Monthly Archives: December 2020

The People’s Priest

St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street, Sheffield

It’s difficult to visualise the hatred and vituperation that poisoned the nineteenth-century Church of England as clergy and their congregations attacked each other’s beliefs about worship.

High-Church Anglo-Catholics, who sought to move closer to Roman Catholicism, fought holy wars with strongly Protestant Low-Church Evangelicals over matters of ritual.

In Sheffield, the focus of Anglo-Catholicism was St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street, from the arrival of the third vicar, Rev George Campbell Ommanney (1850-1936), in 1882 until his death, both for his pastoral strengths as the “People’s Priest”, resident among parishioners in a congested slum area, and for promoting Anglo-Catholic worship in the town. 

Fr Ommanney came into immediate conflict with his predecessor’s churchwarden, Walter Wynn, and their disputes led to brawls in the vestry, court-cases and representations to the Archbishop, William Thompson, until eventually a commission of Sheffield clergy backed Ommanney’s right to minister as he thought fit.

St Matthew’s did not receive episcopal visits until the 1930s because of alleged illegal practices such as the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.  Yet, the second Bishop of Sheffield, Leslie Stannard Hunter, appointed in 1939, described Fr Ommanney as “that great man of God”.

As well as upsetting the sensibilities of the predominant Evangelical Anglicans in Sheffield, and caring devotedly for the inhabitants of the surrounding streets, Father Ommanney found the means and the artists to embellish his church.

The chancel was extended by the Arts & Crafts architect and designer John Dando Sedding (1838-1891) in 1886:  the reredos, to Sedding’s design, was carved by the Sheffield sculptor Frank Tory (1848-1939), with a painting of the Adoration by Nathaniel Westlake (1833-1921). 

J D Sedding also designed the altar, crucifix, candlesticks and the processional cross which was made in 1889 by Henry Longden & Co bears a figure of Christ by Edward Onslow Ford (1852-1901) and figures of the Virgin Mary and St John by Richard Arthur Ledward (1857-1890). 

The choir stalls were designed by Sedding’s partner Henry Wilson (1864-1934).  The font and the pulpit (both 1903) were designed by H I Potter and carved by Frank Tory with Art Nouveau copperwork by Henry Longden.

The east window was apparently designed by Fr Ommanney.  Westlake’s partnership, Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, designed the west window, installed in 1902.

St Matthew’s escaped the Blitz but was damaged by fire shortly after the completion of a restoration programme, in August 1956.  The diocesan architect, George Gaze Pace (1915-1975), undertook a further restoration and over a period of ten years the congregation raised a total sum of £15,000 to put the building in order. 

The revival of the parish was threatened by a 1970s road-widening scheme.  The City Council promised a replacement building on a fresh site, but the plan was shelved and the 1854 church remains, having been listed Grade II in 1973. 

The area was redeveloped as the Devonshire Quarter, a lively mixture of retail, pubs and restaurants and apartments. 

Although the parish entirely lost its residential community in the post-war period it has retained a congregation attracted by the continuing Anglo-Catholic character of its worship: http://www.stmatthewscarverstreet.co.uk.

St Matthew’s installed an outstanding organ by Martin Goetze and Dominic Gwynn in 1992 and the building underwent a further major restoration, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, in 2000. 

The adjacent Grade-II listed clergy house attracted a European Community grant in 2012 and has been redesigned as The Art House, opened in 2016, to provide work- and exhibition-space for local artists and community groups.

The 60-page, A4 handbook for the 2017 ‘Sheffield’s Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Volunteer effort

Rawtenstall Station, East Lancashire Railway: British Railways locomotive 33109

Volunteers are the life-blood of heritage organisations, nowhere more so than on the labour-intensive steam railways.

I visited the East Lancashire Railway [http://www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk] on a freezing January day, an unforgiving time of year when tourists stay at home.

Nevertheless, the ELR was running their Blue Timetable, a full service using two trains, one hauled by steam, the other by diesel.  The ticket-office, shop, stations, cafés and the trains themselves were fully staffed and operational.

As we travelled above the snow-line to Rawtenstall, we passed a tracklaying crew, clad in hi-vis jackets, sorting out a siding in billowing snow.

