Christ Church Watney Street (1841 – 1951)

WHAT A LONDON CURATE CAN DO IF HE TRIES

Three of the sons of William Quekett, the master of Langport grammar school in Somerset from 1790-1842, achieved a measure of fame: Edwin John and John Thomas Quekett, as histologists and microscopists, and their older brother William Quekett (1802-88). He had studied at St John's College Cambridge, reading as widely as possible (he attended lectures on fen drainage), and was ordained in 1825, serving at South Cadbury, in the diocese of Bath and Wells. He was by conviction an Evangelical. Four years later a friend told him there was a post as curate and Lecturer at St George's. He came for interview, only to discover, as his cab drove on, that it was not St George Hanover Square, as he had thought, but the more challenging situation of St George-in-the-East. [This is a recurring error: various websites implausibly claim that Edward William Spencer Cavendish, 10th Duke of Devonshire (1895-1950), was born in this parish despite the family's links being with the other church.] To his credit, he stayed anyway, and achieved great things in his 24 years here (curate 1830-41, incumbent of Christ Church 1841-54). He was applauded in Charles Dickens' Household Words (16 November 1850) in an article 'What a London curate can do – if he tries' which you can read here. It includes an account of the curious circumstances of his appointment.

The elderly Rector, Dr Farington, in post since 1802, was unsupportive of Quekett's efforts, being content to leave the parish as he found it rather than tackle its huge social problems. Quekett's first project was to fit out as boys, girls and infants schools three arches east of Cannon Street Road under the viaduct of the new London and Blackwall Railway: further details here.

Building a new church in the parish had been mooted in 1831 by the Church Building Commissioners, and by the Bishop of London in 1837 (who hoped for three others in Stepney), but all depended on local initiative, and the Rector argued that church rate had to be spent on the newly-purchased extension to the burial ground and on church restoration, so no funds were available. But in 1838 a local builder, George Bridger, offered the CBC the sites of three houses in Watney Street, which he held on lease from the Mercers' Company. He was willing to make a gift of these leaseholds, valued at £1,130, paying the Mercers £350 for the freehold, and compensation of £35 to the tenants, on three conditions:
- it should designed by John Shaw junior
- it should be built by himself, and
- there should be no burial ground. 

The CBC agreed; the site was conveyed to them on 27 March 1839. A foundation stone was laid on 11 March 1840, and Messrs George & James Weddell Bridger, of Aldgate Street, built the church, which was consecrated on 3 May 1841, with 1200 sittings. The total cost to the CBC was £7,251 9s. 11d. including the site (which in the event they rather than Bridger bought). In 1845 two adjacent houses were adapted to provide a vicarage, adding a hall and four large rooms at a cost of £1,400; Quekett's children laid the foundation stone (his wife Harriet [left] died in 1849, aged 37). He had previously lived at 51 Wellclose Square - with his scientist brothers at number 50. 

Although he had built the church and was presented to the living, pew rents were the only source of income, so for a while he retained his post at St George's, working both churches with a fellow-curate John Sanders, until the death of Dr Farington and the installation of Bryan King, after which he was formally installed. He set to work to raise £350 for fixtures, fittings and a heating system. He bought an organ, insuring his life for £100 as security for the balance - handbill right.

The Era announced on 31 October 1841 a magnificent organ, from the factory of Messrs. Gray and Davison, New-road, was opened last week at Christ Church, St.-George's-in-the-East, by Mr. Thomas Adams, in the presence of upwards of 2000 persons ... In December 1841 it announced (though mis-naming the church as 'St George-in-the-Fields') that Edward Cruse (b.1807) had been appointed organist. He had already published well-reviewed psalm chants and settings, and went on to produce other liturgical music, and to serve at the ritualistic church of St Barnabas Pimlico, whose current organist David Aprahamian Liddle is working on a biography of his predecessors, and has kindly provided us with information about Cruse. His successor two years later was the young prodigy William Rae (1827-1903) - see ch 7 here - appointed at the age of sixteen, an enthusiast for the music of Mendelssohn (whose oratorio St Paul was performed at the church). He was a pupil of William Sterndale Bennett, and, after a period at St Andrew Undershaft, went on to study in Leipzig and Prague. From 1860 he became became a key figure in the musical life of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. 

Quekett borrowed communion plate; but on Christmas Day 1843 a cab drew up at his house, leaving a box containing an anonymous gift of silver vessels. The paten was engraved A QUIBUSDAM EXTERNIS QUI NOMINARI NOLUNT 'from certain outsiders who do not wish to be named'. (Sadly they were stolen in 1890.)

In 1847 he contributed to a survey carried out by the Statistical Society of London (founded in 1834, now the Royal Statistical Society) which detailed housing conditions, rents and wages. Batty's Gardens, between Backchurch Lane and Berners [now Henriques] Street was described thus: Many of the houses in this street have no back premises, neither light nor ventilation from behind, and consequently are close, damp and unhealthy ... at one corner of the narrow part is a dust heap on which is thrown night-soil and refuse of every description, which saturates and penetrates through the walls to the premises behind, creating a most disgusting nuisance to the tenants...  Its 'solution' to the area's problems was ... since the population is, to some extent, the drainage from the grades next above them, we should rather hope to find a cure by cutting off the supply of degradation than by attempting to reform and elevate it in the lowest depths to which it can sink. Quekett, however, had other ideas.

