Second Wave

In the meantime, the non-conformist expansion in the area continued. Ebenezer Chapel was founded in rooms above a carpenter’s shop on Bayham Street in 1834, later moving to a site on the junction of Buck Street and Kentish Town Road (now on the edge of Camden Market behind Sainsbury’s and St. Michael’s). The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connection (a small society of Evangelical-Calvinist churches named after its founder) opened a meeting house on Hawley Road, Kentish Town in 1842, which in 1851 was revived from disuse as a Congregationalist Church. The Kentish Town Congregational Church moved to a new building on Kelly Street in 1848. The Primitive Methodists (which had broken away from the Wesleyans in 1807) began open air preaching in Camden Town in 1850 and the following year converted a former paint shop into a worship space.

Though the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England was restored in 1850, it did not show any sign of establishing churches in Camden Town itself, which effectively fell within the parish of St Patrick’s Soho in central London. It did set up a mission on Junction Road in Kentish Town in 1856, followed by a permanent church on Fortess Road in 1858-1860. The Roman Catholic mission to Kentish Town was reassigned to the Dominicans in 1861 and two years later they began building a priory and church, now St Dominic’s Priory. These two churches in Kentish Town and the Phoenix Road Chapel in Somers Town remained the closest Roman Catholic churches to Camden Town until 1933.

The Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of Help For Christians in Kentish Town (image from Wikimedia Commons; used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

In 1860 the Wesleyans moved to a larger building around the corner on Camden Street. They transferred their old building to the Primitive Methodists, who demolished it and three shops shops along King Street (now Plender Street) to build the 850-capacity Camden New Chapel. This opened in 1890 and still operates as Camden Methodist Church. A small number of Baptists starting meeting in a home in Camden Town in 1865 before converting a barn behind Chalk Farm Road into “Peniel Tabernacle” (1866) and finally opening Berkley Road Baptist Chapel in Primrose Hill, to the west of the Chalk Farm railway yard (1871; rebuilt after war damage 1957; still in use). The foundation stone was laid for an English Presbyterian Chapel and Reading Room in Camden New Town in 1869 – it is now Camden Park Road Studios and Church Studios on the south side of Camden Park Road. In 1874 the Ebenezer Chapel became the Trinity Presbyterian Chapel (now Trinity United Reformed Church), with the induction of William Ewart as its first minister – he had previously been an elder at Regent Square Presbyterian Chapel and in 1869 had set up a 1000-seat worship space for railway navvies under a railway arch on St Pancras Road.

Perhaps in response to the competition from the other denominations, Anglican church-building in the area revived between the late 1840s and the 1860s. Rising opposition to church rates (charging for pews) had led to the foundation of the St Pancras Church Building Fund in 1842 to create further district chapels. In 1846 this was used to build the temporary church which became the district and later parish of St Paul’s Camden Square. July 1846 saw a new vicar at St Pancras, Thomas Dale, who pushed for the Fund to ensure the ancient parish had ten district churches. The Fund held an extraordinary meeting on 18 March 1847 and set up four districts, each of which was to have its own priest – these later evolved into the parishes of Holy Trinity Haverstock Hill (permanent nave completed 1850), St Luke King’s Cross, St Jude’s Grays Inn Road and St Matthew Oakley Square. A fourth district (the future St Mark Albany Street or St Mark Regent’s Park) was decided upon in 1848, though its permanent nave took until 1850 to complete.

A permanent district church was completed on Camden Square in 1849 with its site and part of its building costs given by its developer the Marquess Camden – that philanthrophic move would be mirrored by the Duke of Bedford when he created Bedford New Town and donated land and money for a permanent building for St Matthew Oakley Square (completed 1856). 1849 also saw the ancient parish of St. Pancras formally divided into sixteen districts, each with a temporary or permanent church – for example, St Stephen’s (the former Camden Chapel; now All Saints Greek Orthodox Cathedral) was made the chapel for one of these districts in 18631. However, often the Church of England’s church-building and re-organisation within the ancient parish could not keep pace with the area’s urban development – by the time St Thomas opened in the Agar Town area in 1864, the slum there was already being demolished for the tracks and goods yards running into St Pancras Station. The Fund was wound up in 1865.

One further decisive move for the Church of England in Camden Town was the Saint Pancras Ecclesiastical Regulation Act, passed in 1868. It turned all the district parishes within the ancient parish into vicarages (each of which was a “benefice with cure of souls”). The Act divided the ancient parish into twenty-two, each with all the rights and privileges of a parish, meaning that the vicar. It also separated St Stephen’s and the other Commissioners’ Churches there from the control of the St. Pancras Trustees, who would apply the trust fund from burial fees and the rent of the former site of the chapel of ease in Kentish Town. They would divide the first £200 from it equally between old and new St Pancras and St Stephen’s and then divide anything above that equally between all the churches in the boundaries of the ancient parish to spend on worship or repair2.

Priests of the rising Oxford Movement within the Church of England also responded to urban expansion, with many of them becoming what were known as ‘slum priests’3. These men saw it as their mission to found churches and mission houses among those living in the crowded newly urbanised areas, inspired by the life of the seventeenth century St. Vincent de Paul in France, who was sold into slavery by Barbary pirates and after being freed spent his life working among the poor4. One such priest was Charles Lowder, who in 1855 gathered several other ‘slum priests’ together to form the Society of the Holy Cross. This was known by the initials SSC and grew to become a link between priests sharing Anglo-Catholic convictions. A later ‘slum priest’ was Edward Bainbridge Penfold, chosen in 1876 to be the first vicar of the new church district of St. Michael’s Camden Town, aged only 33.

Mary Sokol and Edward Smith.

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  1. ‘Camden Town’, in Survey of London: Volume 24, the Parish of St Pancras Part 4: King’s Cross Neighbourhood, ed. Walter H Godfrey and W McB. Marcham (London, 1952), pp. 134-139.
  2. Frederick Miller, Saint Pancras, past and present: being historical, traditional and general notes of the parish, including biographical notices of inhabitants associated with its topographical and general history, London, 1874, page 334-336; this also gives the full list of the twenty-two – New St. Pancras, Old St. Pancras (a district chapel since 1863), Kentish Town (former Chapel of Ease, a district chapel since 1863), St. Stephen Camden Town (a district chapel since 1863), St. Peter Regent Square (district chapel since 1851), St. Mary’s Somers Town (district chapel since 1852), Holy Trinity Haverstock Hill (already a district chapel), St. John Fitzroy Square, St. Paul Camden Square, St. Mark Regent’s Park, Christchurch Albany Street, All Saints Gordon Square, St. Luke King’s Cross, St. Mary Magdalene Munster Square, St. Anne Highgate Rise, St. Matthew Oakley Square, St. Bartholomew Gray’s Inn Road, St. Jude Gray’s Inn Road, St. Thomas Agar Town, St. James Hampstead Road, St. Martin Kentish Town, St. Saviour Fitzroy Square, St. Andrew Haverstock Hill, new parish, 7th August 1865.
  3. Geoffrey Rowell, The Vision Glorious: Themes and Personalities of the Catholic Revival in Anglicanism, Oxford, 1983, p. 116.
  4. See Geoffrey Rowell, The Vision Glorious: Themes and Personalities of the Catholic Revival in Anglicanism, Oxford, 1983, pp. 119-120 on St. Vincent.