Tuesday, August 27, 2013

St Clement’s Church, London

St Clement’s Church is a welcoming, diverse and growing parish of the Diocese of London in the Church of England. As Christians the people of St Clement's seek to share the experience of God’s life and love revealed to mankind through Jesus Christ. St Clement’s is very much a neighbourhood church. The church is deeply involved in the life of the wider neighbourhood, with links to many local organisations, formal and informal.

St Clement’s Church, consecrated originally to St Barnabas, was designed to be a “chapel of ease” (an extra place of worship for those in a parish to far from the parish church, or for extra space if the parish church was too small). Certainly the area was becoming a populous place. The orchards that covered the area in the 18th century were, by the 1820s, giving way to smart new developments on the city fringe, including King Square (named after the newly-crowned King George IV). 
The government had set aside a fund of £1 million “for building new churches in populous places”, in thanksgiving for victory over the French in the Napoleonic Wars. And St Luke’s parish was chosen to be the site of one of these so-called “Waterloo” churches. However, in those days, both church and local government were run by the churchwardens and local “Vestry”, who didn’t have to be church people, merely residents of the parish. The vestry of St Luke’s, Old Street thus resisted the proposal believing that the new church would “impose on the inhabitants a needless and oppressive expense”, and that “no additional chapels are necessary”. Despite their protest the Church Building Commission went ahead and purchased the land in King Square.
Despite this opposition, the 27th January 1822 the foundation stone was laid, an event ignored by the Vestry of St Luke’s. Work on the building is said to have been done by French ex-prisoners-of-war and locals. The new church building was considered to be “for use and duration, rather than particular ornament”. Designed by Philip Hardwick, the architect of Euston Station, St Barnabas was built in the ancient Greek (Ionic) style, but with a spire attached. The windows on either side of the porch were originally glazed, but not the oblong recesses above them, as the illustration, from 1828, shows. There was no vestibule - the main doors led directly into the church, and the door on either side of the porch led into galleries which went around three sides of the building. Altogether it could hold 1,600 people!
It was very plain inside. There was a small temporary organ in the west gallery, and the altar was in a small semi-octagonal recess at the east end. Gas lighting was fitted in 1827, but on condition that no service started later than 3 pm.
St Barnabas was complete by July 1824, but had to wait two years for consecration by the Bishop. This delay was because St Luke’s was reluctant to recognise it as a parish chapel, or pay for it to be furnished and decorated. The consecration finally took place on the day after St Barnabas Day, 12th June 1826.

The Victorian era saw profound social changes in the area, the better off moving further out of town (to new suburbs such as Finsbury Park), to be replaced by the poor. The houses in the square were divided up, as they remained until their demolition at the start of the 1960s. In 1842 the church became a parish in its own right, with its own vicar.
As the population of the area soared in the mid-nineteenth century other churches were built in the area, including St Paul’s, Pear Tree Street (1865) and St Matthew’s (designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott with an enormous spire) on City Road (1849). The last was St Clement’s Church, Lever Street, designed by William Butterfield on a cramped site between Lever Street and Nelson Street. It was consecrated by Bishop W Walsham How on 6th October 1880, to serve some of the most difficult and needy streets of the district.
Sadly both St Clement's, Lever Street and St Matthew’s, City Road were destroyed by enemy bombs during the London Blitz. A rare relic from this time is a Service Register from St Clement’s, Lever Street, damaged but legible. Under the record for 7th September 1940 is written “Church destroyed 1.25am 8th September 1940 Register dug out of the rubble some weeks later.”

St Barnabas had also been slightly damaged by war time bombs, but was in any case effectively redundant. It had, in fact, been used as a store for ecclesiastical furniture from other buildings since the beginning of the conflict.
After the end of the war, the question was how to reorganise the church in this part of Finsbury, in view of the bombing and a much smaller local population. It was decided to unite the three parishes of St Clement, St Barnabas and St Matthew, and for St Clement’s (who were meeting in their temporary church hall) to come to St Barnabas.
In 1952 the three parishes were united, and work began on refitting the church in King Square. The interior was completely remodelled, including the pulpit, ceiling and new pillars, incorporating some of the ornaments of the old St Clement’s. A cross was placed at the top of the spire, in place of the original weathercock, and on 11th June 1954 the new altar was dedicated by the Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev’d J. W C. Wand. Finsbury had a new place of worship.
The church continues to play a role in the life of the local community and, even if they don’t come to worship very often, local residents still see St Clement’s as “their church”.

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