The 1851 census showed the population of the parish to be 12,497, in 1,664 households - an average per 'house' (in some cases, a single room) of 7.51 (in two Whitechapel parishes, the average was over 9 per household). Quekett, however, gave higher figures: a population of 17,124 in 2618 households, across 77 streets and courts, with 50 brothels, 21 pubs and 22 beer shops. The district, he said, covered 63 acres; the average rent of a house was low, at £8.10s. a year. 

Many other projects followed:

In 1851 he was consulted by the incumbent of Holy Trinity, Minories over a mummified head, found in its vaults (preserved in tannin-impregnated sawdust); he said It looked just like a New Zealand chief's head of which I had seen a great many. The countenance expressed great agony; the eyes, the teeth, the beard were perfect; and at the back of the head a very deep cut was visible above the one that separated the head from the body. He referred it to Lord Dartmouth, whose family was responsible for the church, and who claimed it was that of a family member who had survived the first blow of the executioner's axe - but the legend that it was the head of the Duke of Suffolk came later. (Holy Trinity closed in 1899 and was joined to St Botolph Aldgate, where the head was buried some time after the Second World War.)

When Quekett left in 1854, the parish was served by a curate, two scripture readers and fourteen district visitors. The Sunday School had 25 teachers. He was rewarded, on the nomination of Lord Aberdeen, with the rich living of Warrington, whose previous rector, the Hon. Horatio Powys, has been made Bishop of Sodor and Man. By strange coincidence, Robert Farington's father had been Rector here 80 years previously, and the one book Quekett was given from Farington's library was a copy of his father's Warrington sermons. There, at St Elphin's, he built what was then the tallest spire in the north-west at 281 feet. He died in office, on Good Friday, 34 years later. 

You can read some extracts from his gossipy autobiography My Sayings and Doings and a Reminiscence of My Life (Kegan Paul, Trench 1888) here (with links to further passages on particular topics). One final oddity about Quekett, which his book does not mention, is that in 1833 he had been appointed as the last rector of Goose Bradon, a sinecure parish in Hambridge (it was an abandoned medieval village with neither populuation nor a church) in his former diocese of Bath and Wells. Was this purely honorific, or did it produce a stipend? How did he square this with his opposition to lazy absentee clergy?

Right is the Vestry map of 1878 showing the location of church and vicarage, and part of its parish.
A summary of Quekett links:


THE CHURCH BUILDING


John Shaw junior (1803-70) - left - was the son of John Shaw (1776-1832) who had been articled to George Gwilt the Elder, and was the architect of St Dunstan Fleet Street - see here for details of links between the Gwilt and Shaw families, and that of Dr Mayo, Rector of St George-in-the-East in the latter part of the 18th century. Shaw junior had worked on Christ's Hospital. Christ Church was in the 'Lombardic' Romanesque (or 'Round') style, in grey bricks with stone dressings, with slated pyramid spires on the two west end towers. Inside, he addressed one of chief chief architectural problems of the age – providing maximum seating without ugly wooden galleries – by creating in the nave an arcade of two tiers of round-headed arches, the upper one like a triforium containing the galleries, with a clearstorey above (a solution that can be found elsewhere).

In a letter to Bishop Blomfield about a new church in Bethnal Green, John Shaw argued that the Romanesque (rather than the Gothic) option contains in an eniment degree the qualities now so important. These appear to be, first, economy; secondly, facility of execution; thirdly, strict simplicity combined with high capability of ornament; fourthly, durability; fifthly, beauty (quoted in Kathleen Curran The Romanesque Revival: Religion, Politics and Transnational Exchange, Penn State Press 2003, p206). The undisguised brick and iron columns of Christ Church were an example of this. However, another view was that this was a building of startling ugliness, with cast-iron pillars and Norman arches of grimy brick.


Originally, the altar, surrounded by rails, stood against the east wall (behind which was the only vestry). But in 1870 the architect James Brookes (1825-1901) opened a round-headed arch in the east wall to add a large apsidal chancel. He formed a choir in the first bay of the nave, and designed a decorative scheme which was completed by 1885 [1870 plan, ICBS 07172, left].

New vestries were added in 1894-96 [ICBS plan 09835, architect E.M.S. Pilkington], the former vestry becoming a side chapel - this altar [right] is now in the side chapel at St George-in-the-East.

The organ was rebuilt around 1900, with 2 manuals and 21 speaking stops, with an experimental electrical piston action, by the Belgian builder Alphonse Noterman, of Shepherd's Bush. In Fr Groser's time, it was replaced by a much smaller (9 stop) instrument by Cedric Arnold of Thaxted.

