Union Chapel, Islington

I was recently asked to play the organ for a Sunday morning service at the Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington (London, UK). It is an impressive brick building, replacing an earlier chapel (see below). It was built (1876-81) to a design by James Cubitt (1836–1914), loosely inspired by the rather smaller church of Santa Fosca on the Venetian island of Torcello. The result here is a rather heavy, imposing exterior …

… while inside is a lofy and broad uncluttered space with seating for more than a thousand people, each with a clear view of the central stone pulpit.

The origin of the Union Chapel dates back to 1799 with the union of local Unitarians and Anglicans who met together in private, having separated themselves from their respective neighbourhood churches. Initially they used Anglican forms of worship in the morning and Unitarian forms in the evening. They eventually developed thier own forms, and in 1847 joined the Congregational Union, a federation of autonomous congregations, to which the Union Chapel still belongs.

The first purpose-built Union Chapel chapel was completed in 1806 on land leased from Lord Northampton by a property speculator named Henry Leroux who came from nearby Stoke Newington. He added houses on either side of the chapel. The classical-style chapel building was enlarged in 1851 (archtect unknown) and given a new facade. Alas, so far I have found no images of the interior of this former chapel building.

The pipe organ

The organ console in the Union Chapel, Islington, London (UK) c. 2013
The organ console in the Union Chapel, Islington, London (UK) c. 2013

The history of the several organs of the Union Chapel was neatly outlined in 1880 by the Chapel’s  Rev Henry Allon describing the music at the Union Chapel:

“[About 1842] there was a one manual organ which we sold some years later for forty pounds
[…]
In 1852 we had a new organ commissioned from Gray and Davidson, planned by Dr Gauntlett.
[…]
A second organ planned by Dr Gauntlett was built by Holdich under Mr Prout’s direction in 1867. It cost £1,000, inclusive of fitting.

Opening organ recital, Union Chapel, Islington, London UK. [Source: The Musical Times, 13/297 (Nov. 1, 1867)]
Opening organ recital, Union Chapel, Islington, London UK. [Source: The Musical Times, 13/297 (Nov. 1, 1867)]
The old organ was sold to Queen’s Square Chapel, Brighton.
[…]
When the new church was built in 1877 it was found that Holdich’s organ could be made to fit the organ chamber only at an expense that approached the cost of a new instrument. It was therefore decided to sell the organ and Mr Willis built a new one, planned by Prof. W. H. Monk at a cost of £1000.” [‘Studies in Worship Music’]

Pulpit and organ screed (2020). The Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London UK. [Source: iao.org.uk]
Pulpit and organ screed (2020). The Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London UK. [Source: iao.org.uk]
Today’s Union Chapel pipe organ was installed by the London organ-builder Henry Willis in 1877, fronted by an open stone and metal screen placed behind the pulpit.

In order to save the blocking up of a rose window, the instument is built in a concrete chamber below [lower than] the main floor of the building. This position is Mr Willis’s own idea, which he carried out in spite of the evil prognostications of those who considered that he was doing a foolish thing. One great advantage has resulted therefrom. Throughout an oratorio performance, when the building is crowded with people, and the temperature rises very high, the organ is found to be “dead in tune”. [Musical Times (39/663, 1 May 1898)]

In 2012 the Henry Willis organ wa restored by Harrison and Harrison organ builders of Durham (UK) using a grant from the UK National Lottery Fund. The original hydraulic engine that powers the organ  was restored to use, although a modern electric powered bellows system was also installed as a back-up.

Coda

The 1852 Gray and Davison organ moved to the Queen Square Chapel in Brighton has subsequently been broken up and destroyed, the building demolished.  The 1867 Holdich organ was sold for £600 to a Congregational Chapel in Hinckley in Leicestershire where it remains.

