The Church in the 1930’s

Trinity Sunday, 1930, saw an important event for the Church in Kenton. On that day a young man was ordained to the Diaconate and arrived in Kenton in the evening.

Father Johnson - 1st Vicar of Kenton

He was Edward Lury, later to become Canon Lury, Archdeacon of Dar-es-Salaam, and latterly Rector of Christ Church, St Leonard’s-on-sea [such is the odd twist of providence’s humour]. For four years he worked in Kenton, a tower of strength to the Father, and for years and years after that while he laboured in the Missions he was Kenton’s honorary priest and an unfailing source of interesting copy for the Record.

St Leonard’s had just become an independent ecclesiastical area, for on December 12th 1929, the Mission District had become a Conventional District and Fr Johnson became the Minister [an official title, like Vicar or Perpetual Curate] of it. From that date onwards the Churchwardens received their full powers in law, the electoral roll applied solely to St Leonard’s, and the Parochial Church Council had full legal status. The District was taken from three parishes; St Mary, Harrow-on-the-Hill, All Saints, Harrow Weald, and St John, Greenhill. Fr Johnson was now directly responsible to the Bishop and it was understood that the District would become a Parish as soon as the permanent church was commenced.

A Social event about this time recalls that: Messrs Hatswell, Webb, Smith, and Cave made up a glee party, Mrs Males and Mr Wheeler sang songs, Fr Johnson led the community singing, and an amusing and entertaining series of thumbnail sketches of impossibilities was given by Miss I Balaam and Miss M Woodbridge. Out of doors the football club had a good season, the chief scalp among the vanquished being that of St Augustine’s, Kilburn, who were defeated 7-3 on their own ground and 3-0 at Kenton. Another famous London church was also put in its place when St Silas, Pentonville, was defeated 4-0 and 4-3.

Those were days of peace, of expansion and enthusiasm. Kenton was a new suburb full of young married couples and their children. There was an optimism in the air that was reflected everywhere. The Diocese of London launched a great appeal for the money to build and endow forty five churches, an appeal that caught the imagination of the people. At the Queen’s Hall, on Monday the 16th June, 1930, at 8.15pm, with music on the Great Organ and community singing from 7.15pm, there was a diocesan demonstration to begin the appeal, and set its funds going. St Leonard’s sent more that fifty persons to this meeting, which was a great and immediate success.

It was more like the great Anglo-Catholic congress than a Diocesan Rally. St Mary’s was to benefit from this Fund, being the thirteenth of the churches built, and also its predecessor, the old St Leonard’s, benefited from a number of gifts sent by Queen Mary to Fr Johnson. The Duchess of York, later to become Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, heard Fr Johnson speak at the meeting and told Queen Mary of the work being done in Kenton.

Father Lury and servers in 1933

As a result the Queen sent Fr Johnson adornments for the new church. The Corpus on the High Altar crucifix is one of these, as also is the icon in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. She also gave a good deal of silk as material for vestments, some of which was material from the dress worn at the Delhi Durbar [now worked into a chasuble and frontal]. Her Majesty was well known for gathering things at various bazaars, always with an eye for what she could give towards the beautifying of the houses of God in the land. So all and sundry from Queen Mary to our own Miss Brazell trudging the streets of the Glebe estate in search of new customers for the Record [and who knows how many lapsed returned when they realised that the Faith was taught in Kenton once more?], all were alive with a spirit of eagerness for the work of the church.

Mention of the Glebe Estate brings us to 1932, and the beginning of a new period in the history of the parish. The Glebe Estate was towards the Kingsbury end of the parish, and in those days it extended from the outskirts of Kenton Farm right along to Honeypot Lane. A plot of land had been reserved for a Mission next to Brazier’s farm at the junction of Honeypot Lane and Kenton Road. After some initial delays the little Church of the Holy Spirit was dedicated on Thursday the 13th of October, 1932, by the Lord Bishop of London.

Among the congregation were the Reverend Mother of the Community of St Peter, Eccleston Square, who now worked in the parish, and Fr Luetchford and members of St Augustine’s Kilburn, where they were celebrating their Diamond Jubilee at that time, Fr Atkinson being the then Parish Priest. The following Sunday, Bishop Perrin, who had dedicated St Leonard’s Mission five years earlier, presided and preached at a High Mass. From that time on the Mission Church carried on a valuable work in providing a Mass centre for the remoter part of the parish. For many years a priest was sent down from the Parish Church to provide three Sunday services at 8.00am, 11.00am and 6.30pm.

