CHRIST CHURCH with St Laurence, BRONDESBURY
This building is now two thirds flats and one third a fully functioning Anglican parish church.
HISTORICAL SKETCH OF CHRIST CHURCH, BRONDESBURY
"When I was a girl, we used to walk with a lantern across the fields from Shoot-up Hill to Christ Church", Mrs. Howard told her son. She is 98 and was baptised and married at the church. The reader will realise that a great change has occurred in the district since Christ Church was built a hundred years ago.
The oldest church in Willesden is St. Mary's which was mentioned in the Domesday Book and has over a thousand years of history. Christ Church is the second oldest parish church. After the year 940 A.D. King Aethelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, made a gift to St Erkeswald's Monastery of ten manors in Neasden cum Willesden. Lanfranc, Archbishop of
Canterbury, reconstituted the monastery to be the Deanery and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the Dean still holds the title of Rector of Willesden.
It was probably the sudden increase in the population of Willesden that prompted the far seeing Dr. Charles William Williams to found the church. He has been the Principal of the North London Collegiate School (for Boys) at Camden Town for 17 years and he knew Willesden well. He wrote to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's in 1864 for the patronage of a church in Brondesbury; this was granted on condition that no money was to be sought from this body for building the church. Dr. Williams' sisters paid for the cost of construction and he became the first incumbent.
CONSTRUCTION AND CONSECRATON
The site was marked out on 22nd October, 1864. The design was similar to St. Anne's, Highgate, where Dr. Williams had been a pewholder. The proposal was to build the church entire with the exception of the tower and spire. When the plans were submitted in April, 1865, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners wanted the tower and spire built at once and offered a grant of £500 on this condition. The building of the south transept and south aisle was therefore postponed to keep down the cost. The chapel, nave, north transept, north aisle and north porch were built. The trench for the foundations was dug on 26th June, 1865, and the foundation stone was laid on 1st November 1865, by Mrs Williams. St. Albans and Grantham provided inspiration for some of the mouldings and windows. Dr. and Mrs. Williams moved into "the Parsonage" (which was between the church and The Avenue) on 25th March, 1866, so as to supervise the building. But dint of men working by candlelight, the pews, gasbrackets and floors were made ready for the opening.
On 21st November, 1866, Bishop Anderson (formerly of Ruperts Land) consecrated the church on behalf of the Bishop of London (Dr. Tait) who was ill; The Vicar of Willesden (the Rev. J. C. Wharton) read the petition for consecration. About 100 people were present and there was a procession from the Tower vestry to the West Door.
THE FORMATION OF THE PARISH
The parish was formally constituted by an Order in Council dated 3rd August, 1867. On 7th May, 1868, the Church Commissioners declared the church to be a Rectory, so that the incumbent would receive the tithes and rent charges in the parish which were previously paid to the Dean of St. Paul's (these are now abolished). Dr. Williams records that he had an interview with Bishop Wilberforce (of Oxford) and Dr. Tait (now Archbishop of Canterbury) in the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey, at which he was told that he could assume the title of "Rector of Christ Church, Brondesbury", or shorter "Rector of Brondesbury".
The first congregations were very disappointing. Dr Williams (who took his degree at Cambridge in 1867) entered in his journal: "very depressed - I have spent my all on this Church - but the Lord's Will be done". However, during the succeeding years houses sprang up in many parts of the parish (especially when the Metropolitan Railway was built in 1880) and before 1889 the church was often filled to overflowing. The first Rector's Warden was John Marrian, who remained in office until 1880; his son and two grandsons have also been Wardens. Chester Foulsham was a Warden from 1868 - 1882 and from 1889 - 1891. He lived at Mapesbury House in Willesden Lane; this is said to have been visited by Queen Elizabeth I, and Cromwell's soldiers were billeted there.
A FLOURISHING CONGRETATION
Gradually the church became enriched. The lectern was given by the congregation in 1876 in memory of the Rector's wife. A clock was erected in the tower early in 1881. The Rector died in 1889 and was succeeded by his son, Charles Dale Williams. Soon afterwards the idea of completing the building was reconsidered, and in 1899 the south transept and south aisle were built and dedicated by the Bishop of London (Dr Creighton); this was paid for by the congregation. The choir vestry was added in 1909. The present Rectory was built in 1892 and the organ was rebuilt in 1893. The screen was added in 1913, the gift of Mr and Mrs Kerswell in memory of their daughter.
