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

Joseph Maltby Bignell alone in Walthamstow

St Michael and All Angels, London E17 6PQ

Walthamstow is an ancient settlement on the west bank of the River Lea, for which records date back to the time of King Edward the Confessor (1003-66). It is now absorbed within the north-east London suburbs.

With the coming of the railway in the middle of the nineteenth century the area saw rapid housing development by a variety of independant property speculators building homes for the respectable working and lower-middle classes, and much of the buidling stock dates from this time. Even so, the area around the medieval parish church maintains an air of earlier times, and self-consciously promotes itself as ‘Walthamstow Village’.

Walthamstow’s nineteenth-century population boom brought a need for new churches and by 1903 there were twelve Anglican churches and seven Anglican missions in Walthamstow; in 2017 there are nine Anglican parishes. Among these the church of St Michael and All Angels (1885) is the largest, establshed with the generous support of the financier and philanthropist Ricahrd Foster (1822-1910). It was built in an Early English Gothic style using dark brown brick to a design by the little-known Joseph Maltby Bignell  (1827-87) who spent much of his architectural career working as an assistant to Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78). St Michael and All Angel’s is – for now – his only known completed building.

Currently the church has two pipe-organs. One, of indeterminate origin, is in a gallery on the south side of the chancel. It has two manuals and pedal and replaced an earlier one-manual and pedal organ that was situated here. The current instrument was  decommissioned some decades ago when its console was removed and replaced by a now rather tired and unattractive sounding electronic instrument by the Allen Organ Company; our expectations of digital technology have moved on!

The other pipe-organ is a rather nice Victorian, one-manual and pedal instrument in a handsome ‘Gothick’ case placed in the south east corner of the nave. It was built by the firm of G. M. Holdich originally for a church in the Essex countryside, where in 1965 it underwent restoration by the firm of N, P Mander. The instrument seems to have come to Walthamstow in about 2003. It has a bold, bright sound and while it is no masterpiece it is well-suited to congregational accompaniment and is almost contemporary with the building.

We can date this instrument from G. M. Holdich’s business address given on the builder’s plate: ‘Euston Road, Kings Cross, London’ from where the firm traded between 1858 and 1866. This fact contradicts a date of  1844 that is given on a recent donor’s plate on the side of the organ.

References