To St Martin's in Gospel Oak this morning - one of the very few Victorian parish churches to be Grade I listed - for a packed service to mark its 150th anniversary. I reckon there must have been 200 people there; it was wonderful to see this magnificently eccentric church (I am talking about the design) so full. The distinctly evangelical Bishop of Edmonton presided ... the local MP Sir Keir Starmer was there ... Michael Palin was in the congregation ... but it was very much Chris Brice's show. He's the minister - a busy, attentive and always-on-the-go local vicar. who clearly loves St Martin's and managed to get its fairy tale turrets and pinnacles restored with lottery money
The church is not in the posh part of Gospel Oak, bordering Hampstead Heath - it's on the other side of Mansfield Road, squeezed between the beautiful enclave of Oak Village and the less enchanting post-war housing estate. The figures for local deprivation, which the bishop recited in his sermon, were alarming. This is not gentrified north London.
Most memorable at today's service were the memories of those with an association with St Martin's, and it's now demolished sister church of St Andrew's on Malden Road, stretching back in one instance to the 1940s. Amid the churn and upheaval of a modern capital, St Martin's is about community - a constantly changing and reinventing community, but a community all the same.
Another nice element: an impromptu rendition of 'Happy Birthday, Dear St Martin's'!
And in case you are wondering - I'm the token atheist who occasionally makes up the numbers at St Martin's, not least because I like beautiful old churches and I'm happy to see at least some of them keeping to the original line of work. Hallelujah!
Easter Sunday at Grade 1 listed St Martin's, Gospel Oak - and a very special day for this wonderful, 150-year-old north London parish church. After two years of turmoil, the tower restoration project is complete. The spires and turret are back in place. And to mark the occasion, 150 balloons were released from the tower. A wonderful story of an Easter resurrection!
It's been a huge project getting St Martin's back to shape - and Chris Brice in particular deserves congratulations. What a wonderful addition to the north London skyline.
If you don't know St Martin's, you should - in architectural terms it is in many ways a muddle, but a delightful muddle. A fine wooden vaulted roof, alabaster everywhere, and some Morris & Co stained glass which survived wartime bomb damage (which is what did for the original turret and spires).
What I hadn't notice before is the tiny detail in the bottom right of the windows which gives the Morris name and address. How's about that!
St Martin's, Gospel Oak, is once again showing a glorious index finger to the world. This most maverick of London's parish churches has got its turret back. And on Easter Sunday, the minister Chris Brice is going to preside over a special service and ceremony to mark the full gothic restoration of this wonderfully mad piece of clerical architecture - not just the Grimms' style turret, but the four smaller corner pinnacles too.
So, the back story - this 1860s church was built through the munificence of a Midlands glove manufacturer, who turned to the distinctly outlandish Edward Buckton Lamb as the architect. He delivered Morris & Co stained glass, a truly amazing wooden roof, mosaic panels, alabaster everywhere - and a curiously narrow tower topped off with a range of pointy things which are more Liechtenstein than north London.
Bomb damage (which nearly did for the stained glass too) disturbed the turret and pinnacles, and those still in place in 1945 were too insecure to be left up there. But now Chris Brice has - and what a splendid achievement - not only raised the money to restore the tower to its original design (Lottery money helped, I believe), he's also managed to oversee execution of the work.
St Martin's is, as so rarely is the case for a Victorian parish church, Grade 1 listed - though among connoisseurs of ecclesiastical architecture, opinions vary. Pevsner described it as 'the craziest of London's Victorian churches' - and I'd go along with that - while Elizabeth and Wayland Young, less generously, compared it to a duck-billed platypus.
Whatever - it's lovely to see turret and pinnacles back on the Kentish Town skyline. Hallelujah!
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