All this time the population of the district grew rapidly and the early years of this century found the parish very flourishing and at its zenith. Anyone late for the 11am Sunday service had difficulty in finding a seat. The choir under William Pentney Ward and Richard Wade (organist) became well known in north-west London. The building could not cope with the demands of the population and three new parishes were formed. The parishes of St Gabriel, St Anne and St Laurence were formally constituted by Orders in Council dated 19th May, 1898, 11th July, 1905, and 25th January, 1908, respectively.
THE PARISH BOUNDARIES
This left a diamond shaped parish stretching from Willesden Library in the west to the State cinema in the east and from the junction of Mapesbury Road with Shoot-up Hill in the north-east to near the junction of Hanover Road with Henley Road in the south-west. The church is roughly in the centre. The old North London railway divided the parish into two and towards the end of the first fifty years, a sharp contrast in character had arisen. To the west was the prosperous district of Brondesbury Park, containing large detached and semi-detached houses; some of these had coach houses with haylofts and accommodation for the drivers and their families (and a few of these buildings still survive). At the far end were shops in Willesden High Road and some poor property. To the east of the railway were much less prosperous houses (some in terraces), shops and a few small factories, and one street that could only be described as a slum. An unusual feature of the parish is that it is almost entirely residential; the shops are nearly all situated on the perimeter and only about two non-conformist churches and (more recently) one synagogue lie within the area. Geographically Christ Church is the focus and its spire certainly makes it the most prominent building.
The Williams family had spent much more than they anticipated in building the church and had nothing left for endowment. For some years the living had an annual income of four pounds plus pew rents worth three or four hundred plus an Easter Offering of about one hundred and fifty pounds and odd fees for weddings and funerals. An endowment fund was to be started to remedy this situation; this fund is now adminished by the Church Commissioners.
THE FIRST WORLD WAR
The founder's son retired in 1913 and was succeeded by Mr Ford. Soon after he came to the parish the shadow of the First World War descended over the land. A memorial brass records the names of 93 parishioners who were killed and the roll of honour contains 435 names. The civilian population suffered shortages of food and clothing, but the parish escaped damage from that new form of warfare - the air raid. The activities of the parish were reduced but not crippled, and a considerable congregation continued to attend the service.
In 1918 the Bishop authorised the use of a premises at Avenue Close, Poplar's Avenue, off Willesden High Road, for divine service. This was a dual purpose building for during the week it was used as a club, the altar being screened off by curtains. During the Second World, it fell into disuse; it has now been pulled down. Mrs Ives the caretaker rendered faithful service for very much years. BETWEEN THE WARS
The congregation grew and activities flourished during the 1920's. Among these were the Church Lad's Brigade, the Sunday School, the Servers' Guild (initiated by Eric Barnes, later Vicar of Pinner). The Mapesbury Musical Society (under Mr Glanville Hopkins, the organist) and the Brondesbury Dramatic Society (under Charles Wreford). From time to time there was a procession of witness on a summer Sunday afternoon. The choir and clergy accompanied by the cross and four banners and a number of the congregation, walked down Willesden Lane; prayers were said and hymns were sung in a slum yard next to the Prince of Wales public house and the procession then returned to church.
Among the parishioners at that time were several who later contributed to church life in wider circles. Miss Clarice Knowles was Adviser for Children's Voluntary Religious Education for the London Diocese for 20 years (having been assistant to Phyllis Dent for 7 years), and Miss Estelle Beauchamp took up a similar post at St Alban's. W H Wilson was ordained and was Vicar of St Mark's, Hamilton Terrace, until quite recently.
THE PARISH HALL
As early as 1910 it was clear that a parish hall was needed because the choir vestry was quite inadequate for the many social activities. Money was raised before and after the war and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners gave a site. Through the efforts of John Andrews and Alfred Horne, ably supported by their wives and by others, the building was completed in 1929 and an extension given better dressing rooms was added a few years later. James Crook was secretary for many years - an onerous task. At his suggestion the building was called Mapesbury Hall, as it stood on part of the plot of the old Mapesbury House in Willesden Lane, by the junction of Coverdale Road; it is now known as the Majestic Rooms.
