Greek in north London’s Golders Green

IN THE EARLY 1960s, the first proper self-service supermarket opened on the corner of Golders Green Road and a small service road called Broadwalk Lane. I cannot recall the name of this store, but it was soon taken over by the Macfisheries company. Later, it became a supermarket where many imported foods, especially products from Israel, were sold. Now, it has become a Tesco Express.

Facing the supermarket (across Golders Green Road) is a gothic revival style church. It has been used by a Greek Orthodox (Christian) congregation since 1968. Now, the The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Cross & St. Michael, it was constructed as the Church of England’s ‘St Michael’s Church’ in 1914 to the design of JT Lee. A clock tower, surmounted by a delicate cupola supported by thin columns, was added to the church in 1960. On one of its walls, there is a bas-relief of St Michael with one foot on a serpent. On the northeast corner of the church, there is a plaque listing people who died in WW1. Near this, there is a crucifix standing in the garden next to the church. Its design, typical of C of E crucifixes, predates the arrival of the Greek congregation.

Although the interior of the church maintains some of its original Cof E fittings, such as stained-glass windows, the font designed in a mock mediaeval style, and some wall mounted memorials in English, a great deal of effort has been made to create the atmosphere of a Greek Orthodox place of worship. The walls of the side aisles have been painted with religious scenes. There is a decorated iconostasis and several framed icons. Elaborate chandeliers hang above the nave. Despite the additions to convert the church for Greek Orthodox worship, the original gothic revival features of the building’s interior are evident, but harmonise well with the later additions.

Built during a time of war

FROM THE OUTSIDE, the church of St Barnabas in Pitshanger Lane (Ealing) is not particularly attractive. Even though we visited it on a Sunday, it was locked up. However, we were fortunate to meet a lady, who had been in the church hall and happened to have the key to the church with her. Kindly, she unlocked the edifice, and we were able to enter. The church’s interior, unlike its exterior, is wonderful.

The church stands close to Brentham Garden Suburb, which was built largely between 1901 and 1915. I will write about the Suburb at a later date, but now I will concentrate on the church. Although the Suburb was built with a magnificent club house, there had been no plans to include a church. In 1907, a temporary church made from corrugated iron sheets, and dedicated to St Barnabas was constructed at the junction of Pitshanger Lane and Castlebar Park. Eventually, it was too small to accommodate its congregation in an area where plenty of housing was being constructed. For legal reasons, it was not possible to build a larger church on the site. So, in 1911 a larger plot was acquired at the corner of Pitshanger Lane and Denison Road (one of the streets within the Garden Suburb).

Ernest Shearman (1859-1939) was the architect chosen to build the larger St Barnabas Church, which can be seen today. After working in Buenos Aires and later at Sandringham, he moved to Winchester in 1907. From that year onwards, his work was mainly concerned with designing churches. According to a book by Hugh Mather about the centenary of the church of St Barnabas, all of Shearman’s churches:

“…are tall imposing buildings without spires, and their austere, simple architecture was designed so that elaborate furnishings and other adornments could be added subsequently …”

His churches represent “… almost the final flowering of the last phase of the Gothic Revival.”

All except one of his churches demonstrate Shearman’s fascination with rose windows and elaborate tracery. St Barnabas is a fine example of this.

The construction of the church began just before the start of WW1, in June 1914. It was completed in the middle of the war by June 1916, when it was consecrated.

The church has a spacious nave, which has a lovely timber ceiling. Although it was designed to reflect the heritage of the gothic era, the inside of the church feels almost contemporary. There is an enormous organ at the west end of the church. Made in 1851, it was made by the company of William Hill and  originally housed in St Jude’s Church in Southsea. It was moved to St Barnabas in 2011. Some of the pipes on the south side of the central tall organ pipes do not make sounds. They were added to the organ for purely aesthetic reasons. The current organ replaced an older, less reliable instrument, which was removed in 2010.

The apse is adorned by a large painting by James Clark (1857-1943), who was living in Bedford Park not far from the church when he created it. He was one of many artists residing in Bedford Park, which was an ancestor of the Garden Suburb movement. His painting in the apse depicts the three hierarchies of angels praising and adoring the Holy Trinity. It is a magnificent addition to the church.

As we did not want to delay the lady who opened the church for us, we did not have sufficient time to examine its interior in great detail, but it did demonstrate how wrong it was to, to rephrase a well-known saying, to judge a church by its cover.

