Monthly Archives: May 2016

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 the King, 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 [].

Mary Ward House

Mary Ward House, Bloomsbury, London

Mary Ward House, Bloomsbury, London

It’s difficult to walk far in central London without spotting something remarkable.

One morning recently I walked from Russell Square to meet someone at the Churchill Hotel at the back of Selfridges, and came upon a quirky Arts-and-Crafts building that reminded me of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Two ladies who saw me stop to photograph it asked me what it was and I had to admit I hadn’t a clue.

It is in fact Mary Ward House [], built in 1898 for the philanthropist Mary Augustus Ward (1851-1920), better known as the novelist Mrs Humphrey Ward.  Her writings are not much read now, but her breakthrough novel, Robert Elsmere (1888) secured her reputation in her lifetime.

She came from a distinguished family, the niece of the poet Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) and the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), the celebrated headmaster of Rugby School;  she was the mother-in-law of the historian G M Trevelyan and the aunt of the biologist Julian Huxley (1887-1975) and the writer Aldous Huxley (1894-1963).

She believed in bringing education and culture to people of limited means, though she was opposed to the idea of women’s suffrage.  She wanted to create an institution that would “stand perpetually between a man and a woman and the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

Her venture to provide “education, social intercourse, and debate of the wider sort, music, books, pictures, travel” derived from the vision described in Robert Elsmere and was financed by the prolific benefactor John Passmore Edwards (1823-1911).  The building on Tavistock Place, originally known as the Passmore Edwards Settlement, was designed by Arnold Dunbar Smith (1866-1933) and Cecil Claude Brewer (1871-1918).

Indeed, the Pevsner entry enumerates design influences from the major figures of the Arts and Crafts movement – W R Lethaby, Richard Norman Shaw and C F A Voysey, whose circle of friends contributed designs for the fireplaces.

It stands on the edge of the estate of Herbrand, 11th Duke of Bedford (1858-1940), who provided the land, and was intended to serve the deprived population of St Pancras.

Its provision included the Invalid Children’s School (1899) at 9 Tavistock Place, and a Vacation School (1902) to keep children out of mischief in school holidays, from which derived Evening Play Centres.  These developed into clubs for teenagers, and ultimately a School for Mothers complemented by a nursery.

The building originally functioned as a community centre and hostel, and the dramatically curved white stone surrounds to its doorways stand out from the plain brickwork.

The Settlement was renamed to commemorate Mary Wards’ life and work in 1921, the year after her death.  The work continues to the present day:

Trains to Looe

Liskeard railway station, Cornwall:  platform 3

Liskeard railway station, Cornwall: platform 3

The train-ride from Liskeard (rhymes with “hard” not “heard”) to Looe is one of the most bizarre as well as attractive journeys on the British rail system.

Trains to Looe start from a platform at right angles to the Cornish main line, and the train sets off northwards, which is disconcerting because Looe is due south.

In the course of two miles the route drops 205 feet by turning 180°, diving under the main line at the 150-foot Liskeard Viaduct, then turning another 180° to face north once more at Coombe Junction Halt, the second least-used station in Britain.  This spectacular loop has a maximum gradient of 1 in 40 and a minimum-radius curve of eight chains (160 metres).

At Coombe Junction the train reverses and trundles down the East Looe valley, a particularly picturesque route past remote little stations, Causeland, Sandplace and St Keyne Wishing Well Halt [], until the river opens out into a wide estuary that divides the towns of East and West Looe.

It’s an idyllic piece of railway with a complex history.

The Liskeard & Looe Canal was opened in 1827-8 to develop a traffic carrying copper and tin ore down the valley, and lime and sea-sand for agriculture upstream.  In 1844 the canal linked end-on with the Liskeard & Caradon Railway, a mineral line serving the mines and granite quarries around Caradon Hill.

There was so much traffic that the canal was replaced in 1860 by the railway down the valley, which handled freight only and remained isolated from the Cornwall Railway main line above.

Passenger services began in 1879, running to the now-closed Moorswater station, a long walk and a stiff climb to the town of Liskeard.

The great loop up to Liskeard was installed in 1901, facilitating a boom in passenger traffic and enabling the development of Looe as a resort.

Somehow this eccentric train service has survived the decline in rail travel, probably because bus services to and from Looe are patchy and it’s not an easy place to reach by car:

It’s a delightful part of the Cornish coast, though, and there’s a particular satisfaction in leaving a main-line express at Liskeard, hiking over to Platform 3 and riding down the valley to the sea.


Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (west aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (west aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (east aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (east aspect)

When I came to live in north Sheffield in 1973, the pleasantest place to go for a couple of pints in the evening was Timbertop on Shirecliffe Road at the top of a hill looking out across the Lower Don Valley, then still an expanse of smoking steelworks.

Timbertop was the most exciting and innovative of three 1960s public-house designs by the versatile Sheffield practice, Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson.  The others were the Jack in a box, Silkstone Road, Frecheville (1966) and The Domino, Egerton Street (1967, demolished).

Timbertop was commissioned by Bass Charrington (North) Ltd, built in 1969 and opened early in 1970.  It was an adventurous design, taking advantage of its sloping site five hundred feet above sea level.

The load-bearing brick walls support a timber structure, with a roof that presents as a valley on the entrance front and as a pyramid when seen from downhill.

All the service facilities were located in the basement, along with the tenant’s bedrooms;  the tenant’s living accommodation was, unusually, on the ground floor rather than above the public areas.

Customers had a choice of social areas spread over an open-plan split-level space, with a snug at ground level leading to a sunken lounge with a 16ft natural stone fireplace and a chimney breast reaching to the roof, and an upper-level gallery floor with a bar and snack-preparation room.

In harmony with the timber structure, the internal walls were lined with pine, and the ceilings were of cedar wood.

Another interior feature, unusual in Sheffield pubs at the time, was a waterfall.

The building was completed in nine and a half weeks.

The pub was opened by Alderman J W Sterland, who drew the first pint.  As chairman of the city licensing committee, he’d visited a few hostelries in his time and declared it “one of the finest pubs I have seen”.

In later years Timbertop gained an unsavoury reputation and was not the sort of place you’d go for a quiet pint.

There were repeated reports in the local press of “a significant number of incidents on the premises” involving “reports of assaults and drug usage and dealing”.

On one occasion the premises supervisor was attacked when he confronted a customer attempting to serve himself.  Further incidents included a stabbing, paramedics attending a customer who was comatose, assaults involving bottles and “a damaged vehicle with a ‘strong smell of cannabis’”.  The final straw must have come shortly after a shooting that led to a court case in September 2015.

Now the place stands empty, and the chances of it reopening as licensed premises are probably nil.  A car-wash operation occupies the car park.

It’s an exceptional building, in a part of Sheffield that has already lost – or may lose – some of the few landmark structures it ever had – such as the Ritz Cinema (Hadfield & Cawkwell 1937;  demolished 2013) and St Cecilia’s Parish Church (Kenneth B Mackenzie, 1939;  redundant).