Mr Ford retired in 1930 and was succeeded by Mr Evans, who was undoubtedly the most outstanding Rector of the second fifty years. Besides being a devoted parish priest, he had served as Mayor of Hackney before coming to Brondesbury.
His elder son, St John Evans, was a curate at Poplar when the family came to the parish. Later he became a missionary in Ghana, and after the Second World War became Bishop of St John's Kaffraria; unfortunately he contracted a tropical disease and died after a long illness. His tall figure, clad in a white cassock, had often been seen at the church in Rector Evans' time, and he was very popular.
Church life continued to flourish, as Mr Evans encouraged the activities he found on arrival. His preaching seemed to grow in strength through his period of office. One of his first acts was to increase the number of weekday celebrations of the Holy Communion. Later he founded the Communicants' Guild.
The parish was stunned to learn that on Sunday, 5th November, 1939, after Evensong, Rector Evans suddenly collapsed at home and died within a few minutes. THE ADVOWSON
During the 1930's the advowson (that is the right to appoint a new Rector) was for sale. On the advice of the Rector (who feared that it might fall into the hands of extremists) the parish purchased this right and appointed four trustees to administer it: John Andrews, William Evans, Constance Hall, and Alfred Horne. Only about two other parishes in the diocese held such a right. After Mr Evans' death the three remaining trustees had to exercise their right. It took a long time to come to a decision, but in the Spring of 1940 Mr Huxley-Willams was instituted and inducted.
The Second World War caused a much greater upheaval than the first. Added to rationing and shortages were the perils of air raids. This caused many families to leave the parish and live further out of London; most of them never returned. The pre 1914 houses which they occupied have now become institutions or divided into flats or bed-sitters and are occupied by Jamaicans, Indians, Chinese and refugees from Europe as well as by English people, so that the parish is very cosmopolitan. Of course, during the war nearly every building suffered some kind of damage, including the church. Among the numerous bangs was a particularly loud one on the night of 16th October, 1940, when a land mine got caught in the neighbouring trees and blew up. The church roof and windows were shattered, but the tower escaped major damage; the verger and his family were sheltering in the stokehold and were uninjured. Next day the Rector rescued a considerable number of ornaments and fittings and within a few days the small hall at Mapesbury Hall was furnished as a church. As the congregation had dwindled, it just filled the hall comfortably and this kindled a feeling of compactness and unity. The Rectory was also severely damaged. The Rector and his family found accommodation at Bushey, but later they were allowed the use of a house in Willesden Green, vacated by a parishioner.
When the war finished Rector Huxley-Williams turned his mind to rebuilding. He pressed the necessary authorities until they agreed to his plans. He supervised all the work very closely, but found it disconcerting to see workmen sitting on the chancel steps smoking their pipes! At the same time he put the parish finances in order by careful attention to Mapesbury Hall. He spent a lot of time interviewing and corresponding with those who wished to hire the hall, and negotiated a long term agreement with the Maria Grey Training College which ensured a steady income from day time use of the hall. Meetings, dances, plays and barmitzvahs took place in the evenings. The surplus income was a great help to the church and part of it was invested. On 16th October, 1948, the renovated church was opened by the Bishop of London in the presence of a large congregation, many of whom had to stand.
The rebuilding afforded an opportunity to make certain improvements. The organ was moved to the north aisle and the console was put in the former Lady Chapel. The new Lady Chapel was put on the site of the old organ. The pews were put further apart so that kneeling became more comfortable. The font was moved; more open space was left at the back of the church and the total seating capacity was thereby reduced. The communicant's rail in the Lady Chapel was fashioned from an oak pew front formerly standing between the north and south doors and was the gift of Mr and Mrs Tinson. The east window escaped serious damage from the bombs and was repaired. The fisherman's window in the north aisle was the gift of Mr and Mrs Park. Another new window was put in the Lady Chapel. The organ had to be completely rebuilt; it incorporates many parts from other church organs damaged during the war. The case was restored in memory of James and Ann Mackenzie who worshiped in the church for 40 years.
During part of the war there was no choirmaster. After the church was reopened the choir was built up again under Dr John White and later under Dr Clifford Smith, and anthems and special seasonal music again became a feature of church life.