St Cuthbert’s extraordinary lectern in London’s Earls Court

HIDDEN IN A residential crescent, Philbeach Gardens, near Earls Court is a late Victorian church, whose exterior is far from attractive. However, St Cuthbert (completed 1888) has an interior which cannot fail to amaze the visitor’s eyes. The church contains what can only be described as an ‘over-the top’ array of decorative features. Some of them are typical of the Gothic Revival style beloved of Victorian church designers, and others that are typical of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which flourished in the last decades of the 19th and the first few of the 20th century.

One item in the church, which is particularly eye-catching, is made of wrought iron and hammered (repoussé) copper. It is a lectern with two large arms on either side of the leather-covered book holder. These are supports for large candles. The lectern is approached by a small set of stairs whose treads have studs on them. The studs are arranged to spell out words, which I found difficult to decipher. The part of the base facing the congregation is an intricately decorated folded screen with Arts and Crafts Style decorative motifs. Most probably handmade, the lectern, although fantastically crafted, has a very slightly amateurish look about it. It is more unusual and eye-catching than beautiful.

I would not have visited St Cuthbert had my friend, the excellent Olsi Qinami, not been conducting the London City Philharmonic Orchestra performing a concert there. The church with its colourful marble pillars and almost surreal interior is well worth a visit even if there is no concert being performed. It is a ‘must-see’ for lovers of Victorian church architecture.

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.

A Victorian gem of a church

MANY YEARS AGO, I read “The Gothic Revival” by the art historian Kenneth Clark (1903-1983). If I recall correctly, he wrote that it was likely that in Britain, the gothic style never truly died out before it came back into fashion in the 18th century. What we call ‘revival’ was merely the flaring up of the embers of the use of gothic designs, which had persisted despite the flowering of newer forms of architecture, such as neo-classicism. By the 19th century, the use of gothic motifs and structural features had fully revived, especially in the construction of churches and many other buildings, such as London’s St Pancras Station and the Prudential Building (near Chancery Lane).

Today, the 22nd of February 2022, I revisited a slightly concealed church, All Saints, in Margaret Street, which runs north of Oxford Street and parallel to it. You can see its tall, tiled spire from afar, but the church itself is set back from the street in a courtyard. Externally, with its multi-coloured patterned brickwork it is eye-catching but inside it is fantastic.

The church was established by the Ecclesiological Society, which was founded in 1839 as ‘The Cambridge Camden Society”. The group’s aim was:

“…reviving historically authentic Anglican worship through architecture.” (https://asms.uk/about/history/)

In 1841, the society:

“… announced a plan to build a ‘Model Church on a large and splendid scale’ which would embody important tenets of the Society: It must be in the Gothic style of the late 13th and early 14th centuries; It must be honestly built of solid materials; Its ornament should decorate its construction; Its artist should be ‘a single, pious and laborious artist alone, pondering deeply over his duty to do his best for the service of God’s Holy Religion’ Above all the church must be built so that the ‘Rubricks and Canons of the Church of England may be consistently observed, and the Sacraments rubrically and decently administered’.”

The architect chosen was William Butterfield (1814-1900), who specialised in the ‘gothic revival’ style. The church was built on the site of a former chapel, and within the confined space available, it was accompanied by a choir school and a clergy house. The church’s spire, 227 feet high, is taller than the towers of Westminster Abbey.

The Victorian writer and art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) was full of praise for Butterfield’s edifice in Margaret Street. He wrote about it in his “The Stones of Venice, Volume III” (published 1853), observing that it:

“…assuredly decides one question conclusively, that of our present capability of Gothic design. It is the first piece of architecture I have seen, built in modern days, which is free from all signs of timidity or incapacity. In general proportion of parts, in refinement and piquancy of mouldings, above all, in force, vitality, and grace of floral ornament, worked in a broad and masculine manner, it challenges fearless comparison with the noblest work of any time. Having done this, we may do anything; there need be no limits to our hope or our confidence; and I believe it to be possible for us, not only to equal, but far to surpass, in some respects, any Gothic yet seen in Northern countries.”

That was praise indeed.

The interior of All Saints is a riot of colour. This results from the use of stones of differing hues – some inlaid to create bold patterns and others to form images of biblical scenes, glorious stained glass, gilt work, and elaborate ironwork. This feast for the eyes must be seen to be believed. And this gem of Victorian architecture, a peaceful have and a joy to see, is merely a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus.

A notable local art centre in north London

BETWEEN 1960 AND 1965, I was a pupil at The Hall School in London’s Swiss Cottage. I used to travel between it and home by buses that ran along Finchley Road between Golders Green and Swiss Cottage Underground station. For most of the time I was at the school, Finchley Road between Childs Hill and my destination was plagued by road works connected with widening the road. The bus used to move slowly, and I began to learn by heart what lined both sides of the road. Oddly, one building on the corner of Arkwright Road and the main road escaped my attention. Unbeknownst to me, this Victorian gothic building, erected in 1897, was the Hampstead Central Library, which functioned until 1964 when a newly constructed library, which I remember well from its earliest days, was opened close to Swiss Cottage station. It was at this time that the old Edwardian Swimming Pool that used to stand on the west side of Finchley Road between Swiss Cottage Station and John Barnes (now a large branch of Waitrose food stores) was closed and replaced by a brand new one next to the new library.

