A strict and particular chapel

I HAVE PASSED IT often, and have long been curious about it, but until today I have not bothered to find out about it. I am referring to a small chapel on the corner of Kensington Place and Newcombe Street, which leads to the south side of a space where a weekly farmers’ market is held (on Saturday mornings). Called the Bethesda Baptist Church, its congregation was established in 1866. The building resembles a style commonly used in the late 18th century. According to a history of Kensington Place (www.hillgatevillage.com/the-facts), the chapel was constructed in about 1824. Over the years, it has been used by various Baptist sects. Currently, it is the home to a congregation, who believe in Restricted Communion and Particular Redemption. This sect was founded in 1866.

Bethesda Chapel, Kensington

Currently, I am reading about a clergyman, Conrad Noel (1869-1942), who believed fervently that the church should be both democratic and all-embracing. So, it was with some interest that I stumbled across a chapel in which people believing in ‘Restricted Communion’ gather to worship. The sect is a branch of the Strict and Particular Baptists, who follow the decrees of High-Calvinism. If you are finding this a bit difficult to follow, then you are not alone. Let me take a stab at giving a simple explanation of what the congregation in the Bethesda Chapel believe: a set of beliefs that are new to me. One website that seemed to clarify them well is www.sbhs.org.uk/membership/strictbapt/, from which I have attempted to extract the following information.

‘Strict’ refers to ‘restricted communion’. Unlike many branches of the Christian Church, which permit anyone who believes and loves Jesus Christ to partake in Holy Communion, the Strict and Particular Baptists believe that Communion should only be offered to those “who have been baptised by immersion as believers”.  The above-mentioned website explained:

“Strict Baptists see baptism as a rite by which believers testify to their faith in Christ, and associate it with church membership. The Lord’s Supper is for those who have joined the church in this way.”

As for ‘particular’, this lives up to the common meaning of the word. The Strict and Particular Baptists believe that:

“…Christ died to make certain the salvation of a definite number of people whom he has purposed to save, rather than to make possible the salvation of an indefinite number of people who might choose to believe.”

That is, only the ‘select’ few, known as the ‘Elect’, will be saved. The sect does not accept infant baptism, even by immersion, as being sufficient to become part of the Elect. Another website (www.baptists.net/history/2022/07/the-articles-of-faith-of-the-gospel-standard-churches/) explained what is required to become a member of a Strict and Particular Baptist sect such as that which uses the Bethesda Chapel:

 “At a regularly constituted church meeting … the candidate (whether already a member of another church or not) shall make a verbal confession of faith, and declare what he or she believes God has done for his or her soul. If accepted by a vote of the majority of members present and voting, signature in the church book to the Articles of Faith and Rules will be required. Thereafter, at the earliest convenient opportunity, the person shall, unless previously baptised by immersion, be so baptised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and be formally received into church fellowship at the next observance of the Lord’s Supper.”

The Articles of Faith, and there are many of them, are strict. Thus, despite my oversimplification, it would seem that the Strict and Particular sects are, unlike the open-door church espoused by Conrad Noel, extremely exclusive and restrictive.  

PS: A little way west of the Bethesda Chapel, there is an institution that is, unlike the chapel, far from exclusive: it is open to all children regardless of faith, providing they live in its catchment area: Fox Primary School. This state school, which was founded in 1842, is housed in modern buildings. I mention it as a postscript because its walls are decorated with several attractive, colourful mosaics.

Third time lucky at the theatre

DURING JULY AND early August (2022), we visited theatres three times. First was a performance of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre by the Thames near Southwark Bridge. The seats were far from comfortable, and the production was not among the best I have seen. Next, we watched a play (in comfortable seats) at the Young Vic in Waterloo. Neither the play, “Chasing Hares”, nor the acting was up to the usual high standard that we have enjoyed in the past at that theatre. After these two disappointments, it was with some trepidation that we made our way to the Bridge Theatre, which is next to Tower Bridge and faces the Tower of London across the Thames.

At the Bridge Theatre

The Bridge Theatre, housed in a 21st century building, was opened in October 2017. It was developed by Nick Starr and Nicholas Hytner, who is both a theatre and film director. His productions at the National Theatre, where he was artistic director for several years, were wonderful. With comfortable seats and good sightlines from every seat (even those designated as ‘restricted view’), the Bridge is an excellently designed theatre. Not only are its stage and auditorium optimal, but also is the spacious foyer, from which there are good views across the Thames towards the Tower and the new skyscrapers in the City of London.

