Category Archives: Sacred Places

Christmas in a T-shirt: Martinique

Cathedrale de Saint-Louis, Fort de France, Martinique

Cathedrale de Saint-Louis, Fort de France, Martinique

Cruises are a good way to explore the world superficially.  A few hours on dry land is only long enough to sniff the atmosphere.

When my friend Jenny and I took a Caribbean cruise in 2011 my priority at our first port of call, Fort de France on the French island of Martinique, was to buy a pair of jeans, having omitted to pack any informal trousers.

My French is limited.  I now know that you should ask for le jeanLes jeans is apparently permissible, but you may get more than you bargained for.

Once that mission was accomplished Jenny and I wandered around Fort de France and drank mojito at Le Foyaal (now apparently closed):

I intended to follow the cruise spirit and simply idle away my days in tropical luxury, but my history antennae twitched when we passed the Cathedrale de Saint-Louis (1895), which looked for all the world like a British Commissioners’ Church but in Roman-Byzantine style, tricked out in tan and brown decoration with a tower and spire 186 feet high.

The building was being renovated, so we couldn’t go inside.  I simply photographed the exterior and looked it up later.

In fact, it’s an interesting and significant building, the seventh on the site since 1657.  The sixth church was destroyed in the great fire of Fort de France on June 22nd 1890, and a temporary repair-job was swept away by a cyclone the following year.

After this latest in a succession of natural disasters, the Archdiocese resolved to build an iron-framed structure that would resist hurricanes, storms and earthquakes.

The design of St Louis’ Cathedral is by Pierre-Henri Picq (1833-1911), who had worked alongside the ubiquitous Gustav Eiffel (1832-1923) in France.  Picq built the Palais du Chili [Chile Pavilion] for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle for which Eiffel’s great tower was the landmark.

Both men used their knowledge of iron construction to construct public buildings abroad.  Eiffel, for instance, is responsible for the General Post Office (1886-1891) in Saigon, Vietnam.

Judging by photographs, the interior of Picq’s St Louis’ Cathedral [,_Fort-de-France#/media/File:Cath%C3%A9drale_de_Fort_de_France_-_Int%C3%A9rieur.jpg], is glorious – light, colourful and unmistakably iron rather than masonry.

Despite its iron construction, an earthquake in 1953 destabilised the tower so that the spire had to be dismantled.  A replacement spire was installed in a restoration programme of 1976-9.

Since the cathedral was designated a historic monument in 1990, successive restoration programmes have taken place.

Picq also designed the Bibliothèque Schœlcher [Schœlcher Library] (1893), commemorating Victor Schœlcher (1804-1893), the French abolitionist writer and Martinique politician.  The Library is recognisably by the same hand, in an eclectic Byzantine style, making use of an iron frame, glass, tiles and mosaic.

Another of Picq’s buildings in Fort de France is the Magasin du Printemps (1901).

You don’t see much of a place when you arrive on a cruise ship.  The way to know anywhere is to stay there, and in most places there are interesting buildings to look out for.

If I ever find my way back to Martinique, I now know what else there is to see.

Take a pew

Bench-end, Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull

Bench-end, Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull

Years ago, when I was involved with what was then called the Main Committee of the Victorian Society, I recall overhearing a conversation in which someone was indignant that “…they want to punch a doorway through the east end of the church, and it’s a Grade II* listed building!”

Years later, preparing a Birmingham’s Heritage tour, I wandered into All Saints’ Church, Small Heath, and eventually realised that this was the church in question.  In fact, it’s a model conversion that retains most if not all of the original features, radically reordered to suit modern worship needs.

The Victorian Society lost that particular case, but the building still stands, recognisably intact, and continues its Christian mission in what is now a predominantly Muslim area.

I took my Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour-group to Saltaire, for lunch at what was then the Vicars Café Bistro (now the Saltaire Canteen).  One of our members was a retired Anglican canon, to whom I pointed out the Bradford Cathedral choir CDs on sale, and remarked that Vicars was run by vicars.  He replied that it’s possible to do a great deal to further the Gospel without preaching.

