With any available funds going towards restoring the fabric of the building, many smaller projects to improve the space were undertaken by members of the congregation. In the mid-60s, one of the sidesmen redecorated and restored the reredos of the Chapel Altar with gold leaf in his spare time and at his own cost, before moving on to work on the aumbry canopy and the statue of Our Lady.
The widow of one of the churchwardens restored one of the statues of St. Michael. The crafts teacher from the Church Secondary School spent much of the 60s renovating the chairs, dying soon afterwards (the Parish Magazine is silent as to whether these were related). Members of the DCC painted the Church Hall, and redecorated the Sacristy.
In 1966, the PCC considered the offer of a Bodley Rood, which had recently been removed from Dunstable Priory Church where it had been in use as a reredos. 30 by 25 feet, and depicting a painted crucifix surrounded by angels bearing instruments of the Passion, the reredos was ultimately deemed too large for the church and too difficult and expensive to transport to London. It ultimately found a home in in St. John the Baptist Church, Tuebrook, where it was adapted into a reredos, altar, and credence table in 1978.
However, the Sanctuary area was updated with new communion rails in memory of Walter Clark, who had been a churchwarden at St Michael’s for over 25 years. These extended the existing rails across sanctuary, creating the current continuous communion rail. These were blessed and put into use after Michaelmas 1966. A year later, altar rails and gates would be added to the side chapel in memory of a parishioner, Iris Warren. Unfortunately, these were removed due to their poor condition in the 2000s.
While the church was saddened to miss out on the Bodley rood, which would have been a wonderful link to the original plans for the decoration of the church, St Michael’s continued to cherish its Catholic heritage in the 1960s. The children from the newly built Secondary School attended the Wednesday Mass at St Michael’s, and in 1964 the Headmaster reported that the Vicar has been giving a series of lessons on the Sacraments: “the Sacramental approach to worship is part of our Catholic heritage which has too often been neglected and we need to bring home to our children the cardinal truth that no other service can take the place of Holy Communion as a means of grace, just as it is our duty to give due reverence to the Blessed Sacrament.”1
Also in 1966, after some attempts to neaten the forecourt outside the church, a garden was started in the churchyard with tools and plants donated by the congregation. This garden has continued to flourish in one form or another over the intervening space of nearly 50 years. Today, a large garden area around the church is cultivated by a cafê that provides work for people with learning difficulties, growing vegetables for a local community café, as well as beds near the main door cultivated by volunteers from the community and congregation.
A year after it had found itself in the newly-created borough of Camden, St Michael’s found itself in a newly-named deanery, as in 1966 the Rural Deanery of St Pancras changed its name to match the borough, becoming “The Rural Deanery of South Camden (Holborn and St Pancras)”.
1967 was a notable year for St Michael’s, as the Annual Meeting reported that there had been no major repairs to the building. Indeed, in this pause amidst works, they were able to spend some time and money on improvements, including repairing and restoring the stonework and wood flooring, and even investing in machines to polish the floor. But by the next year, issues had returned – the organ, extensively refurbished after the War and then again in the mid 1950s, required a further £420 of upkeep work (around £7000 in today’s money), and the guttering and drainpipes required an overhaul. By the end of the year, the cost of works had reached £1000 (£16,000). The following year, 450 slates and 90 tiles were replaced on the roof, at a cost of £959 (£15,000), and in 1970 the stonework required repointing at a cost of £815 (£12,000).
However, amidst these difficulties, the beginnings of St Michael’s engagement with mental illness in Camden can be seen. In the late 1960s, prayers appear in the Kalendar. In July 1968, the Parish Magazine reported that one family in five is affected by mental illness, and provided advice for supporting and encouraging those experiencing mental ill-health. The Magazine also commented approvingly on new developments to Camden’s services.2 Today, St Michael’s still works closely with mental health charities in Camden, which has one of the highest incidences of mental health problems in London.
The church also made changes to its liturgy, adapting some elements of the Alternative Services produced in the 1960s. The PCC and congregation rejected the full Alternative Services, but they liked the Gloria at the beginning of the Mass and the prayer of humble access said together before communion. They also used the new form of the Lord’s prayer, slightly altered creed and gloria, and the 1967 confession, absolution, and prayer of thanksgiving.3