The play we saw at the Bridge on the 4th of August was “The Southbury Child” by Alex Jennings. Filled with humour, this work raises several serious questions. One of them is whether the Church of England should be authoritarian or whether it should be a democratic organisation responsive to the needs and wishes of its congregation. To avoid giving away its excellent plot, all I will say is that the play is highly enjoyable.

We have now seen 5 plays at the Bridge and not one of them was disappointing. In fact, they were all above average in quality. So maybe it was not a case of ‘third time lucky’ when after two poor performances elsewhere recently, we went to the Bridge.

Burnt rather than baptised

COGGESHALL IN ESSEX is an attractive place to visit. The small town contains over 300 buildings of historical interest, all of which have given protected status. Amongst these is Paycockes House, which I will describe another day. One of the many other old buildings in the centre of the town is a large house, once the home of Thomas Hawkes.

House of Thomas Hawkes in Coggeshall

Hawkes was a retainer of John de Vere (1516-1562), the 16th Earl of Oxford, who became a supporter of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, who became the monarch in 1553 (following the deaths of the Protestant King Edward VI and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey). Mary decreed that England should return to Roman Catholicism and the Earl of Oxford concurred with this.

Thomas Hawkes, a fervent Protestant, decided to leave his ‘employer’, who had become sympathetic to Mary’s religious cause. He returned to his home (known as ‘Constantynes’) in the centre of Coggeshall. Unwilling to partake in any Roman Catholic practices and a vocal opposer of that branch of Christianity, Hawkes soon became regarded as heretic by the Catholic authorities.

Under great suspicion by those then in power, Hawkes did something that got him into really bad trouble: he refused to have his newly born son baptised into the Catholic faith. He was arrested and taken to Newgate Prison in London. From there, he was taken to the palace of Bishop Edmund Bonner (c1500-1569) several times, and asked to recant. Having refused each time, on the 9th of February 1555, Bonner condemned him to be burnt at the stake. After Bonner had given him one last chance to recant, he is believed to have said:

“No, my lord, that I will not; for if I had a hundred bodies, I would suffer them all to be torn in pieces, rather than I will abjure or recant.” (https://coggeshallmuseum.org/thomas-hawkes/)

 After some months, Hawkes was taken to Coggeshall, where on the 10th of June 1555 he was burnt at the stake.

Hawke’s house still stands and is marked with a commemorative plaque. It was built in the mid-15th century, but has been much modified since then.

On a very steep street

WE CAN EITHER travel into the centre of Funchal by bus or walk. From our guesthouse,  the steep Caminho do Monte drops steeply down to the city centre. Most of the way, this almost a mile long  thoroughfare has a gradient of 40 to 45 degrees. Walking down this slope does wonders for one’s lower leg muscles, especially the calves. The first time we descended it, my calf muscles began to go into tremor.

A Sacred Heart

Our next attempt was altogether easier. On the way downhill, we passes a religious institution: a seminary called Colégio Missionário Sagrado Coração. Being Sunday, the gates were open for people who wanted to attend the Sunday mass. The institution is named in honour of the Sacred Heart. On either side of the door leading into the simply decorated chapel, there are car ings of hearts encircled by thorns.

There is a sculpture of a lion in the place’s large courtyard. Two busts of important religious figures stand near the chapel. One of them stsnds close to a terrace from which a wonderful view of part of Funchal can be enjoyed.

Although walking down the incredibly steep slope is slow, it is a wonderful way to observe deatails of life on the hills high above Funchal, and to meet locals standing on terraces over the road or in the entrances to their homes.

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.

Docked in Dartmouth

MOSES AND HIS followers crossed the Red Sea without difficulty. However, things were not so simple when a group of people were trying to cross the Atlantic to enjoy freedom to worship as they wished without persecution in North America in 1620 during the reign of England’s King James I. These travellers. the Pilgrim Fathers, were English Protestants, Puritans who had been living in the Low Countries in Leiden but felt that conditions there had become unfavourable for them. As they did not expect to live safely in England, they bravely set forth to sail to the New World.

Bayards Cove

The Pilgrim Fathers and their families left Holland in the “Speedwell” (60 tons) and after crossing the North Sea, their ship was joined by the larger “Mayflower” (180 tons), which was carrying Puritans fleeing from London. While heading west, the boats headed into trouble. On about the 23rd of August 1620, the two ships slipped furtively into Dartmouth in Devon and lay at anchor near to the town’s Bayards Cove, close to where today a small ferry carries vehicles and pedestrians across the River Dart between Dartmouth and Kingswear. The secrecy was necessary because as Puritans, the passengers risked punishment in England.  They remained moored there until about the 31st of August while leaks on the “Speedwell” were being repaired.

