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 Pancras Old Church …

St Pancras Old Church, Pancras Road, Camden Town, London NW1 1UL

I have recently had the opportunity to revisit the medieval church of  Old St Pancras to help out with the music for the main Sunday service there. This was a rather nostalgic visit since I was organist there immediately after my days as a post-graduate organ student at the Royal Academy of Music (1980-81), and I subsequently taught for a while at the parish school.

Old St Pancras church is modest in scale, comprising just an unaisled nave and chancel with a 19th-century tower on the south side. The history of Old St Pancras church is well documented, dating from at least Saxon times while some would claim that the site dates back to the days of the Roman occupation. Images and maps showing the building in its setting are plentiful.

There was a major rebuilding project in 1848 by the partnership of Alexander D. Gough (1804–71) and Robert Lewis Roumieu (1814–77) when the  old tower was relocated and redesigned a 7th-century altar stone was recovered and reinstated. There were modest adjustments in 1888 made by Arthur Blomfield (1829–99), with further work in the 1920s and in 1979-80 by the firm of Erith and Terry (Cherry & Pevsner, p.348).

7th-centiry altar stone with five incised crosses, Old St Pancras Church, London NW1. Source: http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com
7th-centiry altar stone with five incised crosses, Old St Pancras Church, London NW1. Source: http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com

The architectural superstructure and the extensive burial ground – with its many famous ‘inhabitants’ – are well described in any number of publications and webpages, as too the various funerary monuments inside the building. There are inventories of the church from the 13th century that list service books, vestments, plate and describe a high altar and two nave altars (dedicated to Our Lady and to St. Nicholas, with a tabernacle), a rood with images of Our Lady and St. John, and images of St. Catherine and of St. John the Baptist. (Survey of London). But surprisingly (to me) there is little information about the church’s later furnishings and decoration.

The parish’s main archive dates from the 19th-century and is deposited in the London Metropolitatn Archive, so I went along to take a look.

St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Church plate c16-c20, seen c.1980. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/63.
St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Church plate c16-c20, seen c.1980. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/63.
H.C. (1854) 'Interior view of St Pancras Old Church, St Pancras.' Source: London Mteropolitan Archive, ref. p5380390.
H.C. (1854) ‘Interior view of St Pancras Old Church, St Pancras.’ Source: London Mteropolitan Archive, ref. p5380390.

In the image above we see the church as it appeared after Gough & Roumieu’s ‘restoration’. Cherry & Pevsner (Buildings of England) state that the c17 pulpit was later cut up to provide the font panels of the altar, shown below.  They also state that that the side galleries were removed in 1925, but the pictures below seem to indicate the galleries were removed at some time in the nineteenth century.

t Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel [c.1870?]. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/1-2.
St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel [c.1870?]. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/1-2.
In the image above we see Gough and Roumieu’s fixed-bench pews, but  it is not clear who made the screen or when it was installed, or what happened to it subsequently.

St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel and baptistry (south side) [11 December 1880?]. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/1-2.
St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel and baptistry (south side) [11 December 1880?]. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/1-2.
The images above shows the church before 1888 when the organ was moved under the tower (about which see below).

St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel, early c20. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/63.
St Pancras Old Church, London NW1. Chancel, early c20. Image source: London Metropolitan Archive P90/PAN2/63.

