveable oak benches, those from western two bays removed.
— Pulpit, a low octagonal stone drum with pierced oak upper tier reached by stone steps.
— Reredos, behind curtain, a painted triptych of the Transfiguration and flanking angels.

 

— Sedilia in two bays with attached piscina and aumbry under cusped stone arches with dragon stops.
— South aisle window by M.Travers.
— South chapel; east window in form of St.Andrew’s cross depicitng head of the saint, set in stone rose with small circular lights, under cusped stone arch.
— Tiles – Minton.
— Vestry retains simple fireplace, choir vestry lined with cupboards, doors and cupboards with reeded architraves.

The Organ

 

The present pipe organ is by Harrison and Harrison of Durham and was installed in 1921. It replaced an existing organ that was ‘on hire’, but from whom is not currently known. The history of the instrument can be traced in parish records to be found in the London Metropolitan Archive.

According to the ‘faculty’ document the cost of the organ was estimated at £2530, and £1325 was paid in advance with the balance to be met by a public subscription, less a £600-grant made by the Carnegie Trust referred to in the Diocesan faculty document. This would appear to mean that the organ fund stood at £1925 and left the parish with a bill of just about £600,

 

Indeed, the builder’s specification of 3 June 1919 describes a large three-manual organ, but by 6 September 1919 the specification was already savagely trimmed to just nine stops, with the rest of the instrument being left ‘prepared for’, at a lower cost of £1200, plus £125 for biowing plant by Watkins and Watson (previously agreed, 30 May 1919). This in total is the £1325 referred to in the faculty document. This suggests that either the Carnegie money was not forthcoming or it was used for other things. Possibly it was used to meet the separate (and unforeseen?) costs of having to”remove the present Organ” and having “to erect a Power house upon part of the Vicarage garden, connected by a Wind trunk to the organ through the Church wall.” (LMA DS/F/1921/10/3).

 

Presently, the organ is well maintained, and the nine stops that exist are most attractive in sound. In such a woefully incomplete state many would think that this instrument is barely suited even to the most basic hymn accompaniment. And yet for nearly 100 years the parish liturgy seems to have carried on quite happily with the organ arranged just as it is.

References

  • Earlsfield: St Andrew‘, Find A Church: Diocese of Southwark. Online resource, accessed 12 July 2017.
  • Edward William Mountford‘, Wikipedia. Online resource, accessed 12 July 2017.
  • St Andrew, 571 Garratt Lane‘, National Pipe Organ Register. Online resource, accessed 12 jluly 2017.
  • ‘St Andrew Earlsfield’, The Buildings of England: London 2: South by B. Cherry and N. Pevsner (Harmondsworth, Penguin: 1983) pp. 701-02
  • ‘St Andrew, Garratt Lane, Earlsfield’, London Churches in Photographs. Online resource accessed 6 August 2017.
  • ‘St Andrew, Earlsfield: Garratt Lane, Wandsworth. ‘P95/AND1’, London Metropolitan Archive. [Records deposited by the Vicar in the London County Record Office, 27 February 1957. Further records deposited by the Vicar in the Greater London Record Office, 9 July 1987. Acc/2472 Ac/57/012].

On the Wandle

St John the Divine, Earlsfield SW17

Earlsfield (formerly Garratt Green; var. Garret, Garat &c) – in the London Borough of Wandsworth – is a somewhat nondescript inner south-London suburb. It is dissected by the River Wandle, a tributary of the River Thames. In past times the area was open farmland and with no settlements other than the hamlet of Garratt Green, home to a large water mill. Garratt Lane, running parallel with the Wandle for some distance, is the main thoroughfare of Earlsfield; its name keeps alive a memory of former times.

With the coming of the railways in the 1880s the construction of a railway station required the purchase and demolition of a large house called Earlsfield. One of the conditions of its sale was that the station should be named after the house, and so the area has been known ever since.

From the mid eighteenth century until the 1820s Garratt Green was widely known for the rumbustious carnival atmosphere that accompanied the election of a ‘mayor’ to oversee the management of the common land. These elections were timed to coincide with national elections, but outgrew their original purpose to become something of rallying point for the un-enfranchised classes to have a day out and mock the political system that denied them a vote. Reports talk of tens of thousands attending.