NINETEENTH CENTURY MINISTRY

See here for details of the many curates who served in the parish, and here for statistics from the registers.

As the district had been carved out of St George-in-the-East, Brasenose College Oxford acquired the patronage, and they appointed a former Scholar as Quekett's successor. George Henry McGill (1854-67) was from an old Irish family but was born in Manchester, son of a pawnbroker, and attended Manchester Grammar School. Ordained in 1841, he had served curacies in Stockport, Edale, Stepney and Hilgay in Norfolk, and been Vicar of Stoke Ferry, Norfolk (a Lord Chancellor's living), where he rebuilt the church and was an active member of the Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society, with papers on 'The Easter Sepulchre at Northwold' and 'Oxborough Hall' appearing in vol 4 of their Transactions (1855).

He came to the parish in a harsh winter, with fear of bread strikes among dockers. Two themes preoccupied him: education (as with his predecessor), and poor-law reform. New classrooms for the railway arch schools were built, and Sunday services were held here (in his 1861 census he states that the day schools accommodated 350 boys, 200 girls and 400 infants, and the chapel held 200; there were 200 boys and 275 girls in the Sunday School). In 1855 the Middlesex Society Charity School in Cannon Street Road was still short of subscribers and qualifying children, so was refounded as a National (church) School for children in the Christ Church district by a scheme of 1862, the minister chairing the Committee of Management. New buildings were opened by the Bishop of London. This meant that 1,700 children were being educated in schools currently or formerly connected to Christ Church. For much of his time here he was also Chaplain to St George-in-the-East workhouse (a post that was later held independently) - see here for more about his campaigning for new attitudes to workhouses and their financing.

He was also Honorary Chaplain to the 10th (Tower Hamlets) Volunteer Corps of Engineers which had a base at the schoolrooms: C.H. Gregory was the Captain Commandant and J.A. Coffrey and W.J. Fraser the Lieutenants. In 1865 he was appointed to a committee of the Royal Horticultural Society to promote 'widow-gardening by the working classes' (see here for more details, and also here for a later parish scheme).  He was also a Fellow of Sion College - an office which Rectors of St George-in-the-East (but not its 'daughter churches') have held, and continue to hold, ex officio. 

In 1856 he baptized King William Pepple of the Niger Delta, who was confirmed three years later by Bishop Tait (see G.O.M. Tasie Christian Missionary Enterprise in the Niger Delta 1864-1918, Brill 1978). At the lunch following the service, Pepple refused wine, saying Water is best - which delighted Thomas Richarsdon, the teetotal Vicar of St Matthew Pell Street, who was also present.

During his time in the parish he had two curates (with grants of £80 for the senior and £40 for the junior from the Curates' Aid Society, both of which he made up to £100 from his own income), a team of district visitors, a Scripture Reader (paid by the Scripture Readers' Society - was this a national or a diocesan body?), a nurse for the sick-poor, financed by Mrs Jane Stuart-Wortley and a 'parochial mission woman' paid by Lady Wood (wife of Sir William Page Wood, MP for Oxford, briefly Solicitor-General, and then a vice-chancellor of Oxford University) and the Parochial Mission Society (see this 1863 report, right, from the [high-church] English Church Union Kalendar). So in comparison with other East End parishes, Christ Church was well-staffed, but funding for church and schools was always precarious, and depended on charitable-well wishers (including Miss Chapman) rather than official sources of income. In his 13 years in the parish McGill raised £26,000 from private sources; but there was no fixed endowment, only pew rents of about £250 (falling) and sporadic collections of about £15 a year.

In addition to his poor-law activites mentioned above, here are four documents from his time, showing him to be an astute and well-organised pastor:

The Finsbury claim succeeded: in 1864 £108 a year was granted, to ensure a stipend of £300, with patronage passing as a consequence from Brasenose to the Bishop of London, and in 1866 the income was used to create a Metropolitan Curates Fund. In 1868 McGill was presented by the Marquis of Westminster to a wealthier living, Bangor Isycoed (Bangor-Monarchorum), where he became first rural dean of the revived deanery of Bangor until his death in 1896. Here he restored the chancel, rebuilt the rectory (the porch bore the inscription utinam veris hanc amicis impleam: a quote from Phaedrus, where Socrates replied to the question 'Why is it that a man such as you builds such a tiny little house?' with the words 'if only I could fill it with true friends') and built a schoolhouse and mission room at Eyton which has been the means of rescuing from dissent many of his flock, and of closing the meeting house. His son Champion (his wife's family name) became Vicar of Isleworth.

An 1863 Guide to the Church Services in London and its suburbs lists the pattern of worship (though it is probably incomplete) as:
Sundays 11am, 3.30pm and 6.30pm; Wednesdays, Fridays and holy days 11am; Wednesdays in Lent 7pm; Holy Communion last Sunday of the month and greater festivals, and quarterly at 6.30pm*; School-Church 11am and 6.30pm; Ragged School  Sunday 7pm, Thursday 8pm
* Evening communion was to become an issue in the coming years - disapproved of by high churchmen!

