Social and Architectural Challenges post-War

Post-War change and growth at St Michael’s was addressed in the Parish Magazine: “Our numbers are not what they were in pre-War days, but we hope that as our young people come back and things gradually revert to normal, we shall regain lost ground.”1 By the end of the War, the church had cleared its debt. An impressive feat, given the constant tide of repair works that threatened to engulf the building. One of the most pressing issues was that of the organ, the dedicated fund for which sought to raise £500 (around £15,000 in today’s money). In typical chipper fashion, the Parish Magazine notes that the organist “continues to make the organ play and disguises with his usual skills its many faults”, until such a time as the funds could be raised for the work.2 The gutters and drainpipes also needed replacing, at a cost of £50 (nearly £2000 in today’s money).3

Works were also undertaken to improve the notice board, apparently a source of great excitement:

“There were many faults with the notice board. It was the wrong shape and in the wrong position and as it stood for nine years without alternation, many details of services, etc., were inaccurate. It seems therefore a great opportunity to have a new board, remedying these defects. St Michael’s stands in a very busy and important thoroughfare. Great numbers of people pass by it daily, many others stand in weary queues outside its very gates (for the omnibus, alas, not for entry to the Church), while the more fortunate ones, already seated, look out the windows of the ‘bus as it waits outside. A really good and well-placed notice board is therefore of great importance not only for advertising the services of St Michael’s, but as a witness that the Church of God is alive and trying to do His will.”

“The Bishop of Willesden, in passing, felt impelled to stop his car and admire it [the new notice board], and complete strangers have gone out of their way to utter words of praise.”4

It apparently provoked an argument (topic unknown) “down the length of a complete bus queue.”
The notice board also seems to have been the sources of some denominational confusion, with the Parish Magazine of 1947 reporting a conversation overheard between two women observing the church’s new notice board, where one woman suggested that it had been repainted because “they’ve just gone Roman Catholic!”5

Such comments were no doubt a source of amused frustration, as in the 1940s and 1950s, the Parish Magazine is keen to express the distinctive Catholic identity of the Church of England. Just months before, in an article warning Anglicans against marrying Roman Catholics in the Roman Catholic Church, it had explained “the Church of England is the historic Catholic Church of this land, and its religion is that of the “holy Catholic Church” in which its members proclaim their belief whenever they say the Creeds.”6

As much needed-repairs were made to the building, changes came to the inside as well. The 1926 statue of Our Lady was cleaned, re-decorated and brought to its present location in the Nave.7 The parish hall’s electric pipes, which had been unaffordable for the church for some time, were replaced with stoves.8 The organ blower, too, was in great need of replacement. In April 1949, the Parish Magazine reported that: “Your council are most mindful of the discomfort caused by the inefficiency of the present heating system.”9

As the War drew to a close, the Church of England had realised that the damage to churches and communities necessitated a large-scale re-planning of parish life throughout England – after the War, this would be launched as the Diocesan Re-Organisation Scheme. In Camden, the expansion of the railways in St Pancras and the creation of a ‘b’ ring road through the centre of the parish, as well as War damage to other churches, led to a proposal that St Michael’s parish should be expanded to include the neighbouring parishes of All Saints and St Thomas’.

This came into effect almost immediately after the War, causing the parish to quadruple in size. Despite its immediate effect, the merger was not formally completed until 1954, creating the parish of “St Michael’s with All Saints’ and St Thomas, Camden Town.” St Thomas’ Church was demolished due to War damage, with the intention to decommission All Saints and incorporate it into a new church school, to be built on the site. However, this transformation was never undertaken: in 1948, the church was ‘temporarily’ rented to the Greek Orthodox Church, who needed a suitable space as the Greek-speaking community in Camden grew after the War. Today, the church is All Saints Greek Orthodox Cathedral. St Michael’s itself was flourishing. In addition to the sudden growth of the parish, a flurry of baptisms heralded the beginnings of Britain’s ‘baby boom’.

