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. 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.
- Joseph Maltby Bignell (Wikipedia)
- St Michael and All Angels, Northcote Road (National Pipe Organ Register)
- ‘St Michel and All Angels, Walthamstow‘. The Church of England: A Christian presence in every community.
- ‘Walthamstow‘ in The Environs of London: Volume 4, Counties of Herts, Essex and Kent by Daniel Lyons (London, 1796), pp. 204-30. (British History Online)
- ‘Walthamstow: Churches‘ in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, edited by W R Powell (London: Victoria County History, 1973), pp. 285-94 (British History Online)
- ‘Walthamstow: Introduction and domestic buildings‘ in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6 pp. 240-50.