James Maconechy (Vicar 1868-71) was a Balliol man, who came from curacies in Sonning (Reading), Kensington and St George Hanover Square (where Quekett thought he had been going!) His first challenge was a noisy congregation, with young people courting invisibly in the high-backed gallery pews, and sidesmen struggling to keep order. He dealt with this - but at the cost of losing the young people. He made the customary but controversial 'innovations' of the time - a choral service with a surpliced choir, the Litany as a separate service and the new-fangled Harvest Festival (which became very popular). He also abolished some pew rents in favour of a weekly offertory; this was less successful, as it was about this time that the better-off began to move away from the area. In his time the chancel was created, as explained above. He complained when he came that the most prominent object in the church was the pulpit, secondly the reading desk and thirdly the clerk's desk. 

The church responded to the shipbuilders' strike, when many skilled men had moved elsewhere, leaving unskilled labourers in their wake, by laying on twice-weekly sewing classes for the wives, with 200-300 attending at church and the Middlesex Schools and receiving 6d. an hour for their needlework, funds provided by the Mission and Relief Society. Meetings ended with a short service and address. Halfpenny dinners were also provided by the Destitute Children's Dinner Society. Help with 'migration' - to the north of England as well as Canada - was given: see other references on this site to this 'solution'.

Maconechy succeeded McGill as Honorary Chaplain to the local Engineers, and played a leading part in a London-wide mission in 1869 (compare the aversion of Harry Jones, Rector at St George's a few years later, to organised missions). In his time several initiatives were pioneered at Christ Church. A total of 26 mission rooms were hired around the parish, with house-to-house visitors inviting people who would never come to church to attend evening 'cottage' services, led by a large clergy and lay team. The first of these was at the Ragged School at the southern end of Devonshire [later Winterton] Street, the 'worst and most populous street of the parish', where Maconechy's predecessor had begun to hold services, led by a home missionary (see the comments in his 1861 census). The 1868 map - right - shows the location of 'Christ Church Ragged School' and 'Smith's Place Ragged School' [see below]; the blue line is the underground railway. (See here for the website of a Jewish family who moved into Winterton Street in 1901.).
There were schoolroom services at the railway arches school, teas for the 'unchurched' (popular, but too costly to repeat) and open-air services of hymns and preaching, especially in Holy Week. Here is an account from the high-church Church Herald of 27 April 1870:

Christ Church, St. George's-in-the-East. –   Great praise is due to the Rev. J. Maconechy, Vicar of Christ Church, St. George's-in-the-East, for the efforts he has made daring his Incumbency to bring his congregation, and the poor of his parish who never enter a Church, to value Church privileges. Throughout Lent Mr. Maconechy had daily Morning and Evening Prayer at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.; hymns, Litany and short Sermons on Wednesday and Friday evenings at 8; and Celebration every Sunday at 9 a.m. The hours chosen for Matins and Evensong we think were rather unfortunate, but especially Evensong at 6, an hour when very few East-end people could attend, consequently the attendance was small; but the fact that the Offices were recited by the Clergy, even if no parishioners attended, was a great point gained. The congregations at the Litany Services on Wednesdays and Fridays were very encouraging. From the Pall Mall Gazette we learn how Good Friday was observed by Mr. Maconechy:–
While the ordinary congregation were attending Morning Service in Church, the Vicar the Rev. J. Maconechy, and the Rev. J.F.N. Eyre, senior Curate, conducted a series of seven Services in various streets of the parish.  Accompanied by the choir boys and several lay helpers, they started from a small Mission room in Devonshire-street, one of the worst streets in the metropolis. The Clergy wore their cassocks and black gowns, and were preceded by the choir, singing the hymn, 'Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, Come!'  They took up their position at the foot of the street, where, after prayer, the first short Sermon, or address, was given. It was thought desirable, it is stated, not to take the 'Stations of the Cross', but to confine the addresses to the facts connected with the Crucifixion recorded in the Gospel, and more especially to our Lord's words from the Cross, one of which formed the subject of address in each of the seven streets to which the preachers moved in succession. Mr Maconechy spoke on the first and fourth utterances, 'Father, forgive them', and 'Eli' Eli' lama sabachthani?' Mr. Eyre on the third and seventh, ' Woman, behold thy Son', and 'Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit'; while the remaining addresses were given by two laymen - Captain Dawson, R.N., and Mr. R. Thomas, of the East London Collegiate School. Each address was preceded by a suitable hymn, and followed by an extempore prayer, offered up by one of the Clergy or by a Scripture-reader or City missionary. In moving from street to street the well known hymn, ' When 1 survey the wondrous Cross', was sung on every occasion, and was heartily joined in by the people, among whom copies of the Christian Knowledge Society's Hymnal were distributed. The other hymns were such well-known ones as 'Rock of Ages', and 'There is a fountain filled with blood'. The last address was delivered opposite the Church, and those present were invited into Church, where the Service was ended with the Litany. It is said that nothing could exceed the quietness and decorum with which the Services were received in the various streets. Everywhere the addresses were listened to with marked attention, not only by the bystanders, but by many at the windows of the houses. Mr Lowder had a Service of a more profound character.