With a greatly-expanded parish (and no additional clergy), it continued to struggle with its building. Funds raised during the Festival Octave of 1949 were earmarked to repair the roof, and tackle the dry rot which had appeared in the South wall. The boiler, frequently repaired during the War, finally required replacing. On top of this, a great quantity of lead was stripped from the roofs of the vestries and the roof on the side of the church above them. This was only discovered when a heavy storm caused flooding and damage to the recently-repaired pipes and gutters, which could not be covered by insurance. The walls in both the church and chapel required extensive redecoration.

Alongside these expenses, the state of the organ finally forced them to have it repaired, having raised £700 (£20,000 in today’s money) over seven years of fundraising, arranging to pay off the remaining costs over two years. It is hardly surprising that with all of these repair costs the church was not always able to meet its Diocesan Fund contribution. When the new organ console was installed, it was dedicated in memory of Fr Osborn, priest at St. Michael’s 1903-1927. The console was not finally paid for until 1954.

Other works were also required. The Primary School was still lit by gas, and did not have reliable hot water. Electricity was not installed until 1950. These upgrades allowed them to avoid the fear voiced in 1946 that if church schools were not repaired after the War, they would be forced to allow them to be “controlled by the state.”10 In 1951, the school received Guided Status, allowing the church to retain control of it, and to appoint its own teachers.

It was also to be joined by a new secondary school on the site of All Saints’ Church in the late 1950s, although the promised assembly hall, dining hall, and gym (intended to be provided by an adaptation of the deconsecrated church building) never materialised, due to the continued occupation of the Greek Orthodox Church. The secondary school, however, filled a needed demographic niche: in 1958 the Head of the Church Primary School wrote with relief in the Parish Magazine “the bulge has passed to the secondary schools,”11 as the baby boomers moved on to secondary education.

The 1960s brought no respite to difficulties with the fabric of the building. The cost of heating necessitated adapting the coke-fired boiler, and associated cost of a stoker, to an oil-fired boiler, which, in turn, required the building of a chimney. However, when the works were completed in 1962, the PCC was able to boast that “the Church is at last really warm and adequately heated”!12

Unfortunately, the boiler required a complete replacement only two years later, at a cost of £500 (£10,000). The roof once again required re-tiling, this time above the Sanctuary, and the West wall needed re-pointing. These major works necessitated a new fundraiser for the £1000 needed (equivalent to nearly £21,000 today). After works had been carried out on and off for a year, the dry rot in the South and West walls was finally dealt with, only for it to appear in the panelling on the North side, near the main door, in 1962. This necessitated a further £190 worth of works (nearly £4000 today). In the same year, the 19th century pipes under the floor between the boilers and radiators were found to have rusted so badly that they had begun to leak. This ultimately required the replacement of all pipes and radiators in the church, at a further cost of £1000.

Unsurprisingly, the works already required that year had depleted any cash reserves left to the church, and they were forced to take out a loan from Ecclesiastical Insurers to begin work immediately, allowing a new heating system to be in place in for Christmas 1962, including new heating for Choir and Sanctuary. Through assiduous fundraising, they were able to pay off the loan in one year – all but £400 (£8000) of it from direct fundraising, only immediately to establish a new fund for the replacement of the boiler in 1964. The famous notice board once again blew down in a gale and required replacement, although this time it did not solicit quite the excitement of its 1940s counterpart.

HDJ.

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  1. Parish Magazine, January 1946; February 1946
  2. Parish Magazine, February 1946
  3. Parish Magazine, September 1946
  4. Parish Magazine, March 1946
  5. Parish Magazine, March 1947
  6. Parish Magazine, January 1947
  7. Parish Magazine, April 1947
  8. Parish Magazine, December 1948
  9. Parish Magazine, April 1949
  10. Parish Magazine, June 1946
  11. Parish Magazine, October 1958
  12. Parish Magazine, January 1962