Construction of St Mary’s

So from 1934 onwards the deliberations of the Parish Priest and the P.C.C. turned more and more on the building of the new church. The estimated cost of the venture was thought to be about £20,000 exclusive of any furnishings whatever. An artist’s impression of the new church made its appearance on the front of the Record at this time. The architect, Mr Gibbons, had his final plans ready by the summer of 1935, and on the 15th September, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Foundation Stone of the Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Kenton, was laid.

Architects drawing of St Mary's
Architects drawing of proposed church

The forms of service used on that day are still extant. They and the Record inform us of what went on. The day was a Sunday, and weather was kind, although there were a few flurries of rain spots in the air. By a singular grace, however, no rain really fell till 14 minutes after the end of the open-air High Mass, and by that time working parties had taken indoors all the chairs, the altar hangings and fitments. The ceremony was conducted by the Bishop of Willesden, Guy Vernon Smith, and the actual stone-laying performed by Fr Johnson’s mother. At 10.00am, to the choir’s singing of psalm 84 [Quam dilecta], the procession approached the site of the foundation stone. In the name of all those assembled the Parish Priest requested the Bishop to proceed. The Bishop offered a prayer, and then the Rural Dean read a lesson from the Book of Ezra. The Parish Priest said some more prayers and these were followed by the blessing of the stone by the Bishop. The architect then handed Mrs Johnson the special trowel with which she laid the stone. Striking it with a mallet she pronounced: ‘In the name of God, Amen. I declare this Foundation Stone to be well and truly laid.’ From the site of the stone-laying a procession then made its way to the site of the High Altar, where there were hymns and prayers. This concluded the first part of the ceremony. The second part, which began at 11.00am, was the High Mass of Thanksgiving sung on the site of the new High Altar. In all, the poor congregation were made to sing no fewer than eight hymns that morning, and were occupied from 10.00am till well past midday, when the solemnities ended with the Angelus.

The Foundation Stone bears the following inscription, about which one should say that it was a frequent, though highly extraordinary, custom in those days to omit a Bishop’s surname in official documents and inscriptions, but to include any other names he might have besides his usual Christian name. This is why so many people have imagined that there was a Bishop of London called Arthur Foley, and a Bishop of Willesden called Guy Vernon. In both cases their surnames have been omitted [Winnington-Ingram and Smith respectively].

Foundation Stone of St Mary's, Kenton.
Foundation Stone of St Mary’s, Kenton.

TO THE GLORY OF GOD THIS
FOUNDATION STONE WAS LAID BY
MARY J. JOHNSON
MOTHER OF THE PARISH PRIEST
IN THE PRESENCE OF GUY VERNON BISHOP OF WILLESDEN
AND IN THE THIRTY-FOURTH YEAR OF THE TRANSLATION
OF ARTHUR FOLEY LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
ON SEPTEMBER 15TH 1935

As has been noted the architect was J. Harold Gibbons, of Abbey House, Westminster, and the builders were Messrs Melsom and Rosier of Wealdstone. The visitor to St Leonard’s Chapel in St Mary’s will see in the marble floor there the last resting place of Mr Rosier’s ashes, laid at peace in the beautiful church he built for God. Beneath the Foundation Stone in a space specially constructed a number of items were buried in a casket: soil from the Garden of Gethsemane, water from the River Jordan, also water from some famous springs and wells dedicated to Our Lady, namely those of Nazareth, Lourdes and Walsingham; water, too, from St Non’s Well at St David’s [St Non was St David’s mother] in Wales. A copy of the service, a September 1935 copy of the Record, a letter from Fr Johnson and another from Fr Lury, these were also buried in the casket.

All these ceremonies were not just forms, hiding a vain dream, they were the living expression of faith, demonstrated by the fact that at the early Masses that day over 300 communions were made, and well over 800 people attended the function. The offerings that day amounted to £98.00.

When the dignitaries had departed and the lookers-on, the Parish Priest led his flock in an evening devotion. A procession was formed in St Leonard’s and made its way to the site of the new church, the whole congregation joining in, singing the Litany of the Saints. There followed a Solemn blessing of the foundations. In the saffron glow of the sunset, the scene in the field was both picturesque and impressive.

Construction of St Mary-the-Virgin, Kenton
Construction of St Mary-the-Virgin, Kenton

From November 1935 the Record ceased to be St Leonard’s, Kenton, and became the Record of St Mary the Virgin, and in it Fr Johnson wrote: ‘day by day we shall see the walls of St Mary’s rising, and by November [1936] D.V. the church will be completed’. Melsom and Rosier were local builders who had also constructed the Mission Church. They had made the lowest tender among those considered, for £16,750.00. The P.C.C., however, thought it desirable to make provision for certain items which had not been included in the specification, viz, reinforcement of the concrete, £75.00; substitution of the cast lead for milled lead in the guttering, £75.00; and the baldachino, £500.00. Further, about £1,200.00 would be required in fees. The total was thus £18,600.00.

The building committee had been in consultation with Messrs J.W.Walker and Sons, Ltd, about the cost of rebuilding the organ from St Mary’s, Charing Cross Road, and installing it in the new church. After taking advice from Fr Bevan, one of the assistant Priests, who was soon to go to the famous church of St Agatha, Landport [where Fr Dolling had laboured for his Faith], and from Mr Smith, the organist [of whose devotion and long service much could be said, and of whose family’s connections with the catholic Revival, especially at Holy Trinity, Hoxton, a whole book could be written], it was agreed to accept a tender from Walkers for £1,472.00. The organ was to be in a divided case, with two manuals and a pedalboard. In memory of a member of the congregation, a new stop was added, the clarinet [at a cost of £64.00]. This together with the storage charges on the old organ during the building at Kenton, and other fees brought the cost to about £2,000.00 – for which only a small chamber organ would make its appearance at today’s prices!

As to seating accommodation in the new church, the sum of £600.00 was needed for this, but it simply was not available as the need to strengthen the foundations had swallowed all the money. In 1976, the authorities were profoundly grateful for those strong foundations when they held out against the cracking and shifting that was such a feature of that long hot summer in England. Kenton’s soil is clay, and needs much drainage – there is a pump built into the maintenance systems in the boiler room – and so it was to put down deep foundations and then to strengthen them. It will be very difficult to demolish St Mary’s, physically, just as it will be impossible to eradicate the love of God that exists in the hearts of those who worship God within it. So they had no pews, but nothing daunted they set up a seating fund and soon the money was found. Once again, as with other fittings in the church, the seats in St Mary’s are gifts from the faithful in memory of the departed souls.

The work of furnishing the new church once it was completed was not left to chance. Only the best was good enough, a policy that has continued to the present day, for the work goes on from generation to generation, each leaving its mark. The basic requirements were all in place, the font [the first gift for St Mary’s, given by Mr Nash the builder], altar, sanctuary, and places for the people, when the great day arrived. A great day not only for the congregation, but for the whole Parish of Kenton, of whatever denomination or persuasion. A Parish Church belongs in a sense to all, though many may refuse to enter it, for all belong to the God who dwells there with men in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.