The organ

  • 1868. The earliest indication of a pipe organ comes in Mackson’s Guide to the Churches of London and Its Suburbs for 1868, with the reference to a Miss Wright as the honorary organist (p.65), and subsequent editions showed Miss Wright as organist up to and including the year 1884.
  • 1872. Mackson’s Guide notes the organ is a 1-manual instrument (p. 74), and this may be the 7-stop instrument recorded in the National Pipe Organ Register at N17059.
    • I am tempted to imagine that this instrument might be the 1-manual organ that was in the Long Room of the nearby Bagnigge Wells pleasure garden; auctioned off  in a sale there in 1813.
  • 1880. The ledgers of the organ-buildring firm of Gray and Davidson – now in the British Organ Archive (BOA) at Birmingham University, UK  – noted “tuning; 1880 new 2m org, no.10423, £270”. (Vol. 8A, p.27). This is possibly the 2-manual, 15-stop instrument shown in the National Pipe Organ Register at N17057. Mackson’s Guide does not note the 2-manual instrumnt until the 1884 edition (p. 119).
  • 1882. The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 23, No. 472 (Jun. 1, 1882), p.305. ‘Organist. – Wanted, an Organist, Gentleman or Lady, for Old St Pancras Church. Salary £25 a-year. Residence in the neighbourhood desirable. Address, The Vicar, Old St. Pancras Vestry.”
  • 1885. Mackson’s  Guide of 1885 (pp. 131-2) shows the organist is now a Mr P.E. Rivers.
  • 1888. Building works supervised by Arthur Blomfield proposed to build “in connection with the new Vestry, an Organ Chamber abutting upon and opening into the Chancel” allowing the organ to be moved from the west gallery at a cost of £700. (P90/PAN2/48/ ‘Restoration of Old St Pancras Church’ [1888?]).
    – The organ chamber was never built but the Gray and Davidson ledgers of 1888 refer to moving the organ. (Vol. 9A, p. 36). But moved where? If this instrument is the one noted in NPOR (N17057) that listing refers to the organ being in the south transept, which might then mean that in 1888 the organ was placed under the tower on the south side. This would make sense of the 1906 reference, below.
  • 1890. Arthur Carwithen was appointed organist in February 1890. (Parish Magazine October 1896 [P90/PAN2/71])
  • 1894-5. Mackson’s Guide of 1894-5 shows the organist is A. Carwithen (pp. 121-2).
  • 1896. Arthur Carwthen left the parish in September to be organist at St John’s, Friern Barnet. (Parish Magazine October 1896 [P90/PAN2/71]).
    – Arthur Carwithen was succeeded by Herbert Nelson “of St Faith’s Stoke Newington”.
    – Mr Major Freeman jun. was appointed assistant organist. (Parish Magazine September 1896 [P90/PAN2/71].
    – the organ was fully cleaned ‘and rewired’ at a cost of £25. (Parish Magazine, September 1896. [P90/PAn2/71]); also mentioned in the Gray and Davidson ledgers (Vol 10, p.110).
  • 1902. Mr Freeman ‘left’ in the summer of 1902 and was replaced by  Mr C.F.J. Wright, formerly of St Phillip’s Clerkenwell. (Parish Magazine, November 1902. [P90/PAN2/77]).
  • 1906. In August the Parish Magazine noted that a leak in the roof – between the tower and the nave – had damaged the organ by Gray and Davidson who repaired it for £47.10s. [P90/PAN2/80].
  • 1919. In October the assistant organist was Mr J. R. Copland (Parish Magazine, October 1919 [P90/PAR2/93]).
  • 1922. Gray and Davidson ledgers show that £300 was spent on ‘work’ on the organ. (Vol. 12, p.741). At some point in the next couple of years Gray and Davidson stopped looking after the organ.
  • 1926. The organ-building firm of Hill, Norman and Beard was now looking after the organ and the company ledger, also in the BOA (Vol. 6, p.104) notes the sale of the 2-manual Gray and Davidson organ for £75.
    –  In the surviving Hill, Norman and Beard ledgers there is no mention of a new instrument to replace the one that was sold, but it may be that they provided the 2-manual 13-stop instrument shown on NPOR at N17056 (unidentified maker) located in the west gallery.
    – This may all relate to the building work of 1925 that is mentioned by Cherry & Pevsner, and others.
  • 1948. The organ-building firm of Mander and Sons installed in the west gallery a second-hand Brindley & Foster instrument from St. Peter, Cephas Street, Limehouse – NPOR [D03546] – but quite why is unknown. It is the current instrument, rather plain and quirky to play having a cramped console; a narrow, straight and flat pedal board, an awkward ‘kick’ swell, and sharp tuning. The best to be said of it is that it provides a solid unadorned accompaniment for the liturgy.

References