The architect for the Church of the Holy Spirit was a Mr Gibbons, who later was the architect of St Mary’s. The foundation Stone of the Mission Church had been laid earlier in 1932, on July the 2nd, by the Parish Priest’s mother, Mary Jane Johnson. The Altar-stone was blessed by a well-known prelate, Bishop O’Rorke, who also enshrined the relic of a martyr, according to the universal custom, within it. The Altar of the Mission Church itself was not consecrated until the Sunday after the dedication, when, as has been noted, Bishop Perrin came to pontificate. The original purpose of the Mission Church was that it should serve not only for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but also as a church hall, and to that end a moving screen was placed between the sanctuary and the main part of the Church. After the removal of the old St Leonard’s hall down to the Glebe end of the parish in 1936, the screen became a redundant feature.   It may be worthwhile to mention here that some of the fitments of the old St Leonard’s were dispatched down to the Holy Spirit when St Mary’s was opened. The font was originally given to St Leonard’s by Mr Churchwarden Dixon in memory of his son. The image of Our Lady with the Christ child used to stand near the children’s altar in St Leonard’s. The pulpit also found its way down to the Mission Church– it no longer survives but the carvings that adorned it may still be seen on the walls of the Holy Spirit Church and on the portable altar there. The bell was saved up for by the local people and cost some £40.00, an amount that was raised in six months.

Fathers Johnson, Bevan, Lury and Ovenden

We have mentioned the Sisters. And they form another very significant part of the history of the parish. By November 1932 there were three Sisters of the Community of St Peter working in the parish, and it was resolved to build a Mission House at the Holy Spirit to accommodate them. The money was put up by a great benefactor, Mr Hamilton Miller, and the house was ready to be blessed by the Parish Priest and opened by Her Highness Princess Marie Louise on Wednesday, the 26th April, 1933. For some reason, now lost to us, the front door of the Mission House was all but obscured by an immense St George’s flag. The occasion was feted in the Record with one of the many short verses that a faithful son of Holy Spirit Church, Harry Sparks, wrote, seemingly at the drop of a hat. Indeed, so many and so good were they that in 1934 they were published as ‘Local Lyrics of Kenton’ with a foreword by Fr Johnson. Mr Sparks was quite a well-known writer on English Literature and published his verses in the Record under the nom-de-plume of ‘Feste’. His family at No. 1 Flambard Road have all been pillars of the church in Kenton from the very beginning.

Father Johnson

To return to the Sisters, the pages that record their heroic sanctity and endless labour in the parish of Kenton are written in heaven, and in accordance with the spirit of the Religious Life they will not be attempted here. Names, however, are common property, and that, of course, brings us to Sister. Which Sister? Why, Sister Catherine Lucy! For generations of young people in Kenton, Sister Catherine was the opener-up of the riches of our glorious Faith. She laboured on right till the end, and spent the major part of her life in Kenton.

Towards the end of Fr Johnson’s time she became more and more the tried and trusted support he relied on. Indeed, she felt her vocation to create in Kenton a truly authentic part of the Catholic Church, as keenly as he did. The Sisters finally left in 1963, having resided for several years at 75 Kenton Gardens, while a Priest lived at the Mission House. The succession of Priests who took charge of the Mission began with Fr Lury, continued with Fr Ovenden [himself a Kenton boy], then came Fr Taylor [subsequently an Archdeacon in British Honduras] and then Fr Edmonds. Fr Gibson returned to preach in 1977 during the Jubilee Year  at the Holy Spirit Festival, was in charge for several years, and had a nephew, who grew up in Kenton, in the Sacred Priesthood.

One of the Holy Spirit boys, James Amerasaka, also took Orders and became yet another Archdeacon, this time in Ceylon [at the same time as a Kenton girl, Sr Hazel SSM, was in charge of her Order’s house in Colombo]. So it will be seen that Kenton spawns vocations.

And these were not all. Four other men have been ordained to the Altars: Frs Pipe, Pilgrim, Smith and Richardson; and two other women have entered the Religious Life besides Sr Hazel [who became Mother General at East Grinstead]: Sr Barbara Hassall of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor [R.I.P.], and Sr Faith Mary, S.C. [R.I.P] of the House of Prayer at Burnham, who wrote a history of the parish [for the Silver Jubilee] called ‘In Touch with Glory’ [never published].

Winnie Brazell and the Brownies

The work at the Mission has had its ups and downs. At one time there were so many people thronging the altars of the parish each Sunday that a full range of services at the same time as those in the Parish Church had to be provided. Towards the end of Fr Johnson’s time the Mission was all but shut up. It received a new lease of life during the incumbency of Fr Shearing with the work done there by the young Priests who were in charge at Holy Spirit. The phrase ‘in charge’ is not, of course, used in its legal sense implying any independence. Holy Spirit was the mission Church for St Mary’s just as the Chantry of St Mary in 1324 was a Mass centre for St Mary’s, Harrow-on-the-Hill. There was a Family Mass with hymns each Sunday at 9.00am, which was well attended, and, as Priests were available, a Mass on most days of the week.

