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. In 1898-99 the area was regarded as ‘middle class and well-to-do’. (Booth). The same is generally true today.
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.
- Charles Booth, Inquiry into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903). Online resource, accessed 1 January 2017.
- ‘Ecclesiastical Commissioners’ Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 1 January 2017.
- ‘Ewan Christian’, architect’ Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 1 January 2017.
- ‘Highbury Square’ Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 1 January 2017.
- The organ specification in the National Pipe Organ Register. Online resource accessed 1 January 2017.
- ‘St Thomas Finsbury Park’. The Church of England: a Chritian presence in every community. Online resource accessed 1 January 2017.
- ‘St Matthew Friday Street’ Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 1 January 2017.
- ‘Union of Benefices Act 1860‘ Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 1 January 2017.
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