1920’s: A Church for Kenton

In the 1920’s London exploded, its unofficial boundaries becoming yearly more extensive and difficult to define. There was a rapid and widespread suburban development and as part of it the modern Kenton was born. A 1930 Bartholomew’s map of the area shows that Kenton then consisted of the streets from Kenton Station to Cranleigh Gardens and from Alicia Gardens to the Ridgeway. In 1927, when the Mission was founded, building in this area had only just begun. There were, however, sufficient householders for Mrs Newton-Andrews to call a meeting at Courtlands, Kenton Road – then, as now, the doctor’s house – for 8.30pm on Wednesday the 29th September 1926, to discuss the subject of ‘Kenton Church’.

St Leonards Church
St Leonards Church

About 50 people were present and the Vicar of Harrow-on-the-Hill explained that the purpose of the meeting was to form a committee to work in co-operation with the Parochial Church Council of the Hill in building and establishing a permanent church in Kenton. This Vicar was Fr Stogden, who visited his vast parish on horseback to the end of his days as Vicar, and remained a firm friend of Kenton till he died.

So the seed was planted for the growth of church life in Kenton. Many meetings of the committee followed, chaired usually by Mr Findlay, whose work in the Sunday Schools and then at Saint Leonard’s is commemorated each year on the anniversary of his death with prayers for his soul. The deliberations of this group of men and women concerned the raising of money, of course, by means of concerts, bazaars, and house-to-house collections, and the acquisition of suitable sites for the Church and a house for the Missioner. The amounts of money involved seem small by today’s standards, e.g. £3000 for the house, but were then really quite large.

On the 28th of January, 1927, a familiar face appeared at a Committee meeting though its owner was not to utter a word at it. The new Missioner, at that time a curate at Saint Andrew’s Parish Church, Enfield, first met those with whom he was to build up the Faith in Kenton. And so Fr Johnson made his earliest visit to the scene of his life’s work. By the 17th June the work of erecting the temporary Church of Saint Leonard was sufficiently far advanced -at a cost of £1445- to settle the date for its opening as 2nd July 1927, at a time convenient to the Bishop. Tickets were issued for this service, and the ‘bun-fight’ was to be held after it in the Kenton Schools, when the people could meet both Bishop and Missioner. On July 2nd the Bishop duly arrived [this was Bishop Perrin, suffragan Bishop of Willesden] and at 5 o’clock in the afternoon he inaugurated the Mission District of St Leonard, Kenton, with Fr Frank Reginald Johnson as its first Missioner.

From the first there was a tide of enthusiasm for the work of the Church that seemed to turn all to gold.

St Leonards Interior
St Leonards Interior

A parish magazine, the Record, was started with an initial publication of 300, which had more than doubled in two years, and a Free-Will Offering Scheme was also introduced. An enormous amount of work, however, backed up these schemes and the countless other activities that raised the much needed money. From the start Fr Johnson was anxious that in Kenton there should be a complete complex of buildings, all permanent, which should be free of debt. In this work he ultimately succeeded in 1959 with the building of St Mary’s Hall, but at what cost to himself only One can tell. Here is a report of his words at the opening of a Grand Bazaar on the 14th of October, 1927: he remarked that St Leonard was the patron saint of beggars and so their patron saint would have great sympathy for the members of St Leonard’s Church in Kenton. He appealed to them to help the church and urged them to do all they could, not only for the temporary church, but to push on for something greater.

He wanted them to remember the responsibilities of the Church. For a good number of years there would be a tremendous amount of work to be done, but as a first Priest-in-charge he knew that he had a body of men and women behind him who were doing all they could to further that work. The journey was long, but if they showed that united front which was such an important thing these days, the work, hard as it would be, would be accomplished. In Kenton they were doing something to build up a greater church worthy of the name of Christians.

Delightful though these social occasions were, and financially necessary, it was the Opus Dei, the worship of the Most High God, that always came first. To start with the Sunday routine was a Low Mass at 8.00am, Morning Prayer said at 10.30am, followed by the sermon at 11.00am, and the Sung Mass concluded all at 11.15am. There was a Catechism at 3.00pm and Evening Prayer at 6.30pm. From the first there was a daily Mass [at either 7.00am or 7.30am] and the Divine Office was recited daily also. Confessions were heard each Friday and Saturday. By the war, with the arrival of many curates [sometimes as many as three] there were more Masses and the classic Sunday horarium was established which lasted until comparatively recently: Low Masses at 7.15 and 8.00, High Masses with sermon at 11.00, Evensong and Benediction at 6.30pm.