Evangelical Christendom of 2 May 1870 includes the same account, also approvingly but prefaced with these words which assume, wrongly, that Maconechy was an evangelical:

OUTDOOR PREACHING ON GOOD FRIDAY On Good Friday last year there was a Ritualistic procession in the East of London with outdoor services. This year simultaneously with similar semi-Romish proceedings, an Evangelical clergyman made an experiment of a somewhat novel character in the district parish of Christ Church, St. George's-in-the-East, in order to bring before the mass of the people the great facts of Good Friday....

All of this was moderately successful, but very hard to sustain. The Rev H.W. More Molyneux, a Surrey curate, came up for two days each week to lead this work; the Rev G.P. Ottey also responded to an appeal for help (see here for details of his brief time as curate).

Then, from 1871-93, Maconechy was the Vicar of All Saints, Norfolk Square in Paddington. His first wife wife Laura Sophia, a General's daughter, died in 1872, and two years later he married Henrietta Clara Marion Baillie, great-niece of the Scottish writer Joanna Baillie; they had a daughter, but Henrietta died in 1878. He served on the local committee of the Charity Organisation Society; according to its Reporter, and in line with its principles, he wrote to The Times in 1882 suggesting that out-patients at charity hospitals in the metropolis should pay a nominal shilling, and in-patients half a crown, which would raise four-fiths of their reported annual deficit of £75,000. (After his departure, All Saints burned down in 1894; it was rebuilt, but closed in 1919 and was subsequently demolished.) From 1893-96 he was Rector of Wiggonholt with Greatham in Sussex in 1893; he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1901.


William Pimblett Insley (Vicar 1871-80) was born in Warrington; he also came here, after Wadham College Oxford, and curacies in Yorkshire, via the West End - from Christ Church Chelsea. As he arrived, the parish boundaries were adjusted slightly. He continued work on the church, re-pewing it, adding a new pulpit and restoring the organ. He started a temperance society, a cricket club and a drum and fife band. A room in Buross Street was hired, next to a pub; here Miss Rose began a night school for girls in 1877 and a women's bible class in 1879. 

As explained here, in 1877 the Middlesex Schools were taken over by Raine's Foundation (as a result of the 1870 Education Act). This meant that Christ Church lost much of its educational clout, and the attendance of scholars at church in their charity uniforms; but Mr Insley ensured that the scheme provided £600 towards the building of a hall next to the church in the vicarage gardens, known as Dean [now Deancross] Street Mission Room - pictured. It was opened by Bishop Walsham How, Bishop of Bedford (the first 'bishop for East London') in 1881. The Sunday School of 500 scholars transferred from the railway arches, as did some of the Buross Street work; a senior boys club was started. Mr Insley left before the work was completed, becoming Rector of Bow (where in 1885 he wrote Memorials of the Parish Church of Bow) until his retirement in 1892; he died in 1911 aged 71.

The 'Churches' section of Charles Dickens Jr's Dictionary of London (1879) lists the Sunday services as 11am Matins, Litany & Ante-Communion, 6.30pm Evensong (with Holy Communion on the 2nd Sunday at 8pm), with Matins on Wednesdays and Fridays at 11am. 'Anglican music' was used, and the hymnbook was Ancient & Modern.


Alfred Leedes Hunt (Vicar 1880-83), born in Ipwich, was a former scholar of St John's College Cambridge, and had worked in Islington and Spitalfields. He married around the time he came to Christ Church, and had three children. He arranged for the church to take over the small school at the southern end of Devonshire Street run by the Ragged School Union (now the Shaftesbury Society), where the parish had held Sunday evening services for some years. This was supported by a fund created by Charles and Maria Sterry (parents of the next Vicar's wife - he was chief clerk at the Mint). The need for such schools had declined with the coming of public funding for education under the 1870 Act. The school was closed, and the fund supported work at a mission room in Smith's Place [later renamed Agra Place - pictured] which Harry Jones at St George's had started. Buross Street activities also moved here, as that room was required by the landlord. Another mission centre was set up in an old cottage in Joseph Street (off Cannon Street Road). The East London Church Fund made a grant of £150 for a curate, and a few years later a further £50 (matched by the Duke of Westminster) for a second one. (See 1868 map referred to above for the location of these sites.)

