A post office in a church

WEST HAMPSTEAD, FORMERLY known as ‘West End’ in the time, before the 20th century, that Hampstead was a small town separated from London. Now, yet another of London’s numerous suburbs, West Hampstead has several churches as well as a synagogue. One of these places of worship, St James Church, is worth entering because it is not what it seems from its external appearance.

The large Parish Church of St James, built mainly with red bricks, was erected in about 1887 (www.lwmfhs.org.uk/parishes/6-middlesex/28-hampstead). It was designed by Sir Arthur William Blomfield (1829-1899), the fourth son of CJ Blomfield, Anglican Bishop of London between 1828 and 1856, who encouraged much new church building during the 19th century. This large church could seat 1000 people (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp145-152#h3-0007) and has some fine 19th century stained-glass windows.

On entering the church through its electrically operated glass sliding doors, you will be surprised by what you find beneath its fine hammer beam timber ceiling. The west end of the nave is occupied by a post office, the first main-branch of a UK post office ever to be housed within a church. The north aisle of the church contains a children’s ‘soft play’ area, appropriately named ‘Hullabaloo’. The floor of the nave is filled with tables and chairs occupied by people of all ages, some enjoying refreshments from the church’s Sanctuary Café. All these things that you would not normally expect to find inside a church are part of The Sherriff Centre, a community organisation that began operating in 2014 (https://thesherriffcentre.co.uk/). The Centre’s activities also include a stationery store, a free food bank, live music as well as other events, free wi-fi, debt advice, and more.

Jesus is said to have thrown the moneychangers and others involved in commercial activity from the Temple in Jerusalem (“The Holy Bible”, John, Ch 2, v 13-16). However, he might have approved of the commercial activities within St James because profits from the sales outlets in the Centre are used to help finance charitable work. In addition to everything that I have already described about what goes on within St James, there is one more thing to mention. Despite the activities that you might not expect to find inside a church, regular religious Church of England services are held there. It is wonderful that St James, instead of becoming yet one more barely used Victorian church in London, has become a vibrant and beneficial part of a local community, catering to more than only just its by now small congregation.

In the post

white and blue cardboard box

 

As a young boy in the early 1960s, I loved receiving mail. My parents were sent far more letters and packages than me and I was envious of them. With the experience of age, I guess I should not have been jealous of them because many of their mail items must have contained undesirable material such as bills, tax demands, and official notices.  As I received only a very few things from the post man, I took action to increase the amount of mail I received.

I used to scour newspapers and magazines for forms that when filled in and sent off, led to holiday brochures being sent to me free of charge. I received booklets extolling the virtues of holiday resorts like the Norfolk Broads and seaside towns all over the UK. Also, I wrote to the town halls of every London Borough to ask them to send me their official handbooks, which they did.

Once, my parents received a colourful package from the Readers Digest. They gave it to me to enjoy. It contained beautiful pictures extracted from a world atlas they were trying to sell. There was also a piece of paper with two stickers on it. One said ‘no thanks’ and the other ‘yes please’. I stuck the latter onto a pre-paid reply form and posted it. Some weeks later, a beautiful world atlas was delivered to our home. My parents were not too thrilled by its arrival, but saw its value and sent a cheque to pay for it.

Some months later, more publicity material arrived from the Readers Digest. This time it advertised a three volume encyclopaedia of gardening. It looked irresistibly wonderful, even to a non-gardening youngster like me. Without consulting my parents, I sent off the ‘yes please’ sticker. After some delay, a huge parcel was delivered to our home. I unwrapped it. It contained the three beautifully illustrated hardback volumes of the gardening encyclopaedia and a fine wooden case to contain it. My parents were not at all pleased. They re-wrapped the lovely encyclopaedia and at great expense posted it back to the Readers Digest. From then on, they made certain that no more post from the Readers Digest reached me before first having been torn up.

The best coupon I ever filled in was to a Roman Catholic organisation. The coupon promised to send me twenty one booklets about Roman Catholicism. They arrived at weekly intervals, providing me with at least one package a week for 21 weeks. I never read any of them because for me it was the thrill of receiving post that I enjoyed rather than what was in the post.

Even though a lot of the mail I receive from the post man/woman is unexciting, I still get a thrilling sense of expectation when letters and packages addressed to me arrive in our letter box.

 

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com