St Michael’s Between the Wars

In the aftermath of the First World War, life slowly began to return to normal at St. Michael’s, although the effects of the war were still keenly felt. A new canopy over the aumbry in the Resurrection Chapel was dedicated on the First Evensong of Michaelmas in 1920, in memory of Francis Godfrey Tarn (1886-1919), his maternal aunt Camilla Dollman (1840-1919) and its initial designer’s only son Richard Moore (1892-1918).

res-chapel-tabernacle

Francis was an analytical chemist with a speech impediment, who had been refused by the Army three times for a heart defect before finally being accepted in January 1916 as Class B3, only fit for “sedentary service”. During the War he had moved from Wimbledon to Camden to live with Camilla, acting as thurifer, server and sidesmen when most of the parish’s men had been called up. The two died within two weeks of each other early in 1919 and her bequest of £50 to St Michael’s was spent on the canopy, as was £20 given by Tarn’s family in his memory.

Its initial designer Temple Lushington Moore (1856-1920) died during its production and his son-in-law Leslie Thomas Moore (1883-1957) took over, waiving his fee for the design as a memorial to Richard Moore. Richard had been a regular worshipper at St Michael’s until his death on board the mailboat RMS Leinster, sunk on the Irish Sea by a U-boat on 10th October 1918, whilst he was a Private in the Royal Wiltshire Hussars (Prince of Wales’ Own Royal Regiment): he is also commemorated on his father’s tombstone in Hampstead. Leslie later went on to design the new font and font cover at St Michael’s in 1928, whilst the aumbry canopy itself was re-gilded in 1938.

Newly-weds from among the congregation often had to move out of Camden to set up home together, but retained links with the parish. In 1921 the church resumed its Holy Week tradition of an open-air Stations of the Cross, complete with two cornet players. The men’s Bible Classes resumed in January 1922 after their wartime lapse and a new banner of St Michael was dedicated at Michaelmas that year, executed by the Sisters of Bethany, Lloyd Square and designed by Ninian Comper, a pupil of Bodley.

Post-war economic hardship and the Great Depression led to several burglaries at the church. However, the inter-war years also featured amateur theatricals, Women’s Socials, visiting preachers and youth holidays to the east Kent coast. In October 1925 the parish was visited by Sister Faith of the Community of St Peter, who had been one of its parish-workers from 1907 to 1919 before being posted to Korea. Due to the rules of her Community, her address at the Parish Buildings was for an all-female audience. In February 1927, Osborn was succeeded as vicar by Edmund Douglas Merritt (1879-1956), an old friend of Keelan and Kett. Nine days of social events and services were held at Michaelmas 1931 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the nave’s completion, including a Requiem Mass for Fr. Penfold.

A new statue of Our Lady was commissioned from Faith Craft and placed to beside the side chapel entrance with a blue curtain behind it. It was dedicated on the Feast of the Purification in 1926 as a memorial to a major evangelistic Mission in the parish in November 1924. The April 1926 Parish Magazine stated “We are not quite sure about the haloes above the heads of the figures. It may be that they will look better without them, but we shall see later on.”

The statue of Our Lady today (note that the haloes remain).
The statue of Our Lady today (note that the haloes remain).

A collection was already being held for a new font and it was put in place in 1928 during major restoration work on the interior and exterior. A new font cover soon followed early in 1929 in memory of Denn Winearls (1860-1928), one of Fr Penfold’s original churchwardens.

Next door to the church to the north was the premises of the Aerated Bread Company (ABC), who often proved to be problem neighbours – the site is now occupied by Sainsbury’s. Fumes from their chimneys left the clerestory and west window so dirty by August 1924 so that – in the words of the Parish Magazine – “one of our worshippers thought they must be of stained glass which had got discoloured!”. Cleaning the windows was justified as a way of decreasing the church’s electricity bill, since it had previously been forced to use lights “even in the morning on dark days”. The ABC then planned an extension in 1937. As part of its planning it leased a corner of land from St Michael’s and demolished the church lavatory on it, but not before completing a new one at the other end of the choir vestry (now the Gabriel Room). The £10 annual rent of the land was used to augment the vicar’s stipend.

