Two similar churches, one in Kensington and the other in Wiltshire

ENNISMORE GARDENS MEWS IS about 380 yards west of Exhibition Road near South Kensington. It is the site of a church with an Italianate façade, now the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints. A tall bell tower stands to the right of the façade as you look at it from the street. Pevsner described the style of the façade as “Lombardic Romanesque”. He noted:

“The Early Christian/Italian-Romanesque style was a speciality of the 1840s…”

Russian Orthodox church in Kensington, London

Although many of the fittings in the church are typical of Russian Orthodox places of worship (e.g., iconostasis and icons), the interior is not typical of edifices built specifically for the Orthodox church. The coloured panels above the arches (supported by iron pillars) lining the nave are not typical of the kinds of images usually associated with the Orthodox Church. They have captions in both English and Latin, but not in Cyrillic. The church was designed as the Anglican Church of All Saints in 1848-1849 by Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871). The tower was constructed in 1871. Most of the decoration within the building is in the late 19th century Arts and Crafts style.

The Anglican parish, which was based in the former All Saints, merged with another in 1955. Then the church was let to the Russian Orthodox faith and its name changed to its present one. In 1978, the Sourozh Diocese purchased the edifice. The Sourozh is under the control of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The church in Ennismore Gardens Mews has a multi-national Orthodox congregation.  I asked a bearded priest how the cathedral differed from the Russian church in Harvard Road, Chiswick. He replied:

“We are the Orthodox Church based in Moscow, but the other one in Chiswick is the Orthodox Church based outside Russia … it is very complicated.”

Wilton in Wiltshire is almost 80 miles southwest of the Russian church in Ennismore Gardens Mews. Famed for its fine carpet manufacturing, the town has a church, St Mary and St Nicholas, whose façade looks not too different from that of South Kensington’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The Wilton church has a similar bell tower, but it placed on the left side of the façade. The church was commissioned by Sidney Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Lea (1810-1861), a close ally and supporter of Florence Nightingale of Crimean War fame. Sidney was a son of George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke and his Russian spouse Catherine (née Yekaterina Semyonovna Vorontsova). The church, completed in 1845, was designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) and his assistant David Brandon (1813-1897).

With many features borrowed from Italian Romanesque architecture, and some from Byzantine designs, the edifice at Wilton, despite being an Anglican parish church, felt to me slightly more like an Orthodox church than the converted ex-Anglican, now Orthodox, church in Ennismore Gardens Mews. However, the interior fittings in the church in Wilton borrow from what can be found in traditional Italian churches rather than in typical eastern Orthodox churches. But, the mosaic covered cupola over the chancel in Wilton’s Anglican church, with its depiction of Christ with two saints resembling what is often found in Byzantine churches, contrasts with the undecorated cupola over the chancel in what has now become the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Kensington.

Placed side by side, many differences could be discerned between the church in south Kensington and that in Wilton. But it is the similarities between two churches designed by different architects that are remarkable.

A church transformed

THE VICTORIAN GOTHIC Westbourne Grove Church (with a Baptist congregation) is on the corner of the Grove and Ledbury Road. Built on the site of an earlier church, this building was constructed in 1866. On examination, it is obvious that it has been modified considerably. According to the church’s website, westbournegrovechurch.org, in 2001:

“… the church worked with the Manhattan Loft Corporation to redevelop the site. Our vision was to use the church building to serve the local community, as an expression of God’s generosity and love. The church retains space spread over the entire ground and first floors of the building, while the project was funded by development of apartments in the top four floors of the converted building.”

The church now shares its building with retail outlets and residential units, the rents from which help finance the church’s activities and maintenance.

The parts of the ground and first floors used by the congregation have been redesigned imaginatively and beautifully in a simple contemporary idiom. Airy spaces simply but attractively decorated, flow neatly between each other giving the interior of the church a cubist sculptural feel. The rooms at the base of the two towers on the south façade of the church are used for exhibitions and meetings. In short, the spaces used for ecclesiastical and pastoral purposes provide a wonderful example of successful modern interior design. The current vicar is Chris Thackery. His wife Charlotte is an architect, and was involved in overseeing, and advising on, the modernisation of the church.

A visit to see this wonderful new church is well worth making. It is not far from Portobello Road and is a treat for lovers of imaginative architectural design.