The work Fr Johnson had so carefully planned in the parish was brought to its first and most glorious climax with the building of the permanent church. Originally this was to have been dedicated to St Leonard, as the Mission had been. But it became clear during 1933 that with the sale of the church of St Mary the Virgin, Charing Cross Road, the first claim upon the funds of that sale would be ‘the populous district of St Leonard’s, Kenton’ towards a permanent church there, and that a condition of this would be to change the dedication from St Leonard to that of the redundant church, St Mary the Virgin.

Hogarth's "Noon" 1738 (Greek Church on left)

A brief historical note about the church in Charing Cross Road will not be out of place. Although the church of St Mary the Virgin, Charing Cross Road, which was demolished in 1934, was not of early construction, its site first bore a church in 1677, when a Greek church was built there at the expense of various notables. The church was under the jurisdiction of the Greek Bishop of Samos, who had been driven into exile by the Turks, and it was dedicated to the Virgin because of her famed grotto on the island of Samos.

A tablet from the wall of the original building was preserved in the west wall of the church demolished in 1934, and has now been removed to the Greek Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, Moscow Road. The tablet is carved in Greek with the following inscription:-

‘In the year of salvation 1677 this Temple was erected for the nation of the Greeks, the Most Serene Charles II being King, and the Royal Prince Lord James being commander of the forces, the Right Reverend Lord Henry Compton being Bishop, at the expense of the above and other Bishops and Nobles and with the concurrence of our Humility of Samos Joseph Georgeirenes, from the Island of Melos.’

Well into the eighteenth century the congregation was of very good standing, and Hogarth’s Noon (pictured to the right), published in 1738, is said to portray the church and its smartly dressed congregation on the left in stark contrast to the lower classes on the right.

The church remained Greek until 1681, when it was required for the French protestant refugees, who had been worshipping in the Savoy. After some difference of opinion as to the price to be paid, the Vestry took possession and the French duly succeeded the Greeks. From 1822 until 1849 it suffered the indignity of being used for the nonconformist variety of worship. It was but a short step from that to being used as a music hall, and when this actually threatened in 1850 the Rector of St Anne’s, Soho, purchased it. It was consecrated on the 29th of June 1850, and conveyed as a Chapel-of-ease to St Anne’s, Soho. The church was altered in 1850, and partially rebuilt in the 70’s, but the original nave survived until 1900, when it too was rebuilt. From 1850, the church had been one of the more ‘advanced’ churches in London restoring to the Church of England its Catholic inheritance, Fr Chambers being for long its Parish Priest.

Cornerstone from St Mary's, Charing Cross

It suffered, however, from two things; the apathy of the terribly profligate classes that lived around it in the notorious Seven Dials area, men and women seemingly unresponsive even to heroic sanctity; and also it suffered because it was mid-way between the two popular churches of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, [where the Priests, especially the saintly Fr Mackonochie, were being persecuted by the protestants for the practice of the Faith] and the Margaret Street Chapel, later to be known the world over as All Saints, Margaret Street. On the other hand, there is a lasting remembrance of the old church in that it figures as part of the background in Hogarth’s print ‘Noon’. In this time the portion of the street where the church stood was called Hog Lane, later to be renamed Crown Street, which vanished when Charing Cross Road was widened.

To return to Kenton and 1933, in that year Fr Johnson wrote to his parishioners reminding them of the changes that had taken place since Bishop Perrin dedicated St Leonard’s. Apart from the houses in Kenton Gardens, in 1927 there had been no houses near the church and the congregation who had approached the church from the bridge had walked in summer with hay fields on either side of them, and mushrooms had been gathered where Hillbury Avenue now runs.

By 1933, the fields were covered with houses and the small population of 1927 had grown to 20,000. As if to symbolise this growth, the following year a piece of masonry found its way to Kenton, to be saved up against the day of the founding of the permanent church – it was the corner stone of the new nave of 1900 from St Mary’s, Charing Cross Road, which had been laid in place, as its inscription says, by T.F.Blackwell, J.P., on the June 11th, 1900. It now reposes in St Mary’s, Kenton, near the image of Our Lady of Victories, as a sign of the continuity between the two churches, one giving up its life that another might begin and flourish aided by the merits and prayers of her to whom they were and are dedicated.