From Friday Street to Finsbury Park

St Thomas the Apostle, Finsbury Park, London N4

Tucked away in an undistinguished later-nineteenth-century suburb of north London is the Anglican parish church of St Thomas the Apostle, Finsbury Park. The areas will be known to many as the home of the Arsenal Football Club whose former Highbury Stadium (1913-2006) was close by the church. The football club’s new Emirates Stadium (2006) is located a little further away to the south west. The former stadium site is now a housing estate named Highbury Square.

The parish of St Thomas the Apostle was formed out of the surrounding Islington parish in 1888 and owes its origin to a decision by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to sell-off a number of churches in the City of London (Union of Benefices Act, 1860).  The reason for the sales was that the burgeoning London suburbs had been rapidly emptying the City of its population and in order to defray the cost of the new suburban churches a number of underused City churches were sold.  St Thomas’s church was paid for by the sale of St Matthew’s Church, Friday Street for £22,005, the advowson of the new parish being held by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1898-99 the area was regarded as ‘middle class and well-to-do’. (Booth). The same is generally true today.

The new church building of St Thomas the Apostle cost £7,500 and was the work of Ewan Christian (1814–95), architect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It is built of brick and stone in Christian’s favourite Early English style and was consecrated in 1889. It consists of chancel (with a sedila of Derbyshire marble), nave (with arcades in blue stone), aisles, a chapel at the east end of the south aisle, baptistery, organ chamber, north and south porches and a turret.

The church building is largely unaltered since it was opened in 1889 and despite its small scale and modest appearance is – once inside – quite lovely and spacious in feeling. It is well maintained and well used. In the 1990s the chancel and sanctuary were redecorated in a period style by the English muralist Alan Dodd (b.1944).

The pipe organ is original to the building, installed in 1889 by the (now defunct) local firm of Alfred Monk. Inevitably, after nearly 130 years of constant use the organ is now rather tired and in need of some mechanical refreshment, for which fundraising is underway. Even so, while this is no recital instrument it has a strong clear sound and continues to serve the parish well in accompanying the liturgy.

 

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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.

Lamb’s Buildings

St Joseph’s Church, Lamb’s Buildings, London EC1Y 8LE

The small London throughfare known as Lamb’s Buildings is named after a tenement built there about 1770 by a local businessman called Thomas Lamb (1752-1813), a cloth dyer and a manufacturer of buckram – a fabric of coarse linen stiffened with gum used both by tailors and bookbinders. The buildings currently at the junction of Lamb’s Buildings and Errol Street (shown below) also date from about 1770 but no direct connection with Lamb is known.

Mr Lamb’s business was just around the corner in Sword Bearer Alley, that name perhaps deriving from the nearby premises of the Honourable Artillery Company (est. 1537). By the 1790s Sword Bearer Alley had become known as Lamb’s Passage (Sun Insurance Records CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/400/639811), and so it is today. The brewer Samuel Whitbread (1720-96) lived here for a while in the mid 1700s while setting up his famous brewery in the adjacent Chiswell Street.

Even in the late nineteenth centry the area was inhabited mainly by the well-to-do middle classes, which is clearly shown on Charles Booth’s “poverty map” (above), indicated by the red blocks.

Lamb's Buildings, London EC1: St Joseph's School (1901), and late eighteenth-century building at the junction with Errol Street. (Google Streetview)
Lamb’s Buildings, London EC1: St Joseph’s School (1901), and late eighteenth-century building at the junction with Errol Street. (Google Streetview)

In 1815 a plot of land on Lamb’s Buildings was bought by the Associated Catholic Charities to establish an orphanage and schools. A school chapel dedicated to St Joseph was listed in the Catholic Directory from 1850, doubling as a public place of worship. The present St Joseph’s School building was erected in 1901 with a chapel in the basement.

The school closed in 1977.