From bank to beauty parlour

AL SAQI BOOKSHOP in London’s busy Westbourne Grove occupies a shop with a façade that would not look out of place on a palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice. I have already described the interesting history of this building elsewhere (https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2020/10/18/the-story-of-a-bookshop/).

62-64 Westbourne Grove, London

Further west along the Grove, well past the Planet Organic ‘wholefood’ store and Alounak, one of the Grove’s several Persian restaurants, we reach number 62-64, whose façade is almost as grand as that of Al Saqi. Unlike the latter, this building’s history is harder to ascertain. Currently, it is the premises of Aveda, a beauty salon also called Gina Conway Salon Spa.  The ground floor façade of this edifice includes neoclassical columns with Doric capitals, and decorative mouldings, which include the letters ‘C’, ‘L’, and ‘M’. These are intertwined to form a logo. The first floor is fronted by three large arches separated by decorative mouldings and the top storey has three sets of windows set back behind lintels supported by short columns with Doric capitals. The salon, although modernised to suit its current purpose, has its original elaborately decorated moulded plaster ceiling and wall mouldings, some of which depict the heads of angels or putti.  Nobody in the salon had any ideas about the history of this attractive building.

A photograph in the London Metropolitan Archives describes number 62 as having an Edwardian façade. When this image was created in 1974, the building was a branch of the Midland Bank, which occupied its western two thirds. The eastern third of the place was the premises of The French Kitchen and Tableware Supply Company. The bank was already in existence at this address in 1940.  What was there before the bank occupied the edifice and when exactly it was built, I have not yet discovered. The building is marked as a bank on a detailed map surveyed in 1914, but not on one surveyed in 1893. However, Allan & Mortons Street Directory of 1867 revealed that number 62 was then the address of Dr Barry, who practised homeopathic medicine.  Both the 1893 and the 1914 maps mark the building west of number 62-64 on the corner of the Grove and the western arm of Newton Road as being a bank at those times. This building currently houses Farmacy, a vegan eatery.

The logo ‘LCM’ on the old bank stands for ‘London, City, and Midland’, a bank founded in 1898, which was renamed the London Joint City and Midland Bank in 1918 and then the Midland Bank in 1923 (www.gracesguide.co.uk/London_City_and_Midland_Bank). In the absence of any more information and in view of the fact that the architectural historian Pevsner regarded it as “Edwardian”, it might be safe to conclude that the present building at 62-64 Westbourne Grove was originally constructed to house a bank sometime during the reign of Edward VII, i.e., between 1901 and 1910, and certainly before 1918.

A gothic church for the poor next to a canal

SPIRAL RAMPS LEAD up to the Ha’penny Bridge, which allows pedestrians to cross the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, where it runs between Delamere Terrace on one bank and Blomfield Road on the opposite one. A few yards west of the bridge and south of the waterway, there is a Victorian gothic church with a tall tower decorated with layers of red brickwork separated by layers of white masonry and topped with a white spire. It is St Mary Magdalene’s church.

The church was designed by George Edmund Street (1824-1881) and completed in 1878. It was built in what was then an area with poor quality housing, where several hard-up families lived crowded together under one roof. The parish in which it is located began life as an offshoot of All Saints in Margaret Street (near Oxford Circus). Like All Saints, St Mary Magdalene’s was established as an Anglo-Catholic church. Its website, grandjunction.org.uk, revealed that Anglo-Catholicism:

“… emphasises the Catholic heritage and identity of the Church of England. In the mid-nineteenth century Anglo-Catholicism was very controversial and provoked riots. Anglo-Catholic churches were often built in very poor areas, and their clergy believed that their services, full of light, colour, music and ritual, were likely to appeal to the poor.”

Like All Saints Margaret Street, the interior of St Mary Magdalene’s is a masterpiece of Victorian gothic extravaganza, a riot of colour. The nave has a magnificent painted ceiling which includes faces of various saints. This was painted by Daniel Bell, a Victorian artist. Sculptures of saints carved by Thomas Earp (1823-1893) look down on the nave. The floor of the vast nave is decoratively tiled. Street did not believe in fixed pews such as are found in many other Victorian churches and were rented out to parishioners to raise money. He believed in ‘free seating’, especially in a church like St Mary Magdelene’s that was built to serve the poor. The apse is unusual in that it is polygonal, reminiscent of apses that the widely travelled Street had seen in French and Flemish churches.

An unusual feature of this out of the ordinary church is that although the nave is flanked by a south and a north aisle, the latter is barely wide enough to accommodate one person, whereas the south one is almost as wide as the nave. The reason for the narrow north aisle was related to building regulations in force when the church was being constructed.

