St Cuthbert’s Church, Philbeach Gardens was built in the 1880s at a time when churches were springing up all over London to serve the growing population of former suburbs like Earls Court and Old Brompton which had consisted of country houses, markets gardens, inns and lanes. The builders, vicars and others were spiritual entrepreneurs, carving out new parishes from older larger ones which were better suited to sparser populations. After some struggles with ecclesiastical authorities the Reverend Henry Westall (a curate from St Matthias’s, Warwick Road) succeeded in getting formal consent for a new church.
St Cuthbert’s is a distinctive looking building with its iron fleche on the roof rather than a tower, seen here at a later date surrounded by houses. It also sat next to the railway lines around the Earls Court Exhibition Centre. The full story of its creation can be found over several pages of the Survey of London but I’ll try not to duplicate their good work here.
From the beginning St Cuthbert’s was associated with High Anglican and Anglo-Catholic forms of worship. Perhaps as a result of that the interior of the church was highly ornate and decorative. And possibly also because of that a great many photographs of the interior were made. Sometime in the late 1960s our photographer made copies of more than two hundred images, which I’ve been looking at with interest.
Some show the elaborate interior.
With such features as this giant lectern (designed by W. Bainbridge Reynolds, a member of the congregation) and the many paintings, some of which can be seen in the background.
Others are group photos of people associated with the church. The account of the church in the Survey of London tells us that the members of the congregation took part in the furnishing and decorating of the church. They enthusiastically organised themselves into teams which they called Guilds. This is the Guild of St Margaret:
The guild ,”under the direction of Miss Harvey” according to one caption, were responsible for vestments, banners and other drapery, like this example from the high altar.
But most of the group photos depicted the Guild of St Peter, the stone carvers.
A mostly male group dressed in their best clothes for a Sunday. But sometimes the group looked more businesslike.
The ladies are wearing aprons or smocks. Some of the work was done by professional craftsmen but ordinary members of the congregation took classes to learn some basic skills. You can see one of the ladies holding a mallet and a chisel, demonstrating her technique.
Here they are again with the same master craftsman.
The caption says they are “under the direction of Mrs Dalton” Is she the one in the middle behind the table?
Or is she one of these?
The pictures identify several people by name. Below, the Miller family, featuring Walter, Gerald and Laurence (the youngest, on the left). Mrs Miller is in there too but I don’t know which one is her.
Below, a group of acolytes. The church was known for “extreme Anglo-Catholic ritualism” according to the Survey, or you might describe it as picturesque ceremony depending on your point of view. There was some Protestant backlash at the church in 1898 when the “agitator” John Kensit interrupted a Good Friday service and was arrested for his trouble. There must have been enough acolytes on hand to deal with him.
The picture below shows St Cuthbert’s Hall, attached to the church, built slightly later in 1894-96.
You can see the Great Wheel on the left looming over the buildings around it. The caption reveals that the people in the foreground are Father Hatt, a man only identified as the Beadle (on the left) and on the right Miss Kenny (the organist) and Miss Carr. The identity of the man with the bike and the others in the background are unrecorded. We can have a closer look.
The two ladies seem to be wearing veils but you can see that Father Hatt looks quite young. There is another picture of Miss Kenny actually at the organ.
But we’re not much nearer to her. As always with old photographs there’s something more you’d like to see if you could only get closer.
For a final picture let’s move forward in time, past two world wars to 1954 where the church sits in a peaceful looking residential street still only a short distance from railway lines and busy roads.
There are more than 200 pictures of the church and hall interiors in our collection, making it one of the best documented churches in the borough. I discovered them for myself when I was asked to find some pictures of the hall (the only part of the building I’ve ever been inside). I came across the stone carving ladies and wanted to see more of them.
Thanks of course to the Survey of London who can always be relied upon for a good ecclesiastical story.
The clocks have gone back so WordPress time and London time are in sync again but I’m still going to launch new posts on Thursday morning rather than just after midnight which means the accompanying tweet should get seen by more people. So don’t panic if new posts don’t appear at the crack of dawn.
While I’m on the subject of publicity, this month brings with it the 8th annual London History Festival at Kensington Library. We have an excellent line up this year featuring, among others, local boy made good Hugh Sebag Montefiore (brother of Simon) talking about the Somme and the always popular Dan Snow with a talk on his favourite heroes and villains from history. Details can be found here. And don’t forget our fringe events – Philip Mansel on the history of Aleppo, for tragic reasons even more relevant now than when we booked the event and on November 10th renaissance man Benet Brandreth talking about his Shakespeare novel. I’ve done a few Shakespeare related posts this year, and there may be a couple more to come.