In 1881, St Michael’s consisted solely of a nave; by 1914, the building was essentially complete and the pattern of church activity set in the manner that would see it through much of the next half century.
Barred from retaining the old ‘Iron Church’ and clearing the debt on the nave’s construction in 1886, the parish embarked on an expansion programme, with phase after phase opened by a succession of dignitaries, as recorded in the parish magazines. The church hall opened in 1887, followed by Mission buildings in 1888. £3000 had been raised by 1892 and the decision was taken to go ahead with the chancel’s construction. Perhaps as a result of the overspend and debt of the nave, Dove Brothers were not invited back and instead the chancel’s foundations were laid in autumn 1892 by Rudd and Son of Grantham. The parish switched builders again, to Stephens and Bastow of Bristol, signing a contract not only to build the chancel, a screen on its south side and a high-altar reredos at its east end but also to add a side-chapel beside it, ceiling decoration and wood panelling in the nave and chancel and a full heating system. The total cost of all this in the contract was set at £6,300. It was argued by some that the church should build permanent vestry rooms at this point instead of spending money on a side-chapel, but Penfold argued for going ahead with the chapel since it could be used for weekday services.
The 1120 lb foundation stone of the new chancel was laid on 24 June 1893 by the high-church luminary Viscount Halifax, father of the future Viceroy of India and rival to Winston Churchill. He was presented with an inscribed silver trowel for the ceremony and beside the stone was placed a bottle containing the silver coins of the year, the Order of Service, and a parchment roll with the following inscription:
This Foundation Stone of the Chancel of St Michael’s Church, Camden Town, was laid by the Right Hon. Viscount Halifax, on St John Baptist’s Day, 24th June 1893. Edward B. Penfold Vicar; F. R. Humphreys, D. Winearls, Churchwardens; R. H. Gisburne, Treasurer.
The ceremony was attended by John Festing (Bishop of St Albans since 1890 and Penfold’s predecessor as Rural Dean of St Pancras), Alfred Earle (Bishop of Marlborough, a suffragan see in the Diocese of London), Robert Gregory (Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral), the two Members of Parliament for St Pancras (Thomas Bolton and Julian Goldsmid) and a very large number of clergy from near and far. One of the parish’s assistant priests, Francis Osborn, acted as Festing’s bishop’s chaplain. A closing address was given by Alfred Earle, Bishop of Marlborough, a new assistant bishop in London, only appointed in 1888.
Frederick Temple, Bishop of London had to license the hall in the Mission Buildings for services during August and September 1894 while scaffolding was put up throughout the nave and chancel to plaster the nave walls, paint the ceiling and remove the old partition between the nave and chancel. An altar had already been prepared for the side-chapel and this was used on a platform in the hall and then moved to the side-chapel on the latter’s completion. Michaelmas that year was transferred to 13th October, the date set for the chancel and side-chapel’s consecration, which was a three-hour service attended by about fifty clergy and a full congregation. Temple was the consecrator, preacher and celebrant – two years later he was translated from the See of London to that of Canterbury.
Another screen was added to the liturgical south side of the chancel in 1898. It was paid for by Frank Blaiklock and his wife Georgina in memory of their only son Cecil Stanway Blaiklock – Frank was a clerk at the Bank of England and Cecil had died aged only 8 in 1883. In 1902, a year before leaving for Charing in Kent, Edward Penfold made a statement to the Church Building Fund Committee expressing his gratitude to God for being permitted to complete the work of building the chancel of St. Michael’s Church and his earnest hope that when the members of this committee had passed away the church would remain and prove a means of blessing to succeeding generations. 1
Disaster struck just after the service on Sunday 24th November 1901 when “By an unfortunate accident … [the font] was overthrown [and] … broken literally into fragments … quite beyond the hope of restoration”2. In the previous twenty-five years it was used for every single baptism at 5a Camden Road, the Iron Church and the permanent nave, estimated at around 3,800 by the January 1902 parish magazine, which added that it “had for some time shown signs of breaking” and that Penfold had already been corresponding with Bodley regarding a replacement. The following month’s magazine stated “When the old Font was broken several said they would like a fragment of it. If this is the case they should apply soon.”
A description of the font’s replacement already appeared in the January 1902 parish magazine, stating that Bodley had:
designed a new Font standing on steps, very simple but handsome. It is to be of Polyphant marble [from Cornwall], green in colour. The estimate is £100, but a little alteration in the steps, and the provision of a cover will probably bring the cost to about £130. Towards this we have £100 in hand, and we have received two subscriptions towards the balance needed. Perhaps we shall be able to announce some more next month.
Subscribers had included Miss Penfold (probably one of Edward’s sisters) for £2 and Miss Braine for £1 1 shilling. The total was raised, though still was more hoped for so that Bodley could also design a cover for it. At the end of evensong on Easter Eve (29th March), the clergy and choir processed to the font singing Psalm 43. The service of dedication began with the Lord’s Prayer, followed by the prayer to be said after re-sanctifying the water in a font (“O most merciful God our Saviour Jesu Christ, who hast ordained the element of water for the regeneration of thy faithful people…”), along with other prayers from the First Prayer Book of Edward VI, used (as the April magazine put it) “with the sanction of the Bishop”. At the end of the dedication ceremony the choir processed back to their place, again singing Psalm 43.
The construction phase finally closed in 1908, with the completion of the vestries and their furniture at a cost of over £800 and the installation of the church’s Calvary, carved in Oberammergau as a memorial to a Mission in 1906. £440 of that £800 was met from Fr Penfold’s will, which had expressly mentioned them as part of the reason for his £1000 bequest – the other £660 paid the entire cost of the main east window. Their late Decorated style design was by one of the church’s worshippers, John T Lee, consisting of a sacristy, a choir vestry (now the Gabriel Room) also usable for Bible classes, a porch as an external entrance to the choir vestry, a separate room for the servers, a tiny room for the thurifer and a virger’s room. The choir vestry and sacristy were both panelled up to 7 feet with Oregon pine and had cork floors to deaden the sound of footsteps. The builders were Simpson and Son of Paddington. The rooms were dedicated on 23 October 1908 by Charles Turner, Bishop of Islington. However, various diocesan societies and individual donations had to be used to meet for an extra £120 for final tidying up after the vestries’ completion – namely, a new path round the church, new drainage and railings and the removal of 480 cart-loads of earth leftover from the chancel’s construction.