Union Chapel Organists [source: The Musical Times]

  • 1806-52. ?
  • 1852-61. Henry Gauntlett (1805-76)
  • 1861-72. Ebenezer Prout (1835-1909); annual salary £50
  • 1872-80. Charles Forington
  • 1880-1909. Josiah Fountain Meen (1846-1909)
  • 1910-14. Julius Harrison (1885–1963)
  • 1914-?. Herbert Pierce
  • 1946-54. Spencer Shaw (1897-1965)
        • Recording 1: The City Temple, London EC1 (UK)
        • Recording 2: The Kingsway Hall, London WC2 (UK)
  • 1954-56. A. E Pierce
  • 1956. A vacancy is advertised in January 1956; annual salary £75
  • 1957. A vacancy is advertised in August 1957, annual salary £75
  • ? … ?
  • ?-present. Claire M. Skinner

References

St Thomas, Agar Town: gone but not quite forgotten …

In 2019 I found myself helping out with the music at the lovely early nineteenth-century church of St Clement King Square in Islington (London) where – following rebuilding work in the 1950s – a second-hand organ was installed, taken from the newly redundant church of St Thomas Agar Town, near Kings Cross (London). Here is a little post about Agar Town and its church, all now long vanished.

In 1816 William Agar (1767-1838), a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, acquired from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners a 21-year lease on land south of present-day Agar Grove and built there a mansion for himself; Elm Lodge. Extensions were applied to the lease in 1822 and again in 1839 (following Agar’s death) on behalf of his son, also named William (1814–1907).

Agar’s son  began to issue his own 21-year building leases on small strips of his land  and thus developed the neighbourhood known as Agar Town, a shanty of hastily built housing and workshops. While Agar Town survived little more than 21 years, its reputation as a noted place of urban poverty remains.

Housing in Agar Town c.1855
Housing in Agar Town c.1854 [Source: ‘London Shadows’ (1854) George Godwin. (London: G. G. Routledge & Company)]

Time was when the wealthy owner of a large estate had lived here in his mansion; but after his departure the place became a very ’abomination of desolation’ […]  a dreary and unsavoury locality, abandoned to mountains of refuse from the metropolitan dust-bins, strewn with decaying vegetables and foul-smelling fragments of what once had been fish, or occupied by knackers’-yards and manure-making, bone-boiling, and soap-manufacturing works, and smoke-belching potteries and brick-kilns. At the broken doors of multilated houses canaries still sang, and dogs lay basking in the sun […] and from these dwellings came out wretched creatures in rags and dirt, and searched amid the far-extending refuse for the filthy treasure by the aid of which they eked out a miserable livelihood; whilst over the whole neighbourhood the gas-works poured forth their mephitic vapours, and the canal gave forth […] upon the surface of the water […] a thick scum of various and ominous hues. Such was Agar Town before the Midland Railway came into the midst of it.”

Image of Paradise Row, Agar Town.
Paradise Row in Agar Town c.1854 [Source: ‘London Shadows’ (1854) George Godwin. (London: G. G. Routledge & Company)]
A report in 1847 stated that about 5,000 people lived in Agar Town. There was no provision for sewerage or running water, and no proper roads.  With no school, church or chapel to serve the area – other than the Old Saint Pancras church, which was in the process of being restored – a temporary iron church was therefore erected in Agar Town, together with a Ragged School.

St Thomas Agar Town (Engraving: 1858)
Design (c1858) by S. S Teulon, of the never completed church and school of St Thomas Agar Town, London (UK). [Source: London Metropolitan Archive. Saint Pancras HA 13724]
As the Agar’s – and their tenants’ – various 21-year leases expired or were abandoned the Church Commissioners steadily took back ownership of the site and began planning improvements. In 1860 construction began on the first permanent church on Elm Road in Agar Town  (to be dedicated to St Thomas) and a school, both designed by S. S. Teulon (1812–73). However, within just a couple of years the Commissioners sold almost all of its Agar Town land to the Midland Railway “for a considerable sum” to accommodate the Midland Railway’s rapidly expanding infrastructure associated with the new St Pancras station. Within just two months of the sale Agar Town was cleared  – including its incomplete church and school site – all to be replaced with railway sidings; and the remaining Agar Town inhabitants moved to neighbouring districts like Kentish Town.

The second church: Elm Road/Wrotham Road

The  Church Commissioners used some of the money it earned from selling most of its Agar Town land to create on the remainder some new streets of substantial middle-class housing and to build another church of St Thomas – also by Teulon – at the junction of Elm Road and Wrotham Road, 1863-4. This church – damaged by aerial bombing in the Second World War – was demolished after 1953, the parish being absorbed into St Michael’s Camden Town. However, the church’s organ survived, being rebuilt at St Clement King Square, London EC1.