Mr Hunt was also a committee member of the Charity Organisation Society, and a local Board Schools manager. His handwriting (in the registers) was neat but tiny!  He had another attempt at abolishing pew rents, keeping collections on the first Sunday for himself in lieu! But he became seriously ill and was told to leave London. For four years he was Rector of New Maldon, and then from 1897 of East Mersea, where he succeeded Sabine Baring Gould (who while there had used the local landscape in Mehalah: A Story of the Salt Marshes). It was said that the 'islanders' preferred Hunt to Gould because he was more low church and accessible. Here he wrote a commentary Ruth the Moabitess (1901) for Sunday School teachers, and was a diocesan inspector of schools. Reflecting the church's renewed enphasis on confirmation, he produced various manuals over the years: What mean ye by this service? - a question to those who are coming forward to confirmation (1885); Helps and Hindrances: words of counsel and encouragement to those newly confirmed (1885); The King's Table of Blessing: Thoughs for Communicants (1895); and Unto life's end; or, before and after confirmation (1909). From 1903-19 he was Rector of Great Snoring in Norfolk, and Rural Dean of Walsingham for his last six years there. His final incumbency was of Moreton in Essex, from where he retired to Cambridge in 1923, having permission to officiate in Chelmsford and Ely dioceses; in retirement he published Evangelical By-paths: Studies in the religious and social aspects of the evangelical revival of the 19th century, and David Simpson and the Evangelical Revival (both 1927). He died in 1936, aged 83.


Willie Parkinson Jay (Vicar 1883-89) after St Catherine's College Cambridge, he had served his title at St George's, running the work at Smith's Place, and came after a second curacy in Hackney. He too was an advocate of the methods of the Charity Organisation Society, administering help 'in strict combination' with the organisation and serving on its local committee. He was also a member of the London School Board from 1885 until he left the parish. His flamboyant brother Arthur Osborne Montgomery Jay was Vicar of Holy Trinity, Shoreditch from 1886, serving the slums of the notorious Old Nichol and creating a boxing club in the church basement;  see here for an account (with corrections) of his ministry there. Mr Jay and his wife offered a less controversial, but equally innovative, style of ministry at Christ Church. As well as supervising the provision of halfpenny dinners (41,000 pints of soup one winter) and running the Mothers' Meeting (which had run for more than 20 years - there were 100 members in 1861), Mrs Jay is credited with creating the first ever Fathers' Meeting. Bishop Walsham How was an honorary member, and after a visit in February 1888 a member sent him a pair of red leather slippers with this letter:

Dear fellow Farther,
We are members of one farthers meeting held at Christ Church, Watney Street, and we long to see you with us again. I do not forget your address when you last came. We were all very much disopointed on Boxing Night. We did expect you, do come as soon as you can. Will you axcept of this little present from me as a fellow farther, belonging to the sam meeting as yourself, and I am glad to be able to say belonging to the sam Saviour and looking forward to the sam rest at last.
Yours truly, J.G.

Mrs Jay's grand-daughter (whose help and encouragement we gratefully acknowledge) has a blanket chest presented to Mrs Jay by the members of the Christ Church Dorcas Society July 1889 - still used for its original purpose [pictured right].

The Bishop of Bedford was also present in 1886 for a royal visit to an exhibition mounted by Christ Church Working Lads' Club. That year, a thousand musicians, mostly in uniform, marched to the church for the annual demonstration of the bands of East London, where after a short service the Bishop of London addressed them (Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine 1886 p31).

It was in 1888 that the decorative scheme of the church was completed, 'cheaply [£1400] and in good taste' said Dimsdale [below]  whose book describes everything in great detail. He also completed the task of abolishing pew rents, making all seats 'free and unappropriated' - despite the fact that the living was still poorly endowed.

The loss of the railway arches schools was a major blow - see here for details. For a few years the arches continued in parish use, and to house the curates, until they were sold back to the railway in 1890.

There were more parish initiatives. The House for Lady Workers at 27 Dean Street, a centre for mission 'amongst the rougher girls of the parish' who worked in factories, meant that for a few years there were three such bases: this one in the east, Smith's Place in the centre, and Joseph Street to the west. But funds ran out; Joseph Street was given up in 1886, and Dean Street in 1888. However, clubs for men and lads 'under the arches' flourished - including what was reputedly the largest drum and fife band in the country; girls clubs were started; the provision of cheap and free dinners continued; and there was the great London Mission of 1884.

From 1889-94 Mr Jay was Rector of Toppesfield in Essex (taking with him 'Watney', a sample of a coster's donkey), then for 41 years of St Anne Eastbourne.


Marmaduke Hare (Vicar 1889-92) led a colourful life. Born in Knottingley, Yorkshire, he trained as a doctor at King's College London (at the behest of his father - who was a friend of the poet Matthew Arnold) and practised for a while before ordination training at Dorchester Missionary College. As a deacon, he served at Dorchester Abbey, then joined the army and served in the first Boer War. Priested in South Africa, he worked there for four years, and married the Premier's daughter; she died in 1897. In his short time at Christ Church he set in motion the building of Planet Street Institute [right], using most of the £3220 paid in the form of stocks by the London and Blackwall Railway for the arches site - the rest was held as a maintenance fund (and still features in our parish accounts). See here for a meeting of the Women's Trade Union Association in the Dean Street premises, held with his goodwill.

