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.
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. 2 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. 3 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.’ 4
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 service5. F. W. Osborn (1862-1951), later Penfold’s successor, was curate 1891-956, then Vice-Principal of Ely Theological College before returning in 19037.