It is somewhat ironic that the railway infrastructure  that swept away Agar Town has itself now been swept away to be replaced by housing, and (high-tech) workplaces. Plus ça change …

Picture of old gasometer and new housing.
Part od the newly (c.2010) redeveloped area of what was once Agar Town and then railway yards.

The pipe organ

The first organ in the church was a loan instrument by the firm of Gray and Davison (NPOR; DBOB). in 1868 a permanent instrument was provided by the firm of T. C. Lewis (Musical Standard, 28 March, 1868).

Musical Standard, 28 March 1868
St Thomas Agar Town, London (UK), specification of the organ by T. C. Lewis (1868)

The third organ in St Thomas Wrotham Road was installed in 1875 by the local firm of Henry Willis; a two-manual mechanical-action, hand-blown  instrument located in the south cnacel aisle (NPOR). It remained unaltered throughout its life there. (Morrell). At the demolition of the church the organ was moved to St Clement, King Square and rebuilt there.

References

 

 

St Matthias in Stoke Newington

The Anglican church of St Matthias in Stoke Newington, London (UK) is an imposing mid-c19 building located in a modest side-street of this densely populated, multicultural district of north London. The parochial area was established in 1849 and the church building was constructed 1851-53 to the designs of the architect William Butterfield (1814–1900).

From its earliest years the church of St Matthias was home to “high-church” ritual, and remains firmly rooted in the Catholic traditions of the Church of England.

The building occupies a surprisingly spacious site – not immediately obvious – comprising  church halls, a post-war  vicarage and recently rebuilt St Matthias primary school, all separated by well-kept tranquil grounds .

In 1954 – following substantial war-damage – a reconstruction of the church (with a new vicarage) was completed to the design of Nugent Cachemaille-Day (1896–1976). Although most of the original fittings and decorative scheme had been irretrievably lost, Cachemaille-Day’s bright, broad and lofty ‘restoration’ has a powerful numinous quality.

The pipe organ

The current four-manual and pedal pipe organ (1952) sits on a fine west gallery and is the work of Noterman & Co of London. It contains some pipework from the church’s former instrument, by Henry Willis & Co. A detailed technical description is online with the National Pipe Organ Register (see References).

‘William Henry Monk (1823–9), Organist and hymn writer’ by W. & A.H. Fry c.1870 [Source: National Portrait Gallery, London. (NPGx21372), with permission]
W. H. Monk

The first organist at St Matthias was W.H. Monk, a pioneer in the reintroduction of plainsong to Anglican worship. He remained in this post for 37 years until his death in 1889. Shortly after arriving at St Matthias Monk was appointed (1857) the first editor of the Church of England’s ubiquitous Hymns Ancient and Modern. He also held posts at the University of London (Bedford College and King’s College) and the Royal College of Music.

Today W. H. Monk’s most-performed work is the music for the hymn Abide With Me (Eventide).

Stephen Jasper – present-day Director of Music at St Matthias Stoke Newington – plays W. H. Monk’s tune ‘Eventide’ (Abide with me).

Sources

  • William Butterfield‘. Wikipedia. Online resource, accessed 23 June 2019
  • T. F. Bumpus. London Churches Churches Ancient and Modern (T. Laurie: London, 1908)
  • ‘Nugent Cachemaille-Day‘. Wikipedia. Online resource, accessed 23 June 2019
  • ‘N. F. Cachemailled-Day. A search for somwthing more’, by  Anthony Hill. The Thirties Society Journal, No. 7 (1991), pp. 20-27
  • St Matthias Stoke Newington, parish website. Online resource, accessed 21 June 2019
  • St Matthias Stoke Newington‘, A Church Near You. Online resource accessed 21 June 2019
  • ‘St Matthias Stoke Newington, Wordsworth Road, Hackney’; records (1848-1993) in the London Metropolitan Archives, ref. P94/MTS
  • William Henry Monk‘. Wikipedia. Online resource, accessed 23 July 2019.

The Kensington Chapel

Ground plan (c.1939) of the Kensington Chapel, Allen Street, London W8 [Source: Survey of London]
The Kensington Chapel – Allen Street, London W8 – was opened in 1855 to serve as a Congregationalist place of worship.