1956 - 1966
In 1956 Rector Huxley-Williams retired and was succeeded by Mr Borland. By this time the Maria Grey Training College had moved most of its work to a new premises near Twickenham and terminated their use of the Mapesbury Hall. The advent of teddy boys had caused disturbances at dances. The hall no longer paid its way and it needed redecorating. Negotiations had begun for a permanent let of the hall and were completed by the new Rector. After a year or so, it was decided to sell Mapesbury Hall and the Church Commissioners agreed to this. New and much smaller premises were then erected at the side of the church.
The question of the advowson arose again, and the parish was advised to transfer the advowson either to the Bishop of London or to the Lord Chancellor. The latter course was adopted. Before long Rector Borland decided to move to a country parish, and the new patron had to exercise his right. Mr McQuinn was appointed in 1960. He has encouraged two members of the congregation to become lay readers. Allen Tattle died after serving faithfully as Churchwarden for over 25 years.
Recently the effect of the bombing in the last war on the Tower became noticeable and repairs had to be undertaken; the diocesan authorities have made a loan towards this. The boiler also became quite inadequate, and has been replaced by a gas fired installation, which saves the necessity of stoking.
THE DAY SCHOOL
The first school to be built for the church was the Infants' School together with the schoolmistress's house in Willesden Lane, the gift of Mrs Lucas in 1889. A few years later the parish built the Boys' and Girls' Schools. The first Headmaster was Charles Wreford, who had been trained at Exeter by a friend of the Williams family. This Devonian with a twinkle in his eye stayed for 40 years and built up a reputation for the school.
The interior of the school remained much the same until about 2 years ago, when a major tans-formation commenced. The first phase has now been completed. An extension and a re-arrangement of classrooms has enabled the infants' and primary schools to be combined in the main building while the old infants' school now serves as a dining room. A factory which stood between the two buildings has now been acquired by the Brent Council and it is in use as a part of Willesden Technical College. But it is planned to rebuild and this will give the school a proper assembly hall and more playground space.
The original name was Christ Church School, but after the Second World War it was changed to Brondesbury C of E School. The Boys' and Girls' Departments were amalgamated in 1938. Under the leadership of Mr Williams the school is flourishing and has 245 pupils and a staff of ten assistant teachers, a welfare assistant and a secretary. It is an Aided School. This means that the Church appoints two thirds of the managers, and thereby can exercise a control over the appointment of staff, and over religious instruction; it is also responsible for new buildings and for the exterior decoration. The fund available in the parish are very limited and the aid of a diocesan fund has to be sought. However, it is hoped that the parish will be able to raise more money for this purpose. The Brent Council see to all the interior furnishings and decoration and the playgrounds.
Religious knowledge is taught every day in the school until 9.45. This portion of the curriculum is supervised by an Inspector from the diocese of London, who comes at least once a year. The other part of the curriculum is supervised by the Department of Education and Science and by the Borough Council.
When Mr Wreford came for an interview for the post of headmaster, he wore a
top hat and morning coat. That shows how times have changed. Everyone hopes
that Christ Church, while keeping pace with constantly changing requirements
of the age, will continue to show the Gospel of Christ to the people of Brondesbury
for many years.
CHRIST CHURCH with St Laurence, BRONDESBURY 1967-1992
It is over 25 years since Christ Church, Brondesbury, celebrated its centenary 1866 - 1966. The late Dr Jack Miller compiled a history booklet for the occasion. Now seems the appropriate moment to supplement that booklet with an account of the following quarter-century 1967-1992.
Dr Miller's correspondence reveals that the 1967 anniversary was observed in a mood of despair about the parish mixed with hope that a good celebration might provide stimulus for recovery.
We shall see what happened.
A Major Re-organisation
Over the years 1970-71 there was a major re-organisation of the Church of England in the district. The parish of St. Laurence, Brondesbury (novelist Barbara Pym's parish) was re-united with that of Christ Church after nearly 64 years of existence and St Laurence's Church closed, the final service being held on 27th October 1971. Fr. S Parry-Chivers was the last Vicar. St. Laurence's Church was demolished and a few years later replaced by flats bearing the name St Laurence's Close. The Vicarage, next door, was retained to become the Rectory of Christ Church with St. Laurence, Brondesbury.
Christ Church had become vacant with the departure of the Reverend W S McQuinn and the living was suspended. The Reverend Ralph Nurse, curate at St Alban's, Golders Green, was brought across to manage affairs on a temporary basis. He had a warm personality which inspired confidence, and it was arranged that he should become Rector of the re-organised parish.
