Chris Brice presided at his last Sunday service at the glorious Grade 1-listed St Martin's, Gospel Oak today. He's retiring this week after more than a decade as the vicar of this north London parish. And I was one of a congregation of, I'd guess, 250 who came together to wish him well. The service lasted two hours what with all the gifts and tributes, and the Rev Chris's own numerous speeches, declarations and asides - oh, and a fairly full-on sermon which seemed to be unyielding in its theology (about Christianity being the truth, which I suppose means that every other religion or belief system is in error).
I should be able to work out what Chris Brice's tradition within the C of E is, but I can't quite place it. It's not standard Anglo-Catholic (no cassocks, incense, and he's not a Father), but nor is it happy-clappy evangelical either. It does take liturgy and ritual seriously - the doxology got a mention on today's order of service (look it up for yourself!)
Chris himself has worked his personal magic on a difficult parish - this is not the Heath-side part of Gospel Oak, but the bit surrounded by a fairly tough post-war housing estate. He's brought compassion and service to his calling. He also presided over the successful application for funds, and then the building work, which saw all the towers and turrets on this crazy, fairy-tale mid-Victorian church restored to their full glory. And he was the incumbent too at the 150th anniversary service a couple of years back, which benefited from his sense of occasion.
St Martin's will miss Chris - and I am fairly sure Chris will miss St Martin's. I am a resolute non-believer, but this was a church I was happy to go to from time-to-time. I was once even prevailed upon to read the lesson - which says something about the vicar's powers of persuasion.
Take care, Chris!
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!
A wonderful sunny autumn weekend - ideal for wandering around London. The photo above was taken close to Granary Square, the development on the site of the King's Cross goods yard. There's oodles of artificial grass on the Granary Square canal bank - but that isn't artificial grass in the photo, it's the Regent's canal. Completely choked with vivid green algae. I am sure some toddler is going to jump on to it thinking it's a football pitch.
Nearby the St Pancras Cruising Club (yes, you've got that right!) was having an open day - they keep their narrow boats in the St Pancras basin nearby. And they have as their club rooms the entirely wonderful St Pancras Water Point, originally providing water for steam trains and relocated (what a huge task!) to save it from demolition as part of the area's regeneration.
It's been Open House weekend - and I've popped into a couple of awesome architect designed houses in NW5, the Burton House at the bottom of Lady Margaret Road and artists' studios hidden away on Rochester Place.
And walking at the back of St Giles-in-the-Fields I saw that the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms - built as painting studio in 1904 - were open, so I popped in. I've always been curious about the place, But it wasn't part of Open House - it was hosting 'a curation of the rising stars of the London fashion scene'. And my point and click was the most basic camera in sight, by at least £2k:
And then a quick visit to the 'Clouds' installation, thousands of differently sized whte balloons at the Covent Garden piazza. A really successful example of public art.
On my walkabout I noticed that St Martin's Gospel Oak, with its recently restored pinnacle and tower, was looking particularly splendid in the autumn sun. Don't you agree?
Almost twenty years in NW5, and the area still springs surprises. Today I went along to an open day at a nature reserve I didn't know existed. It's squeezed beside the railway line at Gospel Oak - at the back of Mortimer Terrace, a development which is itself hidden away off Wesleyan Terrace, at the back of the Southampton Arms on Highgate Road. Hope you've got that?!!
It's a handful of acres, wooded, on a sloping railway embankment. There's a pond - which a couple of local primary schools visit regularly. And a remarkable shed - a water capture mechanism - and a bit of a clearing where volunteers and visitors gathered on this glorious summer Sunday.
An aerial photo of the Mortimer Terrace nature reserve, which is just to the north of the railway lines. The big building in the middle is Heathview, a 1930s block of flats which is now a housing co-op. On the other side of Gordon House Road is Kwikfit. Gospel Oak station is just out of shot to the left. You can just see part of Mortimer Terrace development on the upper right.
The land is owned by a construction company, but they have said they are withdrawing the licence in August - though given that there's nothing even approaching vehicular access, it's difficult to see what they could do with the site. The London Wildlife Trust has said it hasn't the resources to continue to support this small, but splendid, nature reserve. So its future is in doubt.
The volunteers and those who live near by are clearly determined to save this special, hidden spot - let's hope they succeed.
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!
UPDATED January 2014 with the discovery of another 'HOPE' - details and photo at the foot of this post
Across my part of north London, which is awash with rail lines from the mainline stations heading north as well as the more homely North London Line, someone, some time, for some reason, has taken to painting 'HOPE' on bridges and track-side buildings. In white paint ... in large capital letters ... without any obvious purpose. It's a bit of a mystery.
What follows is not the full story - but we're getting there. And if you have anything to share about these HOPE inscriptions please do get in touch. Whatever the story is behind them, I am keen to find out.
I've mapped and snapped the various renditions of 'HOPE' which have appeared on and adjacent to railway bridges or overlooking railway lines across Kentish Town, Gospel Oak and around. And below are pictures of them all - the three (the orange dots on the map) most imposing renditions complete with serifs, those little embellishments which make capital letters stand out; six plainer versions (red dots), one of which is almost entirely scrubbed out but still just visible; and two (yellow above) other 'HOPES' - one in a very different style, and the other what you might call the only legitimate 'Hope' in Kentish Town.
I'm still trying to work out why this fly painting, by whom, and when - asking around, the consensus is that these are intended to inspire and uplift rather than simply a tag. And all being close to railways lines? Well as I say, there's a lot of them around this manor - so perhaps that's not too significant.
If you know more, do tell me: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
HOPE - the big three ...
HOPE - the other six ...
... and while we're on about HOPE ...
And if you wondered what the now barely legible HOPE overlooking 'Kentish Town Square' (no. 9 above) looked like in its heyday, here's an old photo courtesy of the excellent KentishTowner:
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