More recently, I’ve taken my Humber Heritage tour group to Holy Trinity Parish Church, Hull, shortly to be redesignated Hull Minster and the subject of a radical reordering scheme which aims to bring members of the public, whether or not they embrace the Christian faith, into the building for all sorts of purposes:

In the process, the church authorities wish to clear the nave of pews, returning it, as they say, to its medieval emptiness and flexibility.

The Victorian Society objects to the scheme, and I can see their point.  The beautiful, highly individual pews, carved by George Peck in the 1840s, are a huge cultural asset and deserve to be kept, or at least kept together.

I haven’t the remotest clue how to resolve this conflict, because I support the conservationist principles of our major amenity societies at the same time that I’m concerned to see the Church of England find useful purposes for its stock of beautiful buildings and their contents.

And I hope Peck’s pews remain intact.

The cakes at Café Trinity in the south choir aisle are heavenly:

Update:  The pews are coming out, to be truncated and returned in a state that makes them removable: and

Not-so-primitive Methodists

Former Primitive Methodist Chapel, Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire

Former Primitive Methodist Chapel, Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire

When I took my Humber Heritage (September 5th-9th 2016) group to the Wilderspin National School at Barton-on-Humber we were among the first to see the current restoration of the Primitive Methodist Chapel next door to the school.

The Primitive Methodists were a break-away group that followed a simpler, more frugal style of worship than the Wesleyans.  They have a reputation for plain, unostentatious buildings but the Barton-on-Humber example is relatively grand.

It was built, with its associated Sunday School, in eight months flat in 1867 in polychrome brick to the Romanesque designs of Joseph Wright (1818-1885).

Joseph Wright was a prolific architect of Primitive Methodist chapels and a pupil of Cuthbert Brodrick, the Hull-born architect of Leeds Town Hall and the Grand Hotel, Scarborough.  At the time Barton belonged within the Hull circuit of its denomination.

The existing house next door, No 2 Queen Street, was adapted for the chapel caretaker after it had been shortened to make way for the new chapel by removing the left-hand bay.

For their outlay of £1,500 the Barton Primitive Methodists got an imposing building with an impressive galleried interior, seating six hundred.

It was arguably as impressive as the Wesleyans’ Trinity Methodist Chapel of 1861 on Chapel Lane:  it dominates the National School next door and holds up alongside the surrounding public buildings on Queen Street, the Temperance Hall (1843) opposite, the Oddfellows’ Hall (1864) on the corner and the Police Station (1847) round the corner on High Street.

Twenty-two years after the opening, the congregation ordered an elaborate organ by the Hull manufacturer Forster & Andrews.  This was sold in the early 1960s to St Andrew’s Parish Church, Immingham;  it moved on in 1996 to All Saints’ parish church, Pickwell, Leicestershire.

Most of the disparate branches of Methodism united in 1932, and the Barton-on-Humber congregations joined together in the Trinity Methodist building in 1960.

The Primitive Methodist chapel closed after Easter Day 1961, and it was sold to the Salvation Army, which reopened it on May 22nd 1965.  They inserted a floor at gallery level and removed the ground-floor pews.  Most of the gallery pews, the fine plaster ceiling and the round arch that framed the organ case remained.

Latterly the Queen Street School Preservation Trust, owners of the Wilderspin National School, has taken over the chapel building as an extension of their premises.

Birthplace of gospel music

Pilgrim Baptist Church, Bronzeville, Chicago

Pilgrim Baptist Church, Bronzeville, Chicago

Buildings by the Chicago architects Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan are precious both for their quality and their rarity.  In Chicago itself, their Auditorium Building and the exquisite Getty Tomb are celebrated, but their Old Chicago Stock Exchange Building was demolished in 1972, and one of their most powerful and resonant surviving structures in the city faces an uncertain future.

The Pilgrim Baptist Church in Bronzeville, south of the Loop, was originally built in 1890-1 as the Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue.  Dankmar Adler’s father, Liebman, was rabbi there.

This powerful corner-site building was sold in 1922 to the Pilgrim Baptist Church which had been founded in 1915.  It is celebrated as the birthplace of black gospel music:  its music director from 1932 was Thomas A Dorsey (1899-1993), writer of – among much else – ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’.  In 1936-7 the interior was decorated with murals by the African-American painter William Edouard Scott (1884-1864).