The Bishop of Willesden (Graham Leonard) moved into the former Christ Church Rectory, 173 Willesden Lane, next door to the church, early December 1971. Ralph Nurse and family moved into the Chevening Road parsonage just after Christmas, and on 7th January 1972 he was instituted and inducted Rector.
Ralph Nurse, Rector 1972 - 1975
Ralph's initials were R Mc C Nurse, and there was a persistent habit of calling him Mr Mc Nurse, ingrained perhaps from the Mc Quinn days. The Monday Club for over 60s began and was to last for nearly 20 years, closing with the Christmas party, December 11th, 1989. A Guild of Health group met bi-weekly for contemplative meditation and intercession for the sick. Contact was made with "Holmlea", a residential home for mentally handicapped adults, and some residents joined the Christ Church congregation. Students from bedsits helped with Sunday School. The Hampstead Music Society, through the good offices of Dr and Mrs Miller, provided for Carol Services and other special occasions. Series 2, the 1967 Communion rite, was introduced and used for an 11am Eucharist which varied with Mattins as the main Sunday morning service. The Book of Common Prayer was used and continues to be used for the early service at 8 am.
The parish had attempted, as part of the re-organisation, to obtain housing and an assistant priest on the church site, and possibly for a caretaker or verger. Plans were approved for a pair of flats to be situated between the church hall and the boundary with the Bishop's residence. A great deal of emotional energy was invested in the scheme by the Rector and other parish leaders who regarded it as the natural conclusion of the re-organisation process and a symbol of the re-birth of church life they were longing for. When an unexpected letter arrived from Diocesan Office stating that the building project was not to be, the news was received with incredulity and a sense of catastrophe. Within a few months Ralph Nurse had left the parish to become Vicar of Southea, Parson Drive, in his native fens.
Meanwhile petrol inflation was destabilising parish finance, vandalism was increasing, the church ornaments was lost through burglary, and there were worries about ability to pay increasing insurance charges.
Peter Stubbs, Rector 1976 - 1993
Before Ralph Nurse left he was to have contact with Peter Stubbs Vicar of St Alban the Martyr, Northampton, whom he encouraged to apply to the Patron (The Lord Chancellor) for nomination to the living. Peter met the Bishop of Willesden and then the Churchwardens and the Parochial Church Council (PCC) members. He was made welcome. He moved in with his family on 27th December 1975 for institution as Rector on January 20th 1976. He is due to retire July 18th 1993.
The first months were spent setting out principles and objectives, determining the guiding spirit. In October 1976 the PCC minuted its regretful opinion that it was no longer possible to maintain the present Christ Church building. This led to a feasibility study of clearing the site and erecting, in partnership with a housing association, a modern version of almshouses centred around a chapel or small church. There was not enough land to achieve the project, and the scheme was dropped.
Making the best of it
Alternatives were explored but funding could not be obtained or other difficulties appeared. Christ Church was now made a Grade 2 Listed Building. The parish settled down to make the best of the situation. A large street notice-board was donated. Boarding was taken down from windows and glass panes repaired. David Chellew offered his services as regular organist and was to stay until the church closed in 1985. The alternation of Mattins with Eucharist for the 11 o'clock Sunday morning service was replaced with Eucharist every Sunday. Shortage of staff brought about the closure of the Sunday School and transfer of the children to the 11 o'clock service, a development of significance for the future. The Queen's Silver Jubilee was celebrated with food and drink after Sunday morning worship, setting a precedent for other occasions. Maundy Thursday, Ascension Day, Corpus Christi were kept by joining the congregation at St Augustine's, Kilburn.
1980 was a watershed year. The London Diocesan General Secretary, Archdeacon Derek Hayward, came to discuss financial problems at the PCC's request. Jack Wreford, churchwarden, PCC treasurer and son of that Charles who had come from Devon to be head teacher of Christ Church School, hotly disputed some of the Archdeacon's assertions and walked out. It was a final expression of negative feeling. From then on Christ Church gave itself to an increasingly confident handling of the situation.
A Golden Year
1981 was in many respects a golden year. Discovery of dry rot and wet rot in the church together with the heating system's ever-worsening condition now spurred moves towards radical solutions. The look of the church was recorded for posterity in a photographic study by the Greater London Council Library Department and a detailed written description by the Council for the Care of Churches.
Christ Church School opened new Reception and Nursery Class areas.