While the upper floors of the school building are now home to the offices of the Catholic Herald newspaper, the basement chapel is now known as St Joseph’s Church. It is accessed from Lamb’s Buildings via a rather splendid gateway framed by Doric pilasters with the Papal tiara in the pediment.  The church contains two large, stained-glass windows from the old St Mary Moorfields church, and some distinctive neo-coptic icons by Stéphane René (b.1954)

At the west end of the church, against the south wall, sits an attractive  one-manual organ. A small builders’ plate on the organ declares the instrument to be by the firm of Nicholson, but it gives no date.

A chance conversation with the organologist Philip J. Wells, shortly after my visit, led him to make the following observations:

This looks to me like it might be a Nicholson & Co (Worcester) Ltd organ which was built in 1973 as an exhibition organ for the St Albans organ festival of that year. It had a Mahogany case with provision for one extra stop (it appears a Dulciana has been added) but I remember it for the 2ft conical flute and Quartane. It was for sale for £3,000 (plus vat if applicable) and was described as a one manual tracker action traditional English organ.

A correspondence with the administrator of the St Albans International Organ Festival has added some further detail:

 I can tell you that a Nicholson organ was exhibited [in 1973]. It’s specification was : Gedeckt 8; Principal 4; Block Flute 2; Quartane 19.22; 
Compass C-f3; 66″ x 30″ x ?”.

Thus armed, I made contact with Nicholson and Company Limited and folk there were able to shed further light. Specifically, that following the organ’s appearance at St Albans in 1973 it eventually returned to the factory until c.1980 when it was supplied to the church of St Mary the Virgin, Warwick, during work on the organ there. After this it found another home at the church of St John the Baptist, Fekenham, near Redditch. It was then sold to a church ‘down south’ around 2001, presumably to St Joseph’s.

It would seem that some minor tonal alterations (stop-name changes) were made between 1973 and now, with the addition – at some point – of a pedal organ. The current specification is:

Manual : 54 notes C to F
– Dulciana 8′ : to tenor C, no bottom octave
– Stopped Bass 8′ : from botom C to tenor C, one octave only
– Stopped Flute 8′ : from tenor C, no bottom octave
– Principal 4′
– Mixture 2 ranks
– Conical Flute 2′
Pedal : 30 notes C to F
– [Bourdon] 16′  : separate rank; on/off controlled by right-hand pedal lever
Coupler
– manual to pedal controlled by left-hand pedal lever
Additional information
– Mechanical action throughout, with equal temperament tuning; electric-powered wind supply

On the Wandle

St John the Divine, Earlsfield SW17

Earlsfield (formerly Garratt Green; var. Garret, Garat &c) – in the London Borough of Wandsworth – is a somewhat nondescript inner south-London suburb. It is dissected by the River Wandle, a tributary of the River Thames. In past times the area was open farmland and with no settlements other than the hamlet of Garratt Green, home to a large water mill. Garratt Lane, running parallel with the Wandle for some distance, is the main thoroughfare of Earlsfield; its name keeps alive a memory of former times.

With the coming of the railways in the 1880s the construction of a railway station required the purchase and demolition of a large house called Earlsfield. One of the conditions of its sale was that the station should be named after the house, and so the area has been known ever since.

From the mid eighteenth century until the 1820s Garratt Green was widely known for the rumbustious carnival atmosphere that accompanied the election of a ‘mayor’ to oversee the management of the common land. These elections were timed to coincide with national elections, but outgrew their original purpose to become something of rallying point for the un-enfranchised classes to have a day out and mock the political system that denied them a vote. Reports talk of tens of thousands attending.

The scene of the election was the Leather Bottle pub, which still stands on Garratt Lane. The elections were immortalised in a popular drama called  ‘The Mayor of Garratt’ (1763), written by the actor-dranatist and impresario Samuel Foote (1720-77) who had witnessed the 1761 election.

Bendon Valley Mission Church, Earlsfield, c.1915
Bendon Valley Mission Church, Earlsfield, c.1915

The church of St John the Divine on Garratt Lane was established in 1903 as the Bendon Valley Mission Church, a mission church of St Andrew’s, Garratt Lane.