Planet Street, known from 1865-91 as Star Street, was possibly the grimmest in the area, and was described in detail by John Hollingshead in Ragged London (1861): its road is black and muddy, half filled with pools of inky water;  he describes a room inhabited by a chimney sweep with two women, and infant and two children playing on the black floor ... eating what is literally bread and soot. Two other rooms had nine dwellers, and two more eleven each. The average rent of the 63 two-up, two-down houses in the street was 1s. 9d. and they housed 252 families; the average room size was 9' 5" square, the height 8' 5". In Hare's time the adjoining Star Place (six houses) acquired notoriety for their connection with Jack the Ripper incidents. Right is the Commercial Road end of Planet Street in 1971.

The Ecclesiastical Commissioner's endowment of the living was increased by £2000, to produce £160 rather than £108 towards the stipend. When Hare left Christ Church he was Rector of Bow for ten years (where George Lansbury became a friend); in 1898 he wrote to the Daily News defending Bryant & May's record of concern for their workers, in the 'phossy jaw' controversy. He then moved to the USA, eventually becoming Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Davenport, Iowa in 1907 [above a few years later with some members of the cathedral choir]. He was a freemason, and active in many societies and organisations, and remained as Dean Emeritus into the 1930s. 


dimsdaleHenry Cockfield Dimsdale (1892-1909) was born in Palace Green Gardens, Kensington in 1856 and was a pupil at Eton, leaving after four happy years because of serious illness. After Trinity College Cambridge and a spell of foreign travel, he spent a year at Leeds Clergy School but left, to study law for a time. As a layman, he became one of a famous pioneering trio of Etonians at the college's temporary iron mission church in Hackney Wick, where Bodley's great church St Mary of Eton now stands. (The other two, both ordained, were Willy Carter [right], who began the mission and later became Bishop of Zululand, then of Pretoria, then Archbishop of Capetown; and Algy Lawley (also ex-Leeds Clergy School), who later served in various East and West End parishes, and became the 5th Baron Wenlock.) After ordination and a further period of rest Dimsdale was appointed to Christ Church.

When Planet Street Institute opened in 1892, Smith's Place was closed and the Sterry Fund transferred. Most parish activities moved here, and new ones were started, including a Saturday School initiated by Miss Helen Cunliffe (who was previously linked with the Sisters of the Church, founded at Kilburn in 1870, and now based at Ham Common; in 1895 she became headmistress of Holy Cross School, Bournemouth so had presumably become a Roman Catholic). This attracted about 200 children, pictured here in 1900, with a mixture of activities, play in the vicarage gardens, and an annual examination.

The 1886 Census of London church attendance, conducted on 24 October, had recorded large congregations - 234 in the morning, and 254 in the evening. A decade later, now with three curates (one of them, A.M. Cazalet, secretary of the East London Mission to the Jews), and a lay team of locals and volunteers from further afield, plus two Clewer sisters, an astonishingly busy weekly programme was run - displayed, with a picture of the clergy team, here - including twelve bible classes for various groups which fed into the two main ones run by the vicar and senior curate. The club for 'rougher girls' continued, as did one long-standing 'cottage' meeting. There was a communicants guild with four wards (St Alban, St Anne, St George and the St Mary the Blessed Virgin); various men's activities, including a Chapter of the Brotherhood of St Andrew, replaced the Fathers' Meeting. 'Mr Elliott's Club' (the junior curate) met every night of the week except Sundays; he clearly won the confidence of those who, as Dimsdale put it, were verging on criminality...possibly the world would call them hooligans. And the number of daily services increased, with a daily eucharist. New vestries were built, and the old one became a side chapel.

For the third time patronage was transferred, this time to the Dean and and Canons of Canterbury (together with two other East End parishes), and the endowment increased by £300 through the voidance of All Hallows, Lombard Street to produce a stipend of £468, ending its claim of being the poorest parish in East London.

Watney Street remained a 'colourful' thoroughfare. In Round London: Down East and Up West Montagu Williams QC commented, in 1894,

While acting as one of the magistrates of the Worship Street district it was a part of my duty to sit on certain days at the Thames Police Court. I found that the most convenient way to reach it from the West End was to go by the underground railway from Baker Street to Shadwell and proceed thence on foot. The distance from the railway station to the Court is an inconsiderable one but the best route is through Watney Street, which is the most disgraceful thoroughfare I was ever doomed to traverse. On either side of the way are poor, squalid shops. Throughout the day the road and the pavement are crowded with barrows laden with fish, vegetables, and other articles of food, cheap second-hand furniture, old iron, rabbit skins, and many articles besides. So great is the throng of dirty and ragged human beings that it is very difficult to make one’s way through the street. There is a good deal of unceremonious shoving in the crowd, but to remonstrate thereat would be to run a very good chance of being sent rolling in the gutter. A few policemen pick their way through the street, but I think they would be slow to incur the displeasure of such an evil-looking crowd. The stench in Watney Street is sickening. It arises for the most part from the greasy mash formed underfoot by the miscellaneous refuse from the barrows. Needless to say, this pandemonium contains a number of thriving public-houses. The women who infest the place are of a lower order than those to be met with in the Ratcliff Highway of to-day. When you gaze on their brutal and vicious faces, soddened with drink, you have a difficulty in believing that such beings are fellow human creatures. 