The Old Vicarage
The Old Vicarage

[The present arrangement may be of interest as it shows how changing needs can be met; Mass at 8.00am, Family Mass with hymns at 10.00am, Solemn Mass with sermon at 11.00am, Mass at 5.30pm, Evening Prayer and Benediction at 6.00pm. During the week at least 14 public Masses are offered as well as a certain number of private ones, all this being in addition to the Divine Office, baptisms, weddings, funerals, confessions, and Guild and Confraternity services such as Rosary, Holy Hour and Benediction.]

Parochial organisations in these early formative years at St Leonard’s included the Boy Scouts [the 1st Kenton, St Leonard’s – now St Mary the Virgin – Troop] who also celebrate their Golden Jubilee this year; the Farthing Fund, which raised well over £60.00 for altar linen [remember 4 farthings to a penny, 960 to a pound, and you will see what a work of supererogation Mrs Thorogood undertook for many years!]: the Free-Will Offering Society; the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa [a much loved cause in the parish owing to its support of Fr Lury in Zanzibar]; the Holy Family Homes; the Mothers’ Union; and the Sunday School. It was quite obvious that these represented a basic spiritual life that was thriving, and that it should soon have a permanent home. Fr Johnson was determined that Kenton’s Church should be the best possible, full of the loveliest things, free of debt, and enshrining in the Blessed Sacrament reserved within it the loveliest of all God’s gifts to men, His Holy Son. It is only from Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that the Faithful can draw those waters that well up into eternal life: Fr Johnson spent his 37 years in Kenton repeating those true words to those who would not hear as well as those who heeded their Priest, and his life bore out the truth of his own advice. Even the children were expected to play their part in a life of love and sacrifice. For many years there was a Toy Service in the New Year, at which the children of middle class Kenton brought to church toys in good repair in order that those less fortunate than they should have decent toys at Christmastide – decent toys, we notice the Johnsonian emphasis, not the left-overs and toys incomplete or in disrepair. The address at at least one of these services was given by a Mr Pilgrim, on behalf of the London Police Court Mission. His name is remembered in Kenton, for as Fr Pilgrim he supported Fr Johnson and the parish through its darkest years.

The first year, 1927-1928, came and went in Kenton; there had been 3924 acts of Holy Communion made, there were 144 persons on the electoral roll, between 60 and 70 frequented the 8.00am Mass on Sundays [which was, of course, in those days the only Mass at which Holy Communion was given; the Sung Mass on Sundays remained non-communicating right up until 1964], with over 300 receiving the Lord’s Body at Easter; and at festivals falling on a Sunday there was not seating enough to accommodate the crowds of worshippers. These are the statistics that were soon to be surpassed many times over – just before the war acts of Holy Communion per annum regularly exceeded 25,000, and there were over 800 on the electoral roll – but they cover the little bits of human life that are the stuff of social history. Mrs Thorogood and her farthing gatherers may seem to us in the inflated 70’s people of pre-history, but a farthing was worth a lot in those days, especially for children. It could buy two or three sweets, two farthings procured an ice cream sandwich, albeit of slender proportions, and on the Sunday School outing to Southend one year the Record reports that a dozen of the children went out in a boat for a row, twenty minutes being allowed them for their penny, which pleased them very much!

St Leonards Church Interior
St Leonards Church Interior

By July 1928 the sale of Kenton House to the parish for the permanent home of its Priest had been arranged and carried out. This became Saint Mary’s Vicarage which was demolished in the 1980’s and stood on the site of the current Vicarage.

On the other side of St Leonard’s, which stood where the present hall now stands, there was a temporary hall, so the only permanent parochial building was the clergy house, but from it the Parish Priest planned his work of building based not on money and numbers but on the spiritual quality of life that only the full preaching and acceptance of the Catholic Faith of Christ can give. By 1929, communions were nearly 10,000 a year and between 50 and 60 of the faithful made their communion during the week also, as well as on Sunday. Then as now, it is to the strength of the spiritual life of any parish if its members come frequently to the Altar and the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass, not just when Holy Church requires us but at other times as well. Confirmations that year numbered 55, and the Parish Priest had made over 500 visits in his parish.

Easter is always a time of physical as well as spiritual exertion, especially for the clergy and their immediate aides, but 1929 saw an ebullient congregation celebrate the Redemption in church and then go on to dances, concerts, and the inevitable jumble sales that form so integral a part of the life of the Established Church. This year [1929] the jumble sale preceded the dance given by the Rovers and the Football Club, and there was simultaneously a musical evening at the Northwick Park Dance Hall. Fr Johnson was everywhere, naturally ‘said a few words’, and must have been worn out at the end of the day. He had, though, the knowledge that Kenton was alive and dancing both before the Lord and for the sheer joy of it.