Unbuilt design (1920) for St John the Divine Earlsfield
Unbuilt design (1920) for St John the Divine Earlsfield

In the 1920s plans were drawn up to replace the mission building with something altogether more grand, designed by F H. Greenaway and J.E. Newberry, and dedicated to St John the Divine, ‘on a corner site at the junction of Garratt Lane and Bendon Valley’ (The Building News, 29 October 1920), but these plans were never carried out.

St John the Divine, Earlsfield, the west end, c.2015
St John the Divine, Earlsfield, the west end, c.2015

Instead we have the rather modest building that dates from 1925 by the architect Arthur Young, 1853-1924, supervised after his death by his business partner Allan Douglas Reid, 1898-1977. (C20 Society Churches Database).

The font at St John the Divine, Earlsfield, c.2013
The font at St John the Divine, Earlsfield, c.2013

The font came from St George Battersea (Southwark Diocesan Records [SDR]: DS/F/1936/008).

St John the Divine became a parish in its own right in 1938 (SDR: DS/OC/1938/001).

According to an advertisement for a parish organist in The Musical Times of 1943, the organ at that time  was a ‘S Cecilia Organ’. I am guessing that this refers to the  economical production-line instruments made in the early decades of the twentieth century by the firm of Henry Jones in Finsbury Park, north London.

In 1974, according to the National Pipe Organ Register (NPOR), the church had a two-manual instrument but gives no maker’s name. Was this the St Cecilia organ, an enlargement of it, or something altogether different?

Organ builder's announcement about the organ in St John the Divine Earlsfield, in 'The Musical Times' (vol. 117, no.1605, November 1976.
Organ builder’s announcement about the organ in St John the Divine Earlsfield, in ‘The Musical Times’ (vol. 117, no.1605, November 1976.

NPOR notes that in 1976 a new two-manual and pedal instrument was installed by Percy Daniel and Co. Lrd. of Taunton (Somerset). This instrument was mentioned by name in several quarter page adverts placed by the company in The Musical Times during 1976 and 1977.

Tne organ is sited at the south-west corner of the church, and when I played it earlier this year it was in excellent condition with no extraneous mechanical or wind noise, and was unexpectedly satisfying to play, being well-suited to accompanying the congregation in this small church, and an ideal ‘no frills’ practice instrument.

From Medieval to Gothick

St Bartholomew the Less, West Smithfield, London EC1

The Smithfield area in the north-west corner of the City of London owes much of its current street plan to the history of its medieval Augustinian priory and hospital, while the historic character of its architecture – some dating back to the Middle Ages– is due in no small part to the fact that the area narrowly escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was relatively little damaged by aerial bombing during the Second World War.

St Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield, looking east.
St Bartholomew-the-Great, Smithfield, looking east.

The priory church (1123) survives today as the Anglican parish church of St Bartholomew the Great. It is an impressive edifice by any standards although only two-thirds of its former length now survives and most of its priory building have long gone, thanks to the destruction of church property wrought throughou England during the religious battles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital (1123) – known to most Londoners simply as Barts – was founded as an integral part of the Priory and survives on its original site, although most of its historic buldings date back only as far as the early eighteenth century.

Over many centuries Smithfield’s open central core on the edge of the City of London has made it a site of many notable gatherings, for example:

  • From 1123 Smithfield was the site of the annual Bartholomew Fair originally designed by the Priory to mark St Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August. The fair survived the Reformation and the Civil War and by the early 1700s lasted at least two weeks and attracted vast crowds of fun-seeking Londoners. The fair was a regular source of anxiety for various civic-minded groups concerned with public order and public morality but it was not until 1855 that the fair ceased.
  • In 1374 Edward III (1312–77) held a seven-day tournament at Smithfield, for the amusement of his mistress Alice Perrers (1348–1400).
  • On 15 June 1381 Richard III met here the the leaders of the so-called Peasants Revolt. The meeting turned violent and several of the revolutionaries were killed by the London militia, including the peasants’ spokesman, Wat Tyler
  • In 1390 Richard II (1367–1400) hosted a two-day tournament organised by Geoffrey Chaucer, who was then the clerk to the king. The tournament – reported across Europe – was described by Jean Froissart (c.1337–c 1405) in his Chronicles (of the Hundred Years War).
  • Until the late seventeenth century Smithfield was a place of public execution. In 1305 the Scottish rebel William Wallace was executed here. During the sixteenth century it was often religious dissidents who met their deaths on Smithfield, while in the seventeenth century it became a place of execution for swindlers and coin forgers.
  • From as early as 1132 livestock and horses were traded here every Friday, a practice that developed in into the Smithfield meat market that operates today in a splendid Victorian market-hall that covers much of the former Smithfield.

Less well known in the story of Smithfield is the ancient church of St Bartholomew the Less (1184), located within the hospital precinct. It replaced the Chapel of the Holy Cross (1123).

Although the ground-plan of the present church is Norman, the west-end and tower are largely 13th-century structures;  two of the tower’s three bells date from 1380 and 1420. and are still hung in a medieval–period ‘bell frame’. The architect and theatre-designer Inigo Jones (1573–1652) was baptised here. His father was a Welsh clothworker living in nearby Cloth Fair.

In 1789 the nave and chancel of the church was ‘repaired’ (rebuilt) by the hospital’s surveyor and architect George Dance the younger (1741–1825). Dance chose the modern ‘gothick’ style to create a brand-new, light and airy octagon–shaped nave within the church’s medieval walls. At the same time he removed many of the old tombs and memorials.

There have been several organs in the church supplied by various organ-builders as follows:

  1. Richard Bridge, c.1729
  2. John Byfield jun. with John Byfield III, 1794.
    This organ was an ‘annuity organ’, which meant it was installed gratis by the organ builder but in return he provided the organist – in this case his son – and took the organist’s fee. (Organists of the City of London. Dawe: 1983. 33). As I noted in my blog of 24 September 2016, a similar annuity-organ contract was made in 1790 between William Warrell and the parish of St Mary-le-Strand.
  3. John Gray, 1825
  4. Gray and Davison, 1863
  5. William Hill and Son & Norman and Beard Ltd, 1930
  6. N. P. Mander, 1978

Alas, no images of the earliest organs seem to have survived. The current organ’s pipework is located in somewhat cramped conditions, deep-set under a narrow arch at the west end of the church. The organ’s console is in the  south-east corner. The instrument has no pretensions, being simple in looks and plain in tone; even at full-organ it does not overwhelm. However, since it speaks directly along the main axis of the church it is adequate to accompany congregational singing.

 

A Hunter in the London Docks …

All Saints, Poplar, London E14

London

The east-London district of Poplar once lay at the heart of Britain’s empire, being the location of London’s mighty East India and West India docks. Between them, during the nineteenth century these docks managed most of the ’empire trade’ coming into Britain.

The East India docks were opened in 1802 by the East India Company, established in 1600 as the ‘Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies’, while the West India docks were opened in 1806 by the ‘London Society of West India Planters and Merchants’, established in 1780. The two groups amalgamated their business interests in 1838 in the wake of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. This Act of Parliament had abolished  slavery throughout the British Empire, with the exceptions “of the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company”, the “Island of Ceylon” and “the Island of Saint Helena”; these exceptions were nullified in 1843, after which the combined Companies’ domination of the UK’s international trade steadily diminished.

A small chapel had existed on the Isle of Dogs from the middle ages, to serve the sparse population. It was abandoned as a place of worship by the time the Reformation, and any remains of it were swept away by the development of the docks.