After leaving Dartmouth to continue their voyage westwards, the “Speedwell” began leaking again. About 300 miles west-south-west of Lands’ End, the “Speedwell” had become almost unseaworthy. The boats returned to England, docking at Plymouth in Devon. There, the “Speedwell” was abandoned, and the “Mayflower” set sail for America with 102 passengers. The boat reached the harbour of Cape Cod in Massachusetts on the 21st of November 1620.

Although Plymouth is the place from which the Puritans finally left England, the point in the port from which they set off would now be unrecognisable to the Pilgrim Fathers were they able to see it. In contrast, although some of the buildings near Bayards Cove in Dartmouth have been built since the Pilgrim Fathers stopped there briefly, there remain sights that have not changed significantly since 1620.

Fallen leaves amongst the fallen: Field of Remembrance

I HAVE LIVED in London for well over 60 years, but it was only this November (2021) that I first became aware of, and experienced, something that has been happening annually on the north side of Westminster Abbey since November 1928 (www.poppyfactory.org/about-us/history-timeline/#). For eight days following the Thursday preceding Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to Armistice Day, the 11th of November, the day on which WW1 ended, the field bounded by Westminster Abbey and its neighbour, the church of St Margaret’s Westminster, is covered with a myriad of mostly tiny wooden memorials hammered into the grass. The memorials are mostly cross-shaped, but some are in the form of crescents, six-pointed stars, and other shapes including some that bear the Sanskrit symbol representing ‘aum’ (or ‘om’). Each of these tiny wooden items commemorates a fallen service person or other victim of war. The shapes of the wooden pieces denote the religion of the person or persons being remembered, be they Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Moslem, Jewish, or of no religion. Many of the wooden memorials have red poppies attached. Oddly, few if any of the Islamic crescents had poppies on them. The small wooden memorials are arranged in groups, according to which service or regiment or organisation the remembered people were members of, or associated with. The whole ‘event’ is organised by The British Legion Poppy Factory. This annual garden of memorials is called The Field of Remembrance.

The Poppy Factory, a charity, was founded in 1922 by Major George Howson (1886-1936) to provide employment for veterans injured during WW1. He bought a site in Richmond (south-west London), where he established a factory to manufacture Remembrance poppies and other related items to be sold to raise money for The British Legion’s Red Poppy Appeal, a charity that supports the Armed Forces community.

Apart from the small wooden memorials, there are many badges and emblems of the groups in which those remembered were members. Looking at these and the small wooden memorials is both fascinating and extremely moving. The fascination lies in the huge variety of regiments and organisations, too many to list, which lost people during military conflicts (and terrorist incidents) since the onset of WW1.

One group of memorials interested me because of their emblem that incorporates a heraldic creature, which has fascinated me for several decades. The creature is the double-headed eagle (‘DHE’), currently used as an emblem by countries including Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, the Indian state of Karnataka, and Russia. The DHE appears on the crests of some of the various regiments of The Royal Dragoon Guards. The Dragoon Guard regiments were first established in the 18th century, in 1746, and consist of mounted infantry. While the Austro-Hungarian Empire existed, it also used the DHE. In 1896, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830-1916) of Austria-Hungary was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards, some of whose members are remembered in the Field of Remembrance. The emperor allowed the regiment to wear his empire’s emblem (https://web.archive.org/web/20130303033912/http://www.qdg.org.uk/pages/Uniform-1843-Onwards-81.php), the DHE. In addition, the regiment adopted “The Radetzky March” as one of its official march tunes; it is still used today. It was sad that in 1914, Franz Joseph, became the ruler of one of the powers against whom Britain and its allies were fighting. Some of those who fought in the British Royal Dragoon Guard regiments with the DHE on their headwear were killed by allies of the emperor in WW1, who had earlier been appointed their C-in-C. They are commemorated the Field of Remembrance. Judging by the small wooden memorials planted in the Royal Dragoon Guard’s section of the Field of Remembrance, members of at least four religions fell while serving in these regiments. I wondered why the DHE was retained even after Austria-Hungary became one of Britain’s opponents in war.

Returning to the Field of Remembrance as a whole, it is a poignant sight to behold. Although war is both horrific and ugly, this annual memorial is both moving and beautiful. The Field is laid out beneath trees lining its northern edge. Seeing the dead leaves from these trees lying fallen amongst the thousands of tiny memorials to victims of war seemed most apt to me.