There is an 1897 interview with Dimsdale in the Booth archive. In that year, when his mother Catharine died, he and his sister gave a set of gilt communion vessels (patens, cruets and chalice) which we still use in festal seasons at St George-in-the-East. In 1901 he wrote Sixty Years' History of an East End Parish, Christ Church, St. George's-in-the-East (Henry Bailey 1901), from which much of the detailed information above is taken. The British Archaeological Association patronisingly and stupidly hailed this book as a fine example of what can be achieved even with a most unpromising subject, because modern and poor. See here for a brief account of a service at Christ Church attended by a 'reporter' for the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline in 1904, and Dimsdale's equally brief response.

He married in 1909, at the age of 52, and had two children. An intriguing remark from his latter years was the white motor ambulance is almost as much as part of our city life as is the red motor omnibus. He died in 1918, and was buried at Highgate Cemetery.

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

See here for details of the curates from this period - including several who 'filled in' for short periods.

Arthur Stevens was Vicar from 1909-16. Ordained in in 1882 in Durham where he had studied at the university (as a non-collegiate member - a system instituted in 1871), he worked his way south with four further curacies along the way, becoming Rector of St Mildred Canterbury in 1896 (receiving a testimonial from his former parishioners in the city). After two further incumbencies, in Burgess Hill and Kilburn, he came to the parish at the age of 60. In retirement he held permission to officiate in no less than six dioceses at various times, eventually settling in St Leonards-on-Sea, where he died in old age.

William Holmes Shuter succeeded him (1916-28); from county Tyrone (he played rugby football at Dungannon Royal School), he trained at Trinity College Dublin, was ordained in Chester diocese in 1888 and was curate of Tarvin, then of Knutsford, then of two parishes in Southwark diocese (St Luke Bromley Common and St Michael Croydon) before coming to the parish, with a net stipend of £358. (His father James Coote Shuter had  died in 1914 at Barnhill, Stewartstown in country Tyrone, leaving an estate of around £5,000.) He retired to Herne Hill, living to a good age.

Right is the interior in 1927; see here for the story of the shops and stalls of Watney Market next door.

In 1929, when the church was in the doldrums and its future uncertain, St John Beverley Groser was appointed as Vicar, on the basis that he could do little harm! In the event, he re-energised the parish, and the remarkable story of his ministry, at Christ Church and then at St George-in-the-East, is told here. One of the thurifers in those days was J.C. (Jimmy) Mooney, now living in Colchester. He has fond memories of Frs Groser and Boggis, who had the sad task of burying nine family members killed in Blakesley Street during the Blitz (several other relatives died in the Far East). For details of Fr Groser's curates, see here. (Blakesley Street was originally Upper and Lower John Street; right are 34-58, and 21-23 on the corner of Deancross Street, in 1958.)

Dan Regan, who later was to become Director of Finance, and then Chief Executive, of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, also lived in Blakesley Street - his family were members of St Mary & St Michael's Roman Catholic Church on Commercial Road. In 2011 he wrote

As a small boy, I and others used to creep into the church and ring the bell until we were chased away by Fr Groser's wife. When I was 8, my family and I were buried in the first raid on London on 7 September 1940. We were dug out by neighbours and taken to the London Hospital. After a night and a day we went to stay with my uncle's mother-in-law in Tait Street. During  the continuing raids we went into the shelter under the railway arch in Watney Street organised by Fr Groser (thinking about it now, what a target for the bombers, under a railway!) I later went to live with an aunt in Leytonstone, where we were blitzed again, and I was evacuated to Norfolk and then Buckinghamshire. All my childhood was spent in Church of England schools where I was treated in a wonderfully Christian manner - so I was ecumenical long before it became popular! We returned to Stepney in 1948 and lived in Stepney Way, then in Shadwell Gardens overlooking the Cable Street fire station - coming full circle - before moving to Bromley 40 years ago. When Stepney Rotary Club used to meet at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine's I often talked to members of the Community of the Resurrection about Fr Groser [see here for more details].

Church and vicarage were wrecked by a land-mine on 16 April 1941 [outside and inside left in 1943]. 'Next Day, Watney Street', a watercolour by Rose Henriques [right], shows a policeman directing traffic, a wrecked tramcar being moved by a 'mechanical horse', one property marked 'for sale' and another optimistically 'open as usual'. The congregation moved to St George-in-the-East, and the ruins of the church stood for some years before the site was cleared.

shillingshilling2In 1952 the Archdeacon sent the Rector (by recorded delivery) an 1839 shilling found under the foundation stone during demolition, commenting I am only sorry that we were not able to unearth something more substantial in the way of treasure. The coin remains in our archives.

When the parish of 'St George-in-the-East with Christ Church and St John' was created in the 1950s, the area of the  parish east of Watney Street, including the site of Christ Church and the parish room in Dean [now Deancross] Street, was transferred to St Mary's parish, but their residual funds remain in our parish accounts.


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