As early as 1654 the East India Company provided its burgeoning riverside workforce with a chapel on the north side of Poplar High Street. The area was then in the parish of St Dunstan, Stepney, whose church was considered too far away for employees of the company’s docks to attend. In the later nineteenth century the East India Company chapel became a parish church in its own right; St. Matthias. It still stands today, though now a community asset.

With the opening of the new docks, Poplar became a thriving and densely populated mercantile centre. In 1817 a brand-new parish of All Saints was created out of Stepney parish with its own church (consecrated 1823; patron: Brasenose College, Oxford). All Saints church is an imposing, handsome building designed by Charles Hollis (n.d.), with a 161-foot high steeple; the building costs were underwritten by the West India Dock Company. The organ for the new church was built by the London organ-building firm of Henry Russell; see note below.

During the Second World War aerial bombing severely damaged the west end of the church putting the Russell organ beyond repair. The church was restored and its interior remodelled, providing a new organ and west gallery. The new organ (1953, by N. P. Mander Ltd.) was in fact ‘second-hand’, bought from the Clapham Congregational Church (south London), although with a new case. It had been installed in Clapham in 1902 by the London firm of  A. Hunter and Sons. It is a large instrument with a clear and bright yet rich tone, enhanced by a generous clean acoustic. On my visit there to play this organ I found it particularly encouraging of improvisation, and rather well-suited to the European Romantic repertoire.

As a coda, it is worth mentioning that Poplar is the area in which are set two popular BBC TV series: ‘Call the Midwife’, which is based on the work of the real-life nursing nuns of the Anglican Order of St John the Divine; and ‘EasterEnders’, which is entirely spurious.

The ‘Call the Midwife’ mission buildings and nuns chapel (c.1893; patron, Christ Church Oxford) remain on Lodore Street, converted to secular use. The adjacent parish church of St Frideswide, patron saint of Oxford, was destroyed by aerial bombing in the Second World War; the area is now part of All Saints parish.

A Hunter’s last breath, for now …

St Mellitus, Tollington Park, London N4

At first glance the Catholic church of St Mellitus located on Tollington Park in north London would appear to be an unremarkable nineteenth-century example of a neo-classical Catholic church building, such as can be found throughout the Catholic world.

However looks can be deceiving since the Tollington Park building has only been a Catholic church since 1959.

The building dates from 1871 and was built for the New Court Congregational Church to the design of C. G. Searle (1816–81). The New Court congregation had fist met n 1662 in a building in Bridges Street, Covent Garden, London. In 1696 the congregation moved to a location in Drury Lane and again in 1707 to a location in New Court, Carey Street, Strand. Here they stayed until the 1860s when Carey Street and the area all around it was cleared to make way for the building of the Royal Courts of Justice. Thus the New Court congregation moved to its new building in Tollington Park where it stayed until selling up in the 1950s, due to dwindling numbers. The descendents of the New Court congregation continue to meet today in other premises in the same area under the banner of the Elim Pentecostal Church.

This dissenting-Protestant back-story explains the church building’s interior, which seems to embrace Catholic worship rather reluctantly, although the Catholic congregation here have a genuine affection for the place.

The most obvious changes in converting the building were made at the (liturgical) east end where an altar replaced the large preaching desk (pulpit), and the display pipes of the pipe-organ were replaced by a painted reredos depicting a neo-classical doorway with three windows above; the significance of this decoration is not clear. Sadly I can find no pictures of the interior of the building prior to 1959.

The rather fine and rather large three-manual pipe organ (1920) by the London firm of Alfred Hunter remains in situ, hidden – and rather muted – behind the reredos; its console is at the east end of the south gallery. The instrument was installed as a memorial to those of the New Court congregation who died in the First World War.

I had an opportunity to play the organ during Christmas and New Year 2015-16 when it was abundantly clear that the instrument was in a very poor state, short of wind and with much of it unusable and by March 2016 the organ had stopped working altogether. Undeterred, the parish has immediately set in motion imaginative plans for a restoration of Alfred Hunter’s ‘war memorial’ organ, with help from the UK National Lottery.