Exhibition of works by Phoebe Collings at the Camden Arts Centre

In 1965, the abandoned library on the west end of Arkwright Road became a nucleus for local artists and artistic activity, The Hampstead Arts Centre, which was given its present name, The Camden Arts Centre in 1967 (https://camdenartcentre.org/about/history/). Soon after its creation, the centre became an important hub for artistic education and activities as well as exhibitions. In 2004, the centre underwent a major refurbishment, which was supervised by Tony Fretton Architects.

Today, the Camden Arts Centre is a very pleasant place to visit. Its exhibition spaces are large and airy. It has a fine bookshop and a lovely café with food and beverages that offers seating both indoors and outside next to a well landscaped hillside garden.

During our latest visit, on the 10th of October 2021, we saw three very different exhibitions at the Camden Arts Centre. One was a multi-media installation (photographs, video, sculpture, and music) related to the memories and concerns of its creator, Adam Farah. It is called “What I’ve learnt from You and Myself (Peak Momentations/Inside my velvet Rope Mix)” and was somewhat puzzling at first, but, Jay, one of the invigilators, helped make some sense of it. More easily accessible to my mind was “Softest place (on earth)” a collection of handmade images by Zaineb Saleh. The exhibition I liked most of the three on offer was “James – A Scratch! A Scratch”, a collection of mainly ceramic sculptures by Phoebe Collings. These three shows continue until the 23rd of December 2021 and are worth seeing if you happen to be in the neighbourhood. If these do not appeal to you, then head straight for the centre’s wonderful café!

After enjoying artworks at the Camden Arts Centre, a short, pleasant stroll up Arkwright Road will bring you into the heart of old Hampstead, a district that has been home to artists of all kinds for several centuries, although these days only a very few artists are likely to afford the area’s high property prices.

Russian music with an Albanian conductor in a London church

THE ALBANIAN CONDUCTOR Olsi Qinami, who began studying music in Tirana (Albania), lives in London. He certainly knows how to get the best out of the orchestra he helped to found, the London City Philharmonic. On Saturday the 2nd of October 2021 he conducted the orchestra in a wonderful concert of music by three Russian composers, two of them from the 19th century and the other from the 20th. The musicians performed to a large and enthusiastic audience in the church of St James in Sussex Gardens, Paddington. Many of those present were Albanian speakers and amongst them the Albanian ambassador, Qirjako Qirko.

Olsi Qinami

The church, a fine example of Victorian gothic, was built to satisfy the spiritual requirements of the rapidly growing population of 19th century Paddington. Designed by George Edmund Street (1824-1881), the building was completed in 1882 on the site of an earlier, smaller church that was built in the neo-classical style in about 1841. Apart from being a highly successful example of gothic revival, the church is notable for having been that in which the unjustly vilified writer Oscar Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884. Despite being a large, spacious building, the church’s acoustics coped well with the orchestral music.

The concert opened with a spirited rendering of the “Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor” by Alexander Borodin. This piece holds a special place in my heart, as I will now explain. In the late 1950s, my parents bought or were gifted an LP entitled “Classical Music For People Who Don’t Know Anything About Classical Music”, which I played often in my childhood. Its cover has a sketch of four people in the living room of a very modern looking house, even by today’s standards. A lady, looking pleased with herself or the music or both, stands next to a gramophone player clutching a record cover (sleeve). Behind her, three people are seated in armchairs: one looks puzzled; another looks a bit bored; and the third has fallen asleep with a drinking glass resting on his armrest. One of the tracks on this LP was the “Polovtsian Dances”.

Borodin’s piece was followed by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture”, with which I am less familiar than the “Polovtsian Dances”. Although this brief piece was nicely performed, it is unlikely to enter my list of favourite works by this composer in the near future.

After the interval, we were treated to an exciting and brilliantly performed rendering of the 5th Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich. Olsi Qinami and the orchestra handled the constant alternation of the composer’s triumphant sounding sections of the symphony with its comparatively peaceful, lyrical sections with exquisite mastery.

