Thursday, 25 November 2021

St Michael, Croydon

Some churches appeal because of their architecture; others from their history or location, and still others for their atmosphere. Saint Michael is one of the last group: located in an unprepossessing part of central Croydon, sandwiched between dull tower blocks on one side and bus and railways stations on the other, the church belies its location. 

The architect was John Loughborough Pearson, whose cathedral at Truro and churches of St Augustine in Kilburn and St Stephen, Bournemouth, are rightly celebrated.  The foundation stone was laid in 1880 and the church consecrated just 3 years later. The exterior is in red brick with ashlar dressings, and impressive not just in its scale, but for the huge and fortress-like south porch, the base for an intended (but never-built) tower.

Inside, the layout comprises a soaring nave, transepts and an apsed chancel, complete with ambulatory, as at St Stephen Bournemouth. The piers, ribs and arches are executed in ashlar, with stock brick walls and vaults stained the colour of tobacco (it is vaulted throughout). The south chapel is itself aisled, the view across it to the ambulatory comprising a veritable forest of columns. This is all best viewed on a sunny day at the end of a service: shafts of light pour through the lancet windows of the nave clerestory, cutting dramatically through the clouds of the incense. If architecture can reflect the divine, this must surely be it.

Many of the richly coloured fittings, including the organ case, font and pulpit, were the work of G F Bodley; the south chapel furnishings are by Sir Ninian Comper. The church is the centre of a very active ministry, with daily masses in the Anglo-Catholic tradition supported by a rich choral repertoire, and extensive outreach to the local community.

St Michael, Poplar Walk, Croydon CR0 1UA

Thursday, 18 November 2021

St John the Evangelist, Hyde Park

The former Connaught Chapel occupies an enviable site in the heart of the Hyde Park Estate, where (for once) the post-war rebuilding of the surrounding housing has respected the church in its design - though, not being on a major thoroughfare, it does take a little searching out.

When the area was being developed in the early 1800s, the original proposal was for a classical Ionic design by the architect Samuel Pepys Cockerell (best known for Admiralty House). On his death in 1827, the Church Commissioners turned instead to Charles Fowler, architect of Covent Garden Market. His design was very different - a Perpendicular church with a nave of 8 bays of clustered shafts, tall aisles and clerestory, and a small square chancel. As completed in 1832, the church had galleries above the aisles and could seat over 2,000. The large east and west windows were inserted in their present form by Arthur William Blomfield,  along with the addition of a front porch, in 1888.

The removal of the galleries and pews have a resulted in a feeling of lightness and spaciousness: the entry from the west door towards the altar is something of a coup de théâtre. That said, the huge east and west windows, filled with good early 20th century glass, rather steal the show by their sheer size.

The church today is home to a vibrant parish life in the Liberal Catholic tradition, with a particular reputation for music (concerts cover a wide repertoire) and a strong emphasis on inclusivity. The church is open weekdays for private prayer (evening prayer is celebrated Monday to Thursday) as well as Sunday services.

St John's Hyde Park, Hyde Park Crescent, London, W2 2QD