The scene of the election was the Leather Bottle pub, which still stands on Garratt Lane. The elections were immortalised in a popular drama called  ‘The Mayor of Garratt’ (1763), written by the actor-dranatist and impresario Samuel Foote (1720-77) who had witnessed the 1761 election.

Bendon Valley Mission Church, Earlsfield, c.1915
Bendon Valley Mission Church, Earlsfield, c.1915

The church of St John the Divine on Garratt Lane was established in 1903 as the Bendon Valley Mission Church, a mission church of St Andrew’s, Garratt Lane.

Unbuilt design (1920) for St John the Divine Earlsfield
Unbuilt design (1920) for St John the Divine Earlsfield

In the 1920s plans were drawn up to replace the mission building with something altogether more grand, designed by F H. Greenaway and J.E. Newberry, and dedicated to St John the Divine, ‘on a corner site at the junction of Garratt Lane and Bendon Valley’ (The Building News, 29 October 1920), but these plans were never carried out.

St John the Divine, Earlsfield, the west end, c.2015
St John the Divine, Earlsfield, the west end, c.2015

Instead we have the rather modest building that dates from 1925 by the architect Arthur Young, 1853-1924, supervised after his death by his business partner Allan Douglas Reid, 1898-1977. (C20 Society Churches Database).

The font at St John the Divine, Earlsfield, c.2013
The font at St John the Divine, Earlsfield, c.2013

The font came from St George Battersea (Southwark Diocesan Records [SDR]: DS/F/1936/008).

St John the Divine became a parish in its own right in 1938 (SDR: DS/OC/1938/001).

According to an advertisement for a parish organist in The Musical Times of 1943, the organ at that time  was a ‘S Cecilia Organ’. I am guessing that this refers to the  economical production-line instruments made in the early decades of the twentieth century by the firm of Henry Jones in Finsbury Park, north London.

In 1974, according to the National Pipe Organ Register (NPOR), the church had a two-manual instrument but gives no maker’s name. Was this the St Cecilia organ, an enlargement of it, or something altogether different?

Organ builder's announcement about the organ in St John the Divine Earlsfield, in 'The Musical Times' (vol. 117, no.1605, November 1976.
Organ builder’s announcement about the organ in St John the Divine Earlsfield, in ‘The Musical Times’ (vol. 117, no.1605, November 1976.

NPOR notes that in 1976 a new two-manual and pedal instrument was installed by Percy Daniel and Co. Lrd. of Taunton (Somerset). This instrument was mentioned by name in several quarter page adverts placed by the company in The Musical Times during 1976 and 1977.

Tne organ is sited at the south-west corner of the church, and when I played it earlier this year it was in excellent condition with no extraneous mechanical or wind noise, and was unexpectedly satisfying to play, being well-suited to accompanying the congregation in this small church, and an ideal ‘no frills’ practice instrument.

There’s pleasure in Vauxhall

St Peter’s, Vauxhall, London SE11

St Peter’s church (1864) on Kennington Lane in Vauxhall, south London, is a very nice unadulterated example of work by the English architect John Loughborough Pearson (1817–97). What a pleasure to discover it this week.

From the late seventeenth century and all through the eighteenth this place was the location of the celebrated New Spring Gardens or Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a place of fantasy and fun on the south bank of the Thames for leisured Londoners. By the mid-nineteenth century the gardens were closed and the area was fast becoming a densely populated and semi-industrial working-class suburb with almost none of the gardens remaining, indeed the church is built on the south-west corner of the gardens’ site. The 1794 house next door to St Peter’s church is now the vicarage but it was originally the home of the widow of Jonathan Tyers II, a former owner of the Vauxhall Gardens.

While the outside of this well-maintained church has some nice decorative flourishes here and there, the inside brims with finely wrought design such as the fine carving and decoration on the font and the elaborate carved capitals of the nave, the decoration of the chancel, and the lofty brick vaulting.

The organ (1870) by T.C. Lewis sits at the east end of the south aisle, next to the chancel. It was initially rented from Lewis as a temporary instrument but was eventually purchased outright by the parish in about 1873. It is rather too modest for the building and it is to be regretted that Lewis did not get the chance to provide this fine building with a more substantial permanent instrument. But as with all organs by Lewis the tone is lovely; each stop sounds remarkably fine in its own right, crisp and articulate, and yet is able to blend wonderfully well with its neighbours. Now, after almost 150 years of service the mechanism is rather tired and rackety, and at the time of writing an organ-restoration appeal is underway.