The architect was Andrew Trimen (1810–72), a favourite of the English Congregational Chapel-Building Society, and the builder was Thomas Chamberlain (n.d.). The total cost of £8,748 included the purchase of the site from the Phillimore family.

Subsequent additions included the eastern hall and meeting rooms (1856). A new school was provided to one side of the chapel 1868–9 designed by G. Gordon Stanham costing £5,000; subsequently demolished and the site redeveloped.

The chapel building was severely damaged by aerial bombing in 1940 and was not restored to use until 1958, with upgraded minister’s accommodation, halls and meeting rooms.

The pipe-organ

The present west-gallery instrument was installed in 1958, replacing an earlier instrument that was lost when the building suffered war damage. This two-manual and pedal pipe organ is by the firm of Henry Willis and bears two dates: 1868 and 1958. The earlier date suggests the organ had previously been elsewhere, currently unknown. The specification can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register (see ‘References’ below).

Advertisement in the Musical Times, February 1959, for an organist at the kenisington Chapel, and its newly installed Willis organ.

Previously the chapel’s organ had its pipe-organ placed at the centre of the east wall, as we see in the first pipe-organ image above. The history of this former organ is unclear, the first available evidence – dating from 1921 – notes that it was rebuilt in 1890 by the firm of Hele and Co.

A description (1921) of the rebuilt organ in the Kensington Chapel, Allen Street, London W8.[Source: ”Dictionary of organs and organists” F. W. Thornsby, ed. (London, 1921 2nd edition) 145.
References

St Mary Newington

The ancient parish of St Mary Newington is located in the London Borough of Southwark on the south bank of the River Thames about a mile from London Bridge. In its original form it was  geographically commensurate with the ancient manor of Walworth.

The first known church was located at present-day Newington Butts – where the old churchyard still remains as a public park. Here the tern ‘Butts’ probably refers to the triangle of land between the roads, seen on old maps. We find the term used elsewhere in the area south of central London referring to odd corners of land.

The old churchyard sits close by the junction of two major Roman-era roads leading into London: Stane Street, running  from the Sussex-coast port of Chichester to the City; and Watling Street, running from the Kent-coast ports of of Dover, Richborough, Lympne, and Reculver to Westminster. This junction is now better known as ‘Elephant and Castle’, so named after a tavern that once stood here.

While details of the parish clergy can be traced back as far as 1212 the earliest known mentions of the church building date only from the middle of the sixteenth century. In 1719 ir was described as being:

very small, built of Brick and Boulder […] a double Roof covered with Tile, and the Walls with a rough Cast; the Windows are of a modern Gothick; the Floor is paved with Stone [….] Here are three Iles [aisles], and the Roof is supported with wooden Pillars[…] This Church contains 43 Foot in Length, 54 in Breadth, 22 in Heighth, and the Tower (wherein are five Bells) 44 Foot but to the Top of the Turret near 60 Foot. (John Aubrey: History of Surrey)

Next to the church was a moated rectory.

In the early eighteenth century major building work took place to shore-up the church’s crumbling walls. However, by 1779 the building was found to be in such a poor condition that it was entirely rebuilt and enlarged.

In the early 1870s the decision was taken that this church too should be pulled down, in order to accommodate a road-widening scheme. The old churchyard was retained as a public space. A replacement parish church was put up further south along Stane Street, which by then – as now – was known as Kennington Park Road. Meanwhile back in the old St Mary’s churchyard a clock tower was put up to mark the site of the former church.

The newly relocated St Mary Newington church was opened in 1876. It was built to the designs of James Fowler (1828–92) in the Early English style.  The roofs of the nave and chancel were of hammer beam construction, the height of the nave from floor to ridge was 70 feet, and its length 100 feet. The 3-manual organ was by the firm of T.C. Lewis.

Following aerial bomb damage during the Second World War Fowlers’s church was pulled down, leaving only a fragment of the west front and the tower. These now serve to frame the street side of a small courtyard in front of the current building.

The latest church building and fittings (1957-8) were designed by Sir Arthur Llewellyn Smith (1903-78). The church is described as being in a stripped Neo-Classical style built with yellow stock bricks with Portland stone dressings and copper roof. The organ – by the firm of Henry Willis – is in a west gallery, with a detached console in the north transept. Stained glass windows are signed H. Powell. A practical connection with the parish’s long history is kept in the form of silver altar plate, which includes: two silver cups and a paten (1675), a silver flagon (1681), two silver covers (c.1727), and two silver salvers (1783).