The Connecticut connection

THE CITY OF CHELMSFORD is the county town of the English county of Essex. It is a place that until November 2021 we felt. without any reason, was not worthy of a visit and have tended to avoid, skirting it on its by-pass. It was only recently that we realised that the place is home to a cathedral. Being nearby on a recent tour in Essex and curious about its cathedral, we paid a visit to Chelmsford and were pleasantly surprised by what we found.

St Cedd window in Chelmsford Cathedral

The cathedral, which I will discuss later, is housed in what used to be the parish church of St Mary. The edifice is in the centre of a pleasant grassy open space. One of the buildings on the south side of this green bears a plaque commemorating Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), who was the curate and ‘Town Lecturer’ (a position established by the Puritans) of Chelmsford between 1626 and 1629.

Hooker was born in Markfield, a village in Leicestershire (www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Hooker) and studied at the University of Cambridge (https://connecticuthistory.org/thomas-hooker-connecticuts-founding-father/). At Cambridge, he underwent a moving religious experience that made him decide to become a preacher of the Puritan persuasion. He became a well-loved preacher, first serving the congregation of a church in Esher (Surrey) before moving to preach at St Mary’s in Chelmsford in 1626. A preacher in a neighbouring parish denounced Hooker to Archbishop Laud (1573-1645), a vehement opponent of Puritanism, and was ordered to leave his church and to denounce Puritanism, which he was unwilling to do. In 1630, Hooker was ordered to appear before The Court of High Commission. Soon, he forfeited the bond he had paid to the court and, fearing for his life, fled to The Netherlands.

In 1633, Hooker immigrated to The Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he became the pastor of a group of Puritans at New Towne (now Cambridge, Mass.). To escape the powerful influence of another Protestant leader, John Cotton (1585-1652), Hooker led a group of his followers, along with their cattle, goats, and pigs, to what was to become Hartford in what is now the State of Connecticut. They arrived there in 1636.

When Hooker and his followers reached the Connecticut Valley, it was still being governed by eight magistrates appointed by the Massachusetts General Court. In 1638, Hooker preached a sermon which argued that the people of Connecticut had the right to choose who governed them. This sermon led to the drawing up of a document called “The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut”, which served as the legal basis for the Connecticut Colony until 1662, when King Charles II granted The Connecticut Charter that established Connecticut’s legislative independence from Massachusetts. Hooker’s importance in this process has led him to be remembered as “the father of Connecticut.”

In 1914, the church of St Mary in Chelmsford, was elevated to the status of ‘cathedral’. The reason for this is slightly complex but is explained in a well-illustrated guidebook to the cathedral written by Tony Tuckwell, Peter Judd, and James Davy. In the mid-19th century, London expanded, and the size of its population grew enormously. Many previously rustic parishes that became urbanised were absorbed from the Diocese of Rochester into the Diocese of London. This resulted in a denudation of the Diocese of Rochester. To compensate for this, Rochester was given parishes in Hertfordshire and Essex. The Archbishop of Rochester lived in Danbury, Essex, which was closer to the majority of his ‘flock’ than anywhere in Kent. In 1877, the county of Essex was transferred into the new Diocese of St Albans in Hertfordshire. However, by 1907, 75% of the population of this new diocese were living in Essex. A further reorganisation led to the creation of two new dioceses, one in Suffolk and the other in Essex. After some acrimonious competition between the towns of Barking, Chelmsford, Colchester, Thaxted, Waltham Forest, West Ham, and Woodford, it was decided that Chelmsford should become the cathedral seat of the new Diocese of Essex. St Mary’s, where Hooker of Connecticut once preached in Chelmsford, became the new cathedral. In 1954, the cathedral’s dedication was extended to include St Mary the Virgin, St Peter, and St Cedd, whose simple Saxon chapel can be seen near Bradwell-on-Sea.

The cathedral, of whose existence we only became aware this year, is a wonderful place to see. Its spacious interior with beautiful painted ceilings contains not only items that date back several centuries but also a wealth of visually fascinating art works of religious significance created in both the 20th and 21st centuries. To list them all would be too lengthy for this short essay, so I will encourage you to visit the church to discover them yourself.

Having just visited Chelmsford, its cathedral, and its tasteful riverside developments, my irrational prejudice against entering the city and preferring to avoid it by using its bypass has been demolished. Although Chelmsford might not  have the charm of cathedral cities such as Ely, Canterbury, Winchester, and Salisbury, it is worth making a detour to explore it if you happen to be travelling through East Anglia.

As a last word, it is curious that although there are places named Chelmsford in Massachusetts, Ontario, and New Brunswick, there does not appear to be one in Connecticut; at least I cannot find one.