Its spectacular interior and excellent acoustics [] derived from the metal-clad timber superstructure  that almost doubled the height of the robust masonry walls, which feature round-arched windows and a monumental entrance, embellished with the inscription, in Hebrew and English, “Open for me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them, to praise the Lord” [Psalm 118 v 19].

When the roof caught fire during restoration work on January 6th 2006 [] the interior was completely destroyed but more than three quarters of the walls survived.  They remain supported by an obtrusive steel scaffold while plans for either a complete restoration or conversion to a memorial garden are stalled by controversy and litigation:

There is an extended essay about the Pilgrim Baptist Church by Lynn Becker, ‘Kaddish for a Legendary Church’, (2005-6).

Undisturbed by Victorian hands: Kirk Malew, Isle of Man

Kirk Malew, Isle of Man

Kirk Malew, Isle of Man

Change comes very slowly in the Isle of Man.

Kirk Malew, the ancient parish church for Castletown, then the capital of the island, probably dates from the twelfth century, though an earlier cell, or keill, probably occupied the site in the centuries before.

The core of the church is a simple rectangle, combining nave and chancel, with a bell turret added c1770.

The chancel was rebuilt in 1781, and two years later a substantial north wing with a raked floor – much more an auditorium than a transept – was added and the entire interior filled with box pews.

A gallery was added for the Billowne family in 1818.

Not only does the interior retain the customary box pews of an eighteenth-century church, it is an odd-shaped space, a T-plan which forces some members of the congregation to face the organ rather than the altar.

The Victorian period brought little change – a window by William Wales of Newcastle (1843) and another signed by the mid-nineteenth century artists Baillie and Mayer.  The old church, dedicated to St Lupus, declined in importance after the opening of St Mary’s in the centre of Castletown, a mile and a half away, in 1828, and Castletown itself lost prestige when the Manx parliament, Tynwald, moved to Douglas in 1869.

Its most recent addition is the Manx artist Bryan Kneale’s monument to Illiam Dhone, “Brown-haired William”, otherwise William Christian, the Receiver of the Island and latterly Governor during the Commonwealth period, executed arbitrarily in 1663.  His nickel-silver bust gazes at the site of his burial in the chancel.

Even though St Lupus’ church is no longer the parish church of Castletown, a tradition remains that each Bishop of Sodor & Man preaches his first and last sermon in the diocese at Kirk Malew.

Undisturbed by Victorian hands: St James’ Church, Midhopestones

St James' Church, Midhopestones, South Yorkshire

St James’ Church, Midhopestones, South Yorkshire

The best-known example of an English church that was not modernised by Victorian restorers is St Mary’s Church, Whitby, but there are others if you know where to find them.

One such is St James’ Church, Midhopestones on the road between Sheffield and Penistone in South Yorkshire.

This tiny place of worship goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Lord of the Manor, Robert de Barby, whose residence was on the site of the present-day Midhope Hall Farm, converted his private chapel into a barn and replaced it with what became St James’ Church, c1368.

It served both as a private chapel and a chapel of ease to save local people trekking ten miles each way to the parish church at Ecclesfield.

Sometime in the seventeenth century an enormous Jacobean pulpit was installed for Puritan preaching, high enough for the priest to look out of the church window.

George Bosville, who became Lord of the Manor in 1690, undertook the only significant modernisation in 1705 when he rebuilt the east and west walls, built the porch and bell cupola and installed the box pews and west gallery that remain.

The Diocesan Architect, George Pace, installed a new roof in 1959, and further gentle alterations were made when St James’ became part of Penistone parish in 1978.  This involved lowering the pulpit and removing the front row of box pews, using the wood to make internal doors and a desk and chair for the minister.

Otherwise, St James’ remains very much as it has for three hundred years.

Haven of quiet

When I visited Tokyo I found time to seek out St Andrew’s Cathedral and St Alban’s Church, two flourishing Japanese-Anglican churches with links to Bishop Samuel Heaslett (1875-1947), whose life story I’d discovered in the course of local-history research in Sheffield.

Relatively few buildings in central Tokyo predate the devastating bombing of 1945, but I read that the chapel of St Luke’s International Hospital was “one of the few original Anglican church structures in central Tokyo built prior to the Second World War”, and realised that it was located in Tsukiji, a couple of metro stops from where I was staying.