The Damascus House Sundays began. Damascus House on the Ridgeway, Totteridge, Mill Hill, is a Roman Catholic retreat and conference centre run by the Society of St Vincent de Paul. It has gardens and lawns and, astonishingly, is surrounded by farmland although not more than 20 minutes from Brondesbury by car. Damascus House Away-Day in June or July became an important annual event prized by adults and children alike. At a later date a mini-retreat was added for people wishing to go on the Saturday afternoon and stay overnight.
1981 was the year of Christ Church's first Christian Stewardship programme, a canvass to bring home to every member the financial responsibilities of Church membership. Diocesan officer John Sansom introduced his wife Pauline to the parish. She was later to become a teacher at Christ Church School and, in time, its teacher-governor.
"World Church Our Church" was the theme of the 1981 Summer Festival, prompted by the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of congregation and School. The theme was displayed in scarlet and gold across the rood screen where it remained until the last day. On the Saturday Brent Youth Orchestra gave a concert on the church lawn, and there were stalls and dancing. Decorated stands inside the church portrayed the many countries with which the Christ Church community had connection. A photographic exhibition showed Christ Church School children in national dress of family origins. The history of the Church in Willesden was represented. The Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, in conjunction with the Bible Societies exhibited their "Feed the Minds" projects. The Vasari Singers sang a Palestrina Mass for the Sunday's 11am Eucharist.
In December the parish joined the Rector in celebrating his Silver Jubilee of ordination to the priesthood.
Moving towards a solution - The Church on the Rise
The Church on the Rise offered what seemed to be the answer to the problem of the building.
In its origin the Church on the Rise had been a ministers' fraternal association of clergy and ministers from Kensal Rise Baptist Church, Kensal Rise Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church of the Transfiguration and the Church of England parishes of Christ Church, St Mark and St Martin. These resolved to work together as far as possible. "Church on Rise" was a punning title connecting the geographical district "Kensal Rise" with high hopes for its churches. Joint evening services were held, pulpit exchanges undertaken. There were joint lent courses, a televised "Songs of Praise", spiritual days, carol singing, leaflet distribution and other ventures. In July 1982 at the Methodist Church a joint meeting of the various church councils ratified the Church on the Rise and established a bank account in its name. Eight years later a formal local covenant was concluded. By this time the Baptists had withdrawn from full participation and St Andrew's United Reformed Church had moved in to take their place, together with St Anne's Brondesbury, a daughter parish of Christ Church.
At the end of an ecumenical service at Christ Church in 1982, Father Bill Dempsey of the Church of the Transfiguration proposed a solution to the Christ Church building problem which would also suit the Stimmatini Fathers, an educational community in Italy which was looking for a house in London for its students. The large Christ Church building could be adapted and, moreover, could serve as a church for the Italians of North West London. The Fathers would buy the free-hold and maintain the property. Christ Church Anglicans would stay on, paying rent and their portion of the maintenance charges, a scheme known as "shared ministry". Italians and English, Roman Catholics and Anglicans would split the Sunday morning worship time between them.
The Christ Church PCC and people were greatly taken with the idea. London Diocesan authorities agreed and negotiations were taken to the point of signing a year later. Then the Diocesan Office sent news that land values had increased over the 12 month and Charity Commissioners were requiring the sale to be maximised. The asking price to the Stimmatini Fathers doubled. They withdrew and Christ Church was not pleased. The affair as to prove a trial run for what was to take place.
The Solution appears
Within two months, that is, at the beginning of September 1983, the Diocesan Authority drew the attention of the parish to new legislation. - the Pastoral Measure 1983 - which enabled the Church of England to modify her own buildings in the way proposed by the Stimmatini Fathers. The parish was put in touch with Berkley House, a development company experienced in work on listed buildings. A visit was arranged to a project in Highgate where a disused United Reformed Church had been turned into flats. Seven years later the process thus begun culminated with the opening of Christchurch Court (21 residential flats) and a new place of worship all within the shell of the original Christ Church.
Church services had long been held in the comparative comfort of the choir vestry, but a final service was held in the cold church for the Feast of Title (Christ the King), 24th November 1985. Tom Butler, Bishop-elect of Willesden, presided over a festal mass at 8pm, crowded by many well-wishers, clergy and lay, from deanery and diocese. A rousing hymn of praise accompanied the procession out. It was 119 years and 3 days since the consecration of the church in 1866.