If it is open, and it was when I visited the church, it is worth entering the undercroft. This area beneath the church is flanked on its south side by a chapel that was undergoing restoration in February 2022. This is the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre created to commemorate the church’s founder and first vicar Fr Richard Temple West (1827-1893). Containing much decorative artwork and resembling a mediaeval chantry chapel, it was created by the architect Ninian Comper (1864-1960).

Outside the church, there is a WW1 memorial, added by Martin Travers in 1929. It is a gold-coloured crucifixion with a stone base on which are inscribed the Latin words “Infinitum est”, which is neither classical nor biblical; it means ‘It is not finished’, which are ominous words on a war memorial and are most portentous on a memorial to the first of (so far) two world wars.

Added on to the west end of the church, there is a modern extension, which houses a pleasant refreshment outlet called the Grand Junction Café. This is a good place to rest for a while after the excitement of seeing inside the spectacular church.

Art deco in a north London suburb

THE HAMPSTEAD GARDEN SUBURB (‘HGS’), which I mention briefly in my new book about Hampstead, “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”, began to be built as a Utopian experiment in providing housing for all social classes in about 1904. Many of the earlier homes were built in styles that alluded to traditional vernacular architecture such as is found in East Anglia and other rural areas. Many of the older houses incorporate Arts and Craft style decorative features.

Kingsley Close

Lyttelton Road, a stretch of the A1 trunk road, passes through a part of the Suburb known as the Market Place, one of the few parts of HGS with shops. The main road separates an older part of the suburb south of it from a newer section north of it.  Close to the Market Place but south of the main road, there is a cul-de-sac, Kingsley Close, which contains houses built in 1934 in the art deco (‘moderne’) style. They have curved suntrap windows made by Crittals. The residences were designed by the architects Herbert Welch (1884–1953), Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day (1896–1976), and Felix Lander (1890-1960). Welch did much designing in HGS and in nearby Golders Green. According to the website, http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/welch-herbert-arthur, Welch:

“… also designed the handsome curved terraces of shops and apartments in Golders Green Road that demonstrate the early C20 change of style from vernacular revival to Neo-Georgian. In collaboration with Frederick Etchells (the translator of Le Corbusier’s works into English), Welch, with Nugent Francis Cachemaille-Day (1896–1976) and Felix J. Lander (1898–1960), designed the pioneering International Modern Crawford’s Office Building, High Holborn, London (1930), with long bands of windows subdivided by steel mullions, much influenced by the Weissenhofsiedlung.”

The Weissenhofsiedlung was an estate built for an exhibition in Stuttgart in 1927. Apart from influencing Herbert Welch, it also stimulated the design and construction of the Lawn Road Flats (the Isokon) in Hampstead, which is described in my new book.

“Handsome” is not how I would describe the terrace of shops mentioned in the quote. However, I feel that the houses in Kingsley Close are more pleasing to my eyes. There are other art deco homes in the HGS, which I hope to write about in the future.

Book available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

Art deco in Kensington

FROM THE LATE 19th century until a few years ago, High Street Kensington was a healthily flourishing retail centre. In its heyday, it boasted of three large department stores, Pontings, Barkers, and Derry & Toms. The impressive buildings that housed the latter two still stand and are fine examples of art deco architecture located close to the Underground station, which has been in service since the late 1860s. In recent years, the advent of on-line shopping, high rents, and the proximity of the Westfield Mall at Shepherds Bush (opened 2008), which has good parking, have conspired together to make High Street Kensington less appealing to shoppers. Consequently, at any one time a large proportion of shops remain empty awaiting new tenants. Sadly, what was once (especially in the 1960s and ‘70s) a bustling high street with trendy shops like Biba and the ‘funky’ Kensington Market, both gone, has become slightly dreary.

Barkers building

Barker’s former shop, a lovely art deco edifice, which opened in 1933, was designed by Bernard George (1894-1964). Between 1928 and 1962, he was the chief architect for Barker’s of Kensington in-house design group.  It is worth examining this building closely to enjoy is many attractive details.

Art deco discovered

BOMBAY IS RICH in fine examples of buildings in the art deco style, which flourished roughly between the end of WW1 and the end of the 1930s. There is a good collection of buildings in this style along Marine Drive in Bombay, the Oval Maidan, and elsewhere in the city. London has some fine examples of structures that exhibit features of this kind of decorative style, but, apart from along a stretch of the A4 road, there are few concentrations of art deco buildings in London, such as can be found in Bombay. In London, the art deco buildings are mostly scattered around the city.