St Luke’s International Hospital was founded by an American physician and Episcopal missionary, Dr Rudolf Bolling Teusler (1876 – 1934), who began working in Tokyo in 1900.

His first hospital was ruined in the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 and rebuilt to the designs of the Czech-American architect Antonin Raymond (1888-1976), who had trained with Cass Gilbert, designer of the Gothic Woolworth Building in Manhattan, and with Frank Lloyd Wright.  (After the war Antonin Raymond designed the timber church of St Alban, Shiba-koen, Tokyo.)

The replacement hospital of 1933, now the administration building of the modern St Luke’s, contains the chapel, completed in 1936.

The first floor landing leads into a high, Gothic Revival nave with a raised chancel and, above the entrance, an elaborate organ case, installed in 1988.  The walls are ashlar and there is geometrical stained glass in the east window.  There is a font, pulpit, lectern and choir stalls, and a lamp indicates the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament:

Notices forbidding photography were everywhere.  I was content simply to sit there.  It was the only place in Tokyo where I felt any sense of connection with the past.  It also provides, in the words of the hospital website, “quiet space to find comfort and strength in difficult times”.

Another more modern chapel, Teusler Hall, in the adjacent wing has the same sense of peace.  Indeed, the entire place is capacious, unhurried and dignified.  Corridors are embellished with flower arrangements and pieces of art.  Staff and visitors move about decorously.

Christianity is a minority religion in Japan:  its adherents amount to less than 1% of the population.  Nevertheless, St Luke’s carries an effective mission that has grown directly from the work of missionaries a hundred years ago.

Bishop Heaslett

St Alban's Church, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Alban’s Church, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Andrew's Cathedral, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

St Andrew’s Cathedral, Shiba-koen, Tokyo, Japan

When I explored the material in Sheffield Archives about the parish of St Cecilia, Parson Cross, I came upon a complete run of parish magazines from before the church was consecrated in 1939 until the mid-1950s.

The bulk of these magazines were edited by the first vicar, Fr (later Canon) Richard Roseveare SSM (1902-1972), charting the sprouting of streets and houses on what had been farmland, the establishment of one of the biggest parishes in the Church of England with three churches and six or seven clergy, and the impact of the Second World War and its aftermath on the initial high hopes and ambitious plans for Parson Cross and St Cecilia’s.

He was a powerful figure, with a finger on the pulse of Sheffield working-class people – he formally opened the Parson Cross Hotel in June 1939 and ended up in the News of the World for his pains – and also a strict Anglo-Catholic who exhorted his parishioners to worship with due decorum.

St Cecilia’s parish started out with high-status helpers.  Lady Mabel Smith, the socialist daughter of the Earl Fitzwilliam, was a strong supporter until her death in 1951, and Mary Jane, Dowager Countess Ferrers, built a house on Halifax Road so she could help in the parish.

When Lady Ferrers died in 1944 her house became the home of Bishop Samuel Heaslett (1875-1947), who was Bishop of South Tokyo from 1921.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 he was given a very hard time by the Japanese authorities, who couldn’t grasp the idea that a Church of England was not a government agency, and after four months’ imprisonment and interrogation he was expelled from Japan.

Back in England Bishop Heaslett was offered a role as Assistant Bishop of Sheffield and came to Parson Cross in 1944.  He returned to Japan with his opposite number, the Bishop of North Tokyo, an American Episcopal Bishop, Charles S Reifsnider, to help the reformation of the Anglican church in Japan, Nippon Seikōkai, in May and June 1946.

The Tokyo cathedral that Bishop Heaslett knew had been obliterated in the bombing of Tokyo towards the end of the war.  A wooden replacement building, St Alban’s Church, opened in 1956, designed by the Czech-American architect Antonin Raymond (1888-1976).  It stands alongside the more substantial St Andrew’s Cathedral (Hisao Kohyama 1996).

Samuel Heaslett is commemorated in Sheffield Cathedral by a wall-tablet, and he appears in the Te Deum window in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

From the pages of dusty old magazines, a memorial tablet, a face in a stained-glass window, fascinating stories emerge of lives lived in times that feel very different from the present day.

