Hippo and Hoxton

The Augustinian Priory of St Monica, Hoxton Square, London N1

I recently had a chance to play the pipe-organ at the Augustinians’ priory in Hoxton Square, just north of the City of London. Who knew that the  Augustinians continue a 150-year presence in Hoxton, or that the Hoxton Priory was the first Augustinian house to have been established in England since Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries?

Hoxton Square was built up by London merchants during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. By the time of the Augustinians’ arrival in the 1860s the area was – as Charles Booth’s ‘poverty maps’ (1889) indicate – a socially very mixed area with the comfortably off living side by side with the very poorest. At this time the area was largely given over to trade and manufacture, especially the furniture trade. It was also home to alms-houses and private mad-houses (lunatic asylums).

Just thirteen years later, Charles Booth in his Life and Labour of the People in London (1902) gave a bleak assessment of the population:

The character of the whole locality is working-class. Poverty is everywhere, with a considerable admixture of the very poor and vicious … Large numbers have been and are still being displaced by the encroachment of warehouses and factories … Hoxton is known for its costers and Curtain criminals, for its furniture trade … No servants are kept except in the main Road shopping streets and in a few remaining middle class squares in the west.

This area is now seeing much better days, and is best-known for its trend-setting creative industries and galleries, popularly satirised of late for its population of so-called ‘hipsters’, or should that now be ‘yuccies’?

The Augustinians’ priory buildings (1864-66) – church, priory house and school – were designed by E. W. Pugin (1834-75). The church is dedicated to St Monica, the mother of the Order’s patron, St Augustine of Hippo (354-430); the town of Hippo is now present-day Annaba in Algeria. The elaborate decoration of the church’s chancel has recently been restored and is splendid.

The pipe-organ (1866) is on a gallery at the west end of the church made by the London firm of Bishop and Sons, probably for this church. The handsome case however, belies an incomplete and dull instrument. My guess is that it arrived incomplete for want of funds and was never finished.

Nowadays it is in a sorry condition and scarcely passes muster. The poor-sounding pipework and the worn-out mechanics are probably not special enough to warrant restoration, but  even if restored this pipe-organ would not be particularly useful. I suspect that the case and visible pipework will always have to remain, being part of the historic fabric. Meanwhile, we can only hope for a generous benefaction finally to allow the commissioning of  a new instrument for the old case that is worthy of the location and its traditions.

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,

Jerusalem E9

St John of Jerusalem, London E9

Back in June of this year I had the chance to visit the rather lovely early Victorian church of St John of Jerusalem in Hackney, east London. The ‘Jerusalem’ in the name relates to the area’s historic links with the Order of St John of Jerusalem, which owned land and property in Hackney before the English Reformation (mid 16th century).

The parish dates from about 1810 and the current church was built in 1848. As the pictures show it is a rather lovely building, and the area around the church is much gentrified of late.

Sadly the large and imposing west-gallery pipe organ (by the firm of Gray & Davidson c.1873) was removed in the early 1980s; only the facade pipe-display remains. It was replaced with one of the world’s first “dual specification” electronic analogue organs, the Wyvern ST60. Then cutting-edge, but now more than 30 years on a fine example of left-behind technology. In this age of advanced digital sound it does not sound good,  although we can be impressed by the quality of the workmanship that ensures it still works.

Orgelbewegung in north London

Our Lady & St Joseph, Balls Pond Road, London N1

The organ in the church of Our Lady and St Joseph, London N1I recently found my way to the church of Our Lady and St Joseph, 100 Balls Pond Road, London, N1 4AG.

The early 1960s building has a bright spacious interior.

 

 

The organ in the church of Our Lady and St Joseph, London N1The organ here is by J. W. Walker and Sons (1964).

It is a very nice English interpretation of the organ reform movement or orgelbewegung, a twentieth-century organ design tradition that began in Germany.

 

The organ in the church of Our Lady and St Joseph, London N1No concessions here to ‘romantic’/’symphonic’ organ design, although the temperament is equal.

 

 

 

The organ in the church of Our Lady and St Joseph, London N1The instrument is beautifully made, and more than 60 years on is still lovely to play. Works by the Baroque masters and Paul Hindemith ‘et al’ suit it very nicely.

Sadly, I had no opportunity to record the instrument . Next time maybe.