Shostakovitch completed his 5th Symphony in 1937, soon after having been heavily criticised by Stalin for his opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”, first performed in 1934. Had the Fifth Symphony not been so well received and liked by Stalin, the composer’s future might have become exceedingly grim. As Olsi Qinami pointed out in a brief speech before conducting the symphony, the piece, which was praised by the authorities, contains subtle musical messages expressing the composer’s criticism of the ruling regime. Whether or not one was able to detect these messages did not matter because the performance we heard was exciting, uplifting, and invigorating. In the last minutes of the symphony, I noticed one of the violinists breaking into a wonderful smile, no doubt because she and the rest of the orchestra had so successfully mastered this complex and difficult piece of music.

An odd thought occurred to me whilst listening to the Shostakovich piece. It was composed in 1937, when life for ordinary people in the USSR cannot have been at all easy. Although the situation here in the UK in 2021 is hardly comparable to that distant time in Russia, we are also going through times far more difficult than anyone has experienced since WW2, what with the covid 19 pandemic, Brexit-related problems, and shortages in shops and filling stations. It must have been a source of great solace for Soviet citizens to escape from their daily problems, if only for a few hours, by joining an audience at a concert of fine classical music. Well, that is how Olsi’s joyous concert felt for me as soon as he lifted his baton, and the orchestra began to play.

Praying above the flowing water

ALMOST OPPOSITE THE modern and magnificent Hepworth Wakefield art gallery, completed in 2011, there is a nine arched bridge, built between 1342 and 1356, crossing the River Calder. Midway across the bridge, there is a small gothic chapel. It is the oldest one of only four surviving bridge chapels in England. Between the mid-14th century, when it was built and the Reformation in the 16th century, the Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin served as a place of worship for travellers crossing the bridge on their way from Wakefield to Leeds.

The purpose of a chantry chapel was:

“…to provide for a priest to say mass for the souls of the dead to reduce their time in purgatory.” (www.wakefieldcathedral.org.uk/visit-us/the-chantry/a-history-of-the-chantry-chapel)

Two acts passed during the reigns of King Henry VIII and his successor the young and fanatically Protestant Edward VI resulted in the closure of the well over 2300 chantry chapels in their kingdom. The chapel on the bridge at Wakefield was one of them. Whereas many chantry chapels were demolished or otherwise rendered unrecognizable, that on the bridge at Wakefield survived because it is an integral part of the structure of the bridge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chantry_Chapel_of_St_Mary_the_Virgin,_Wakefield).

The former chapel on the bridge was used for various purposes between 1547, when its religious use was terminated, and 1842, when it was restored. It was used at different times to house a warehouse, a library, an office, and a cheese shop.

In 1842, the formerly Roman Catholic chapel was transferred to the Church of England and it was restored by the Yorkshire Architectural Society, which was influenced in its philosophy by the Oxford Movement, a group of High Church members of the Church of England who wanted to reinstate older Christian traditions, which had been abolished during the Reformation, and incorporate them into Anglican theological practice. The architect George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was involved in the restoration of the edifice.  By 1848, the bridge on the chapel was once again being used as a place of worship. For a while it became a parish church, and then after a new parish church was built in 1854, it became used for occasional rather than regular services, and peopled prayed whilst water flowed below them.

Currently, the chapel is under the care of the Friends of Wakefield Chantry Chapel, which was founded in 1991. The chapel is usually kept closed but is opened on certain days (see: www.chantrychapelwakefield.org/open-days.html). As luck would have it, we walked across the bridge on a sunny day that the chapel was open. The small chapel is on two floors. The upper chapel is well-lit both by electric lamps and light flooding through its five sets of stained-glass windows. A narrow spiral staircase leads down to a lower, poorly lit, rather dusty chamber, somewhat devoid of interest.

The decorative ancient gothic chapel on the bridge makes an interesting contrast to the elegant but puritanically unadorned exterior of the Hepworth Wakefield gallery almost opposite it. Both buildings are definitely well worth exploring.  

Three hares sharing only three ears

There is a lovely parish church in Long Melford, Suffolk. Called Holy Trinity Church, it is a fine example of the perpendicular gothic style, completed in about 1484. Some of its windows contain old pre-Reformation stained-glass. A tiny circular piece of stained-glass above the north door of the nave depicts something unusual. It is hard to see with the unaided eye, but if you can manage to see it properly, you will notice something interesting. Known as the Hare Window, it depicts the heads of three hares and three hare’s ears. Each hare appears to have the usual two ears, but each of the three ears on the glass are shared by a pair of hares.

Although unusual, the three hare motif is not unique to Long Melford. Another example, a ceiling boss with three hares sharing three ears can be found in the Chapter House of the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Wissembourg, France, and another on a bell at Kloster Haina near Kassel in Germany (http://www.chrischapmanphotography.co.uk/hares/page3.htm)