Update on St Cecilia’s

St Cecila's Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield:  Cousens organ console (2014)

St Cecila’s Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield: Cousans organ console (2014)

A couple of years ago I went to some lengths to involve myself in the debate about the future of the practically redundant church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross, Sheffield.

I’d seen the demise of a nearby parish church of the same period, St Hilda, Shiregreen, which slipped past the attention of members of the local community who would have wished to find a productive use for the building if they had been alert to the fact that it was threatened.

The latest development over St Cecilia’s is a draft pastoral scheme to appropriate the building for residential purposes and to dispose of its contents – a welcome alternative to the earlier proposal simply to demolish it, because it will, in the words of the Statutory Advisory Committee of the Church Buildings Council, “preserve the external envelope of the church and therefore preserve the townscape presence of the building”.

I researched the parish records held in Sheffield Archives to try to discover why this substantial building, completed in 1939, had presented such intractable problems of maintenance that its decreasing congregation abandoned it in favour of a smaller mission church, St Bernard of Clairvaux, elsewhere in the parish.

It seems that, in common with other buildings of its period, it was designed in the expectation that a large new parish on a vast housing estate could support regular, skilled maintenance.  The architect, Kenneth Mackenzie, did no other church designs, as far as I know.  He was the nephew of the Sheffield industrialist, Albert Reaney Heathcote, who contributed £13,000 towards its construction.

In fact, the Parochial Church Council minutes show that £600-worth of repairs were pending by 1953.  By 1961 the vicar described the building as “jerry-built”, which is perhaps unfair – it’s actually a substantial structure – but mortar was disintegrating from the stonework and plaster regularly fell away from behind the altar.

When I visited the building in 2014 it was like the Marie Celeste.  Although services had ceased three years before, there were vestments hanging in the vestry, hymn-books stacked in their cupboards, and music was still propped on the organ music-stand.

All the internal fittings must go, taking with them much of the history of seventy-seven years of parish life – the Stations of the Cross, given in memory of the Sheffield Coroner, J Kenyon Parker, the rood, the installation of which in 1949 caused a feline spat between the Vicar, Canon Roseveare, and the Chancellor of the Diocese, the reredos designed for Holy Trinity, Bolton (1923), and the huge Cousans organ, provided by the Church Burgesses in 1987 incorporating parts of earlier organs from the churches of St George, Sheffield, and St Luke’s, Crookes.

It’s a blessing that the small, cohesive congregation worshipping at St Bernard’s will be relieved of the responsibility for the much bigger building at St Cecilia’s.  The residents of Chaucer Close, which is in places within yards of the church, won’t have the noise and pollution of a brick-by-brick demolition.

And a fine mid-twentieth century building can survive in a part of Sheffield that has all too few significant pieces of architectural to enliven the sea of houses.

Apostolic cessation

Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury, London

Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury, London

The same walk across Bloomsbury that brought me to Mary Ward House also took me past Gordon Square, where stands the magnificent Church of Christ, Bloomsbury, built 1850-1854 by the sad, unsuccessful John Raphael Rodrigues Brandon (1817-1877) for the Catholic Apostolic Church, a nineteenth-century sect that pinned their faith on prophecy and the imminent expectation of the Second Coming.

Their beliefs were based on an interpretation of the Book of Revelation promoted by Edward Irving (1792-1834).  They were so convinced that the end of the world was nigh that their founding Apostles, appointed by prophecy from a range of existing Christian denominations, saw no need to plan a succession.

Consequently, when the last Apostle died in 1901 it became impossible to ordain further clergy, and after the last priest and deacon died, in 1971 and 1972 respectively, the Church’s elaborate liturgy ceased, and members of the church were encouraged to worship with other established congregations, while the Church itself entered a “Time of Silence”.

A schismatic group, the New Catholic Apostolic Church (established 1863), thrives with some eight million worshippers worldwide.

Brandon’s magnificent cruciform church, was designed as a miniature version of Westminster Abbey though lacking the westernmost two bays of the nave and the planned 300-foot spire.

Originally intended for a staff of sixty-four clergy to manage its elaborate ritual, the building remains in use.  It was a chaplaincy of the universities and colleges of the Anglican diocese of London from 1963 to 1994, and it now accommodates the Euston Church [] and a congregation of Forward in Faith [].