Christ Church School had been designated parish church for the interim, banns of marriage to be read at St Anne's. The celebration of the Sunday Eucharist which began in the school hall Advent Sunday 1985 was to continue there at 8am and the new time of 10am for the next five years.
Christ Church School
Since Dr Jack Miller wrote his account four head teachers have successively presided over the School. Clifford Williams had been assistant teacher there and then served as head until retirement in 1975. He was also Parochial Church Council Secretary. Forbes Campbell, an Australian, his deputy, succeeded him in the interregnum between Rector Nurse and Rector Stubbs. He died in office in 1979. Building work on the new Nursery Department and Reception Class began three days after he died. Joe Pitt, who lived near the School and was a member of St Augusine's, Kilburn, Church, was appointed and forthwith married Gill Martin-Dye, headmistress of Chamberlayne Wood School. In his time the School was re-titled "Christ Church School" from "Brondesbury C of E School" to nail its identity more tightly to the sponsoring parish. A green and gold school uniform was adopted together with a badge bearing ancient Christian emblems of the Chi-Rho and the Fish (symbols of Christ). Joe Pitt was a viola player and brought an orchestral interest into the School. He was chairman of the parish's first Christian Stewardship programme, and on Jack Wreford's death became treasurer to the PCC. The Pitts moved to rural Northamptonshire in 1986. His deputy, the present head, Mrs Christine Swan, a Baptist, succeeded him in January 1987. Each head teacher has contributed gifts of excellence to the School which has a reputation second to none and receives annually three times as many applications as places it can offer. Five members of the Christ Church congregation serve on the Governing Board. The Rector and Churchwardens are the School's Trustees.
The School as Worship Centre 1985 - 1990
At the School the congregation became a close-knit family and remarkably younger taking on the appearance of a primary school church (which it was) composed of young parents with their children. Traditional worship was interpreted with freedom owing something to house masses which had been a feature of later days of the old church. Chairs were drawn up in semi-circle around a cubic altar made from staging blocks and draped with curtaining rescued from the closed building. The ponderous organ had gone, boxes of percussion instruments were served out. Children read Scripture equally with adults. Prayer was informal. Scrap-paper and crayons lay on the floor behind the circle for toddlers who wanted to withdraw and "do their own thing".
Parties were sometimes held after the service. The playground was for kicking a ball about as well as for processions. The Feast of Christ the King (the Feast of Title) on a November Saturday or Sunday evening was followed by a good meal largely of Asian or Caribbean foods.
There were multifaith and inter-denominational events. Christ Church joined with a Sikh group from Southall on a June Saturday to provide lunch at the School for walkers of a multifaith prayer pilgrimage en route from Battersea to North West London. A People of Faith gathering on a Wednesday evening brought representatives from the Baha 'i', Brahma Kumaris, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Zarathustrian communities together in the School hall. Bishop Aristarchos in return for a visit from Christ Church brought members of his Greek Cathedral congregation with him when he came to preach at an ecumenical service at the School in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 1990. It was the occasion when St Andrew's United Reformed Church and St Anne's, Brondesbury, took part for the first time with the "Church on the Rise" group of churches.
On June 11th 1988 John Klyberg, Bishop of Fulham, officiating at a Service of Christian Initiation in the School playground confirmed more Christ Church candidates (21) at one time than had been done for 53 years when, on June 12th 1935, twenty-four were confirmed.
Pilgrimages, groups - children's and adults - for the deepening of spiritual life, and for enquirers, and an Open Door Retreat (combining retreat with going about daily work) completed the programme.
With the various permissions achieved and planning procedures worked through, building work began on the new Christ Church complex in February 1989. The London Diocesan Fund (the Diocese as financial company) leased Christ Church to the Berkley House Development Company which leased back to the Fund 30% volume of the building for creation of the new place of worship. Simon Coe of the firm of Biscoe & Stanton was the surveyor acting for the Diocese. Separate architects were appointed for the place of worship and for the residential flats. The Rector and PCC had used the time carefully to design the church they wanted and their brief was entrusted to architect Aron Sloma of Integrated Design & Development Limited. Peter Jay and Partners were appointed electrical and heating consultants for the church end of the building. Allied builders handled the construction work throughout.
