Penfold and his assistants

Edward Penfold continued to lead the church until 1903, initially working alone, then working with a voluntary assistant priest and a congregation of around twenty people. Penfold was vicar of St Michael’s for 27 years and it was the main project of his life. In the early years, he seems to have dominated church life. It is he who makes the executive decision to build a temporary church room at the back, seemingly without consultation; when needed, he simply secures a new organist through his friends. 1 He was also made Rural Dean of St Pancras in 1894.

One of Charles Booth’s researchers Ernest Aves interviewed Penfold at St Michael’s Vicarage on 21 November 1896. Aves had previously worked at the university settlement of Toynbee Hall in the East End of London, where graduates lived among the working class population – this gives extra weight to his admiration for Penfold:

Mr. Penfold is a man getting on for 60 or so, and has been at S. Michael’s for 22 years. He has raised the money for all the buildings, including the church, and the total comes to £21,000. The Mission Hall in Greenland St. was put up in 1888. Mr. P. mentioned these facts incidentally and without the least touch of self-glorification. He is on the contrary a man who impresses you as being very single[-minded] and liberal minded. In personal appearance he would easily lend himself to caricature, and when he told me of some of his early experiences with rough lads and of the hold he was able to get over them, my first impulse was to wonder how he managed it. He wears spectacles, is getting bald, is clean-shaven, talks well but chirrups rather and the voice is not impressive, while the mouth, with its thin lips, reminded me of one that Dickens describes as being well adapted for the periodical “posting” of little bits of food. But he is a thorough [sic] good fellow, is a friend of [Arthur] Blomfield Jackson’s2, and was very sympathetic and interested.3

After A.G. Hunter‘s departure in 1882, Penfold was supported by a range of number of assistant priests – initially a single curate (J. Dixon and then H. J. Sharp), but from 1885, a pair of curates was more usual. Most curates served short tenures, two or three years. They lived together in the parish, and moved several times to try to find the right accommodation. They initially lived at 10, Gloucester Crescent, and then in Bayham Street to be closer to the people. 4 These priests seem to have run a punishing schedule, leading services, community activities work with the community. The Parish Magazines do record their attempts to restrict access to them from parishioners outside specific hours. 5 Nor were they immune to the appeal of vestments. They write in 1891 ‘we received a very liberal and acceptable present at Easter – a set of new surplices for the boys.’ 6

Assistant clergy may not have spent long at St Michael’s, but they certainly moved on rapidly and well. J. Dixon (1881-83) became Vicar of Willesden, V. L. Keelan (1904-11) was appointed to the new parish of St Michael’s Golders Green (now the Orthodox Cathedral of Holy Trinity and St Michael) – St Michael’s Camden Town sent a choir to its dedication service7. F. W. Osborn (1862-1951), later Penfold’s successor, was curate 1891-958, then Vice-Principal of Ely Theological College before returning in 19039.

William Garrood

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  1. Parish Magazine, I.12 (Dec 1884)
  2. A church and theatre architect (1868-1951), son-in-law and partner of Charles John Phipps
  3. Notebook: Clergy District 18 (BOOTH/B/215), page 117
  4. Parish Magazine, VI.8 (Aug 1892)
  5. Parish Magazine, VI.4 (Apr 1892)
  6. Parish Magazine, V.5 (May 1891)
  7. Parish Magazine, XXV.8 (Aug 1910)
  8. Parish Magazine, X.4 (Apr. 1895)
  9. Parish Magazine, XVIII.10 (Oct. 1903)