The twelve-mile ELR route actually encompasses two former rail routes out of Bury – north via Ramsbottom to Rawtenstall, and east to Heywood where a link is planned to Castleton to join the Network Rail route from Manchester to Rochdale and beyond.

The railway also runs the over-stuffed Bury Transport Museum in the goods shed behind Bury Bolton Street station and offers a wide-ranging events programme from on-board dining to train-driving experiences, from days out with Thomas the Tank Engine to guided rail ale trails.

All this is made possible by a small army of volunteers – there must have been nearer a hundred than fifty on a quiet day – giving the most valuable thing they have, their time.  The satisfaction they gain from working a traditional railway and serving the public must be considerable:  they could just as easily stay at home and watch television.

Those of us who simply pay our fare, buy refreshments and maybe take home a souvenir are in a small way supporting their venture, and we shouldn’t take for granted the hidden value of the volunteers that turn out regardless to make the railway function.

Exploring Sydney: Newtown and the inner-city suburbs

Camperdown Cemetery, Sydney, Australia

A highlight of my week in Sydney in 2017 was an exercise in the Heineken effect – reaching the parts other tours can’t reach.  Patrick O’Neill, who I had met while working for Sydney ADFAS in 2011, offered to take me to places in Sydney I had not myself discovered.

He picked me up at 10.00am and drove me around central Sydney pointing out landmarks and drawing my particular attention to the Sydney Observatory [https://maas.museum/sydney-observatory] which, like the old observatory at Greenwich, was built for navigational purposes as much as astronomical exploration.  It was designed by Alexander Dawson and completed in 1858.  Its primary function was to operate a time-ball precisely at 1pm so that ships in line of sight could synchronise the chronometers they needed to navigate accurately.  A cannon fired simultaneously from Fort Denison, an island in mid-harbour, provided a time-signal to ships in coves further away.

Paddington, once rough and deprived and threatened with post-war clearance, is now gentrified.  On the way, along Oxford Street, Patrick pointed out that I should seek an opportunity to visit Victoria Barrackshttp://www.armymuseumnsw.com.au.

Part way along Oxford Street, next to the impressive Paddington Town Hall (1890-91) lies the remains of Paddington Reservoir (1866), one of Sydney’s numerous underground water-supply storage reservoirs:  https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/explore/facilities/parks/major-parks/paddington-reservoir-gardens.   It ceased to function in 1899, and was adapted as a garage until part of the roof gave way in 1990.  It was then adapted as an intriguing public garden which opened in 2008.

Patrick drove down street after street of small terraced houses, with balconies and ironwork, once the homes of artisans, and later post-war immigrants, and now changing hands for remarkable amounts of money.  The area is awash with hotels, art galleries and high-end retail outlets.  The pavements of some streets are lined with fig trees, which look both attractive and curious, and must be a problem to high-sided vehicles because their branches spread diagonally from the trunk.

We cut through a sequence of inner-city suburbs – Surry Hills and Redfern, where the New South Wales Government Railways workshops were sited – to Newtown where Patrick and his artist wife Stella live, to drink very fine coffee in very fine cups under the veranda at the back of the house.  Over the garden wall is St Michael and all the Angels Cathedral, the seat of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Saint Michael Archangel in Sydney, essentially an orthodox group in communion with Rome. 

Then we explored Newtown – Hollis Park, a sequence of residential streets with a synagogue, which Patrick thinks indicates the religion of the original developer, and the main shopping street and former tram-route, King Street, picking off the Trocadero Ballroom (1889) [http://sydneyarchitecture.com/INW/INW22.htm], a fine post office, a town hall and St Stephen’s Church (Edmund Blacket, 1874), which is surrounded by Camperdown Cemetery [https://www.neac.com.au/grounds-and-facilities/cemetery]. 

Much of the cemetery has been cleared, but I observed two curious nautical monuments which I later identified online – the anchor from Morts Dock commemorating the SS Collaroy which ran aground in 1881 and the detached pediment with a carved ship ploughing through the waves placed as a memorial to seamen, which came from either the old Maritime Services Building (c1850) or the former Harbour Trust Building, Circular Quay (c1902), depending which source you believe.

In the evening Patrick picked me up again and took me to dinner at home with Stella.  As we drove down a main street he pointed out fruit bats in the sky, like a horror movie, and later we heard their cries as we were having dinner.

Nothing makes visiting a place more memorable than knowing hospitable locals.