Blessing the works - and School Centenary
The Bishop of Willesden (Tom Butler) presided over a service of blessing the
works at the site on Corpus Christi, May 1989. The Mayor, Cllr Len Williams
and his Mayoress were present together with the developers and builders, the
School, the Deanery clergy, lay representatives of Deanery and Diocese, and
the Abbot of Elmore (formerly Nashdom) whose monks had lived in the parish during
the Second World War. Keith Meehan, a director of Berkley House, presented a
ceremonial trowel. The Bishop and the Site Manager (Bob
Chappell) led a procession through the building. The morning's proceedings were followed in the afternoon by the School's centenary mass in the playground, marking the 100th year of the School's possession of its own buildings. A feature of this Eucharist was a maypole dance before the altar (children in costume of 1899) and the emergence from the maypole of an ethnic Indian pupil to perform a classical Indian dance. The eventful day was rounded off with a professional firework display in Aylestone School (now Queens Park Community School) field, the biggest local open space available.
Two accidents occurred during the building works. Fire broke out in the boiler room from which the workman escaped unscathed. Then a young painter was injured by a fall from the scaffolding gallery while working at high level inside the church. He was removed to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, by military vehicle and appeared on television news in a report on the ambulance strike, together with some shots of the church interior.
The first resident moved into Flat 17 (the tower flat) in July 1990. The new church's Dedication on Sunday afternoon September 23rd was combined with Thanksgiving for Harvest. The Service began in the School playground with an act of gratitude for the School and five happy years of its use as worship centre. The Mayor of Brent, now Cllr Roger Stone, met the procession in Christchurch Avenue. Representing the planning authority he presented the church key to the Bishop of Willesden who gave it to the Rector desiring him to lead the people into the church. There the walls were "baptised", the people sprinkled, the altar anointed, incense touched off, the Bible presented, the Eucharist celebrated, memorial scrolls signed.
The newspapers are interested
The completed project attracted interest from local and national press. The Independent, the Daily Mail, the Sunday Express carried features on it. Hitherto churches had been sold for change of use or new churches had been built into complexes of flats or shops, but Christ Church was a living community which had paid for the restoration of its building and the making of a new place of worship by selling redundant space and going "semi-detached".
When the sale of the residential flats was complete the developers returned the head lease to the London Diocesan Fund whose agent Biscoe & Stanton manage the block. The new church is in fact Flat 22 of the complex, and is sometimes referred to as such, paying its service and maintenance charges. A Residents' Meeting keeps occupants in touch with each other and enables action over matters of common concern.
The place of worship
The new place of worship is at the east end of the old. It represents space drawn closer together, but it is not small and arches and pillars hint of more beyond. Probably over 300 people have been present at one time without a sense of crush. The altar, a little east of centre, is surrounded by uncluttered space which is emphasized by the horse-shoe arrangement of the chairs. The great stained-glass east window gives a soaring perspective compensating the God-in-the-midst feel of the congregational area. The altar panels were designed and painted by Michael Coles ARCA. The Byzantine style side panels represent the four evangelists. The front centres the victorious Christ as the Lamb that had been slain. He is flanked by Noah, sign of the new creation, and by Abraham, symbol both of sacrifice and of salvation by faith. The connecting motif is the tree of life with its leaves for the healing of the nations. The "Brondesbury Ikon", facing the Willesden Lane entrance is also by Michael Coles. The same artist designed the font and the tabernacle plinth, assisted in the stone-work by his former student, Roy Bowles.
The area between altar and east wall is used as a chapel for smaller weekday celebrations. Heating is provided from beneath the Italian clay floor tiles and behind wall panels. A switch panel enable light intensity to be graduated. The re-modelling has brought into focus the original decorated ceiling, Children's art work around the tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament speaks of the importance of the School in the life of the parish and of the Lord's will to have the children come to him.
The ancillary rooms
Hayes and Finch fitted and furnished the sacristy and supplied the church chairs and tabernacle. A signed photograph of Lord Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury, bearing a message of blessing on the dedication stands on the vestment chest.
Underneath the narthex or Willesden Lane porch is the boiler room bearing witness to the electronic age. There is a handicapped person's entrance on the Christ Church Avenue side.
A staircase at the back of the church leads to an open sided room which can function as a balcony. This in turn leads to a quiet room built among the rafters which the architect entitled "the library". A lumber room completes the upstairs storey.