The negotiations were in the hands of a new vicar, Norman de Langdale, who had succeeded Merritt in 1936. Born in Jarrow, County Durham, de Langdale was the son of a former printer who had also become a priest. While agreeing the lease of the land, he also filed a complaint against ABC, alleging that the planned new buildings would block the access of light and air to the church’s windows, especially those of the Lady Chapel and that “inconvenience may arise if certain windows in the new buildings are left open during times of Divine Service and at other times when the clergy … are engaged in ecclesiastical duties”. He and his solicitors thus reached an agreement with ABC that the new building would be faced with light-coloured faience tiles and that those tiles would be washed at least twice a year. If they were not, the vicar or his agents were allowed to enter ABC’s property and have them cleaned, at ABC’s expense. ABC was also required to keep most of the windows facing the church locked between 6.30 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day and to pay the church £350 in compensation.

In his dealings with the London ecclesiastical authorities, de Langdale stated that in his opinion, “At the present time the restoration of the reredos should … be taken in hand”. They agreed and £100 of the compensation was allocated to this project. However, the restoration may have become a full-blown redesign, since the Parish Magazines for 1939 refer to part of the compensation paying for a new design on the high altar reredos by William Lawson of Faith Craft. That new design is probably the present scheme showing the resurrected Christ beneath “Tu Rex Gloriae” (“Thou art the King of Glory”). This replaced the original scheme of a blank surface with motifs beneath “Alleluia Alleluia Alleluia”. £170 of the compensation was used to clear the church’s overdraft and the rest on cleaning the side chapel and establishing a Fabric Fund to cover future problems with the building.1

High-altar-reredos

One of the church’s assistant priests during the inter-war period was the Australian Angus Elor Palmer, who took a party to see the Silver Jubilee procession for George V from a window on Ludgate Hill in 1935 and later that year acted as curate-in-charge in the interregnum between Fr Merritt and Norman de Langdale (1894-1980).Another of the assistant priests was Arthur Baldwin Davis (1870-1938), former Secretary-General of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. After curacies in Essex, Huntingdonshire, Fulham and Notting Hill, ill-health had forced him out of parish ministry in 1912. He began assisting at St Michael’s in 1920 and formally became a curate there in 1927. His health again worsened and he held his last Mass at St Michael’s on Christmas Day 1936, though he retained his curacy until his death. His widow Rachel Mary Rivers Davis donated the entire cost (£98/12/6) of a new statue of St Michael. This was produced by Faith Craft, though its designer is unknown – it was probably William Wheeler, though other possible candidates are William Lawson and Ian Hogate. The statue was dedicated in the nave at the first Evensong of the Patronal Festival on 28th September 1939 – less than a month after the outbreak of the Second World War.2

“The Festival this year was held under very difficult conditions. At the beginning of the week it seemed as if war was inevitable, but we started our first Evensong with a great hope that after all it might be averted. And then on Sunday we continued our Festival with great joy and happiness, knowing that God in his great mercy had granted our prayers and that our country would have peace. St Michael’s and all the Holy Angels had once more joined in battle with the Devil and his angels and once more a great victory was won against the forces of evil … The Social events went very well considering everything and in spite of the absences caused by ARP [Air Raid Precautions] work, etc.”3

The Munich Agreement was signed early on Friday 30th September 1938, the day after Michaelmas. It seemed that war between Britain and Nazi Germany had been averted. Yet an article in the August 1939 Parish Magazine regarding the Girls’ Club outing to Southend stated: “We saw some very interesting things, in fact, one of our party kept rushing from one side of the carriage to the other to see the Air Raid shelters in the gardens.” By the time of Michaelmas 1939, Britain was again at war.

Edward Smith.

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  1. London Metropolitan Archives, MS18319/102
  2. London Metropolitan Archives, MS18319/107
  3. Parish Magazine, November 1938