References

 

 

 

 

Cool green at St Barnabas Southfields

The location of the church of St Barnabas Southfields, London UK
The location of the church of St Barnabas Southfields, London UK

Southfields lies to the south-west of central London in the London Borough of Wandsorth. With the coming of the railway in the 1860s the rural landscape was steadily built over. The Anglican church of St Barnabas (Diocese of Southwark) was built in the period 1906-08 among ‘roomy’ middle-class villas and is the work of the architect Charles Ford Whitcombe (1872-1930), a prolific designer and restorer of churches. In 1916 he emigrated to Queensland Australia.

The church of ST. BARNABAS, Southfields, was begun in 1906 and is still incomplete. It has a chancel and nave with aisles to both; the nave has a tall clearstory. Toothings are left in the walls for a future north-west tower. The walls are of red brick with stone dressings; the roofs are covered with slates, and a flèche stands above the chancel arch. [‘A History of the County of Surrey’ (1912)]

At first glance the building presents a modest profile, set back from a wide busy road. However on approaching it we find a rather impressive stately building. It seems to be designed in a not untypical rather plain Victorian Gothic ‘Perpendicular’ style, but on close inspection, and particularly once we are inside, we sense a more Edwardian-era ‘Arts and Crafts’ sensibility at work; large and spacious with generous use of colour, light and space with carefully designed fixtures and fittings.

Since it first opened the church building has had a chequered history.  By the 1920s the building was suffering catastrophic subsidence of the western foundations and rain-water damage to the walls – inside and out – from a poorly executed design. Remedial work was carried out c.1929 and a plan for a newly embellished sanctuary – much as we see it today – was approved. [LMA DS/F/1929/23/1-6].

Notes attached to the catalogue of the  parish records held in the London Metropolitan Archive [P95/BAN] state that the church: “was badly damaged by incendiaries in 1941, and not fully restored until 1955” . More recent alterations to the interior at the west end – to provide meeting-room facilities –  have managed not to upset the elegance of the interior whose cool light is created by the distinctive green tint of the windows.

The pipe organ

The first organ in the church appears to have been a hand-blown instrument, with payments recorded for: “Organist, Choir, Blower, and Music. £67”  (Parish magazine May  1910, p.5). This may be a reference to a pipe-organ at St Barnabas that is mentioned in the records of the organ-builders Hill, Norman and Beard Ltd.: “1919. Vol=02  Page=281  Job=1648 small : advice & estimate £5

From parish magazines of the 1920s we find articles headed: ‘St Barnabas Thank Offering for Victory and Peace’. These describe a fundraising project to provide a new organ -£1600 – as well as new vestry accommodation and a chancel screen – £3000. (Parish Magazine, March 1920, p. 4). The idea to include the screen had been dropped in later issues of the magazine. There is no further mention of the new organ until a reference is made of  adjustments made to it in the late 1920s. This may well be the three-manual organ by G.H.C. Foskett  (London) that is shown  in the National Pipe Organ Register [N17318] – surveyed 1947 – describing the organ on a north-chancel gallery.  Given the survey date it would seem that the organ was largely unscathed by the fire-bombs dropped on the church – as we have earlier noted – in 1941.

The present two-manual organ – also on a north-chancel gallery – dates from 1962 and is by the firm of Henry Willis with later adjustments undertaken by Michael Buttolph.

References

  • Charles Ford Whitcombe‘, Wikipedia. accessed 1 February 2019
  • ‘Church Building Society Records’, Lambeth Palace Library. Online resource, accessed 1 February 2019
  • Parishes: Wandsworth‘, in A History of the County of Surrey: Volume 4, ed. H E Malden (London, 1912), pp. 108-120. British History Online  [accessed 8 February 2019].
  • St Barnabas, 146 Lavenham Road‘, National Pipe Organ Register. Online resource accessed 1 February 2019
  • ‘St Barnabas Southfields’. Diocese of Southwark Faculty Records, London Metropolitan Archives.
  • St Barnabas Southfileds‘, Diocese of Southwark: Find a Church. Online resource, accessed 1 February 2019
  • ‘St Barnabas Southfields’. Parish magazines. London Metropolitan Archive.