At the end of December 2021, we were walking with friends along the bank of the Thames between the London Apprentice pub at Isleworth and Richmond Bridge when I spotted a row of houses built in the art deco style. I had never seen them before. They line the south side of Park House Gardens in Twickenham. The detached house nearest the river, number 66, is larger and more attractive than the others in the street. The rest of the art deco residences on the street are rather mundane pairs of semi-detached homes, constructed to a pattern that I have seen elsewhere in London’s suburbs. Most of them have curved art deco period Crittall windows, which have panes of glass framed in metal rather than wood.

Park House Gardens was laid out in the early 1930s when:

“…gravel pits were filled in with, according to the local people, rubble and other material from the foundations of the Old Hotel Cecil in the Strand. The first houses were then built in Park House Gardens at prices of up to £1600 for semi-detached with garages, about the price of a garage today.” (www.twickenhampark.co.uk/a-brief-history.html)

The Cecil Hotel was in the Strand. Of its many guests, one was Mahatma Gandhi.

Another source (https://haveyoursay.citizenspace.com/richmondce/easttwickenham-spd/supporting_documents/East%20Twickenham%20SPD_Oct%2015.pdf) dates the houses differently:
“The buildings are semi-detached with Art Deco details though they do not appear to have been built until c. 1950s.”

Apart from the above information, I have found nothing else about these art deco style houses and would love to learn more.

Lift your eyes

IT IS TEMPTING to concentrate on the wonderful collection of exhibits in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, but you should spare some of your attention for the magnificent decoration of some of its galleries. Look up from the paintings and display cases to see superb ceiling decorations above you, and also around you when using the grand staircase. You are sure to be amazed.

The museum is housed in a neo-classical edifice initially designed by George Basevi (1794-1845), architect of London’s Grosvenor Square. After Basevi’s death, the planning of the structure was completed by Charles Robert Cockerell (1788–1863). Built to house the collection bequeathed to the University of Cambridge by Richard FitzWilliam, 7th Viscount FitzWilliam (1745-1816), the present museum was opened to the public in 1848. Over the years since then, the museum has been enlarged by adding newer buildings and now it is home to about 500,000 artefacts.

Years ago, I remember reading (I cannot remember where) a comparison of a museum in the USA designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) with another one, the Guggenheim in Manhattan, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). Both buildings are elegant but that by Mies Van der Rohe modestly allows the exhibits to grab the viewer’s attention more than the architecture, whereas the unusual design of Wright’s building competes with the artworks for the viewer’s attention. The internal decoration of the older galleries of the Fitzwilliam are sufficiently eye-catching to be able to compete with the exhibits housed in them, but somehow, they hardly do this. That is why I am asking you to take your eyes off the exhibits if only to glance briefly at the décor of the galleries,

Artists and secret agents

A REMARKABLE ENGINEER and furniture entrepreneur Jack Pritchard (1899-1992) and his family lived at 37 Belsize Park Gardens, in London’s Hampstead district. before WW2. Pritchard, who studied engineering and economics at the University of Cambridge, joined Venesta, a company that specialised in plywood goods. It was after this that he began to promote Modernist design. In 1929, he and the Canadian architect Wells Coates (1895-1958) formed the company, Isokon, whose aim was to build Modernist style residential accommodation.

Pritchard and his wife, a psychiatrist, Molly (1900-1985), commissioned Coates to build a block of flats in Lawn Road on a site that they owned. Its design was to be based on the then new ideas for communal housing that had been realised in Germany including the influential Bauhaus in Dessau. The flats are close to Fleet Road and the Mall Studios in Parkhill Road. Completed in 1934, they were, noted the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner, “… a milestone in the introduction of the modern idiom to London.” He continued, writing in 1952, clearly critical of the edifice, which:

“…put on a forbidding face towards the street, with large unmitigated concrete surfaces … It is all in the spirit of revolution, unaccommodating and direct to the verge of brutality.”

Well, I quite like the building’s elegant simplicity. In the basement space of the block, there was a refreshment area known as the Isobar. This and its furniture were designed by Marcel Breuer (1902-1981). Regularly, exhibitions were held in the Isobar and, according to an on-line article in The Modern House Journal these were attended by artists including Adrian Stokes, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo. The article also noted that this refreshment area was frequented by modernist architects such as Erich Mendelsohn, Serge Chermayeff and, Wells Coates, as well as by left-wing politicians. Pritchard occupied the penthouse flat. In 1969, he sold the block, and now it contains accommodation for 25 keyworkers on a shared ownership basis and 11 flats are in private ownership. The block, first known as the Lawn Road Flats, is now called ‘Isokon. Lawn Road Flats’.

T F T Baker, Diane K Bolton and Patricia E C Croot, writing in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9, Hampstead, Paddington, noted that the Lawn Road Flats were built partly to house artistic refugees, who had fled from parts of Europe then oppressed by dictators, notably by Adolf Hitler. Some of them had been associated with the Bauhaus. These included the architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer, the architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969), and the artist and photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946). All three of them are regarded as being masters of 20th century visual arts.

Despite both having come from bourgeois backgrounds, the Pritchards aimed to free themselves from middle-class conventions. The concept and realisation of the Lawn Road Flats, were important landmarks in their quest to achieve a new, alternative way of living. It is accurate to say that the atmosphere that prevailed in the community that either lived in, or frequented, the Lawn Road Flats was predominantly left-wing and extremely welcoming to cultural refugees from Nazi Germany. Probably, it had not been anticipated that the place should become a convenient place for Stalin’s Soviet spies to use as a base. According to a small booklet about the flats Isokon The Story of a New Vision of Urban Living, published in 2016, the flats were home to the following espionage agents, who had been recruited by the NKVD in Central Europe: Arnold Deutsch, Simon Kremer, Jürgen Kuczinski, and Brigitte Kucynski Lewis. Jill Pearlman, one of the book’s several authors, noted that they found the Lawn Road Flats convenient for several reasons:

“Above all, they blended inconspicuously into the sociable community of tenants there. Many tenants too were refugees from Central Europe … Even the Lawn Road Flats building worked well for the spies. One could enter and exit any unit without being seen … no one could see in. At the same time, the cantilevered decks on each floor provided the tenants a perfect vantage point from which to survey the street below.”

Today, there is a small exhibition area in the garage of the flats. This is open on some weekends, but I have yet to visit it.

Pianos and art deco in Mayfair

THE CORNER OF BROOK Street and Haunch of Venison Yard (in London’s Mayfair) is adorned with a fine building with a white Portland stone façade. It is built in the art deco style. The building, Greybrook House (28 Brook Street), was constructed in 1929 and designed by Sir John Burnet and Partners (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1392996). Burnet, born in Scotland, lived from 1857 to 1938.

Greybrook House was built to house the showrooms of the piano company, Bechstein, founded in 1853 by Friedrich Wilhelm Carl Bechstein (1826-1900). In 1901, the firm opened a concert hall, Bechstein Hall, on Wigmore Street. In 1917, the hall was renamed the Wigmore Hall and is still used today. The hall was next to Bechstein’s showrooms, which were closed in 1916 because of its German connection. In 1928, Bechstein’s, which had been closed during and after WW1, re-established itself in the UK, and commissioned the building of Greybrook House to be used for their new showrooms. In addition to showrooms, the new building included practice rooms and office space.

I am not sure when Bechstein left its Brook Street premises. However, I noticed that beside the entrance to the flats there is a beautifully carved calligraphic inscription that reads “Allied Ironfounders Ltd”. This company had its showroom in Greybrook House in the 1950s. Judging by a photograph I have seen on the Internet (www.ribapix.com/allied-ironfounders-showrooms-28-brook-street-mayfair-london-the-showrooms-entrance-with-the-brick-mural-men-of-iron-designed-by-trevor-tennant_riba25422#), it must have been quite exciting visually.

Currently, the ground floor of Greybrook House is occupied by Joseph, an upmarket clothing retailer. The upper floors have been converted into luxury flats by Fenton Whelan and Vanbrugh Prime Property. This was done recently.

The lovely art deco façade of Greybrook House remains unaltered. By chance, or who knows, maybe deliberately, Bechstein’s Brook Street showrooms were almost opposite the house where the composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) lived from 1723 until his death. Finally, the company that had its piano showrooms in Greybrook House is currently constructing a new set of showrooms and a small 100 seat concert hall back in Wigmore Street where their first London premises were located (www.rhinegold.co.uk/international_piano/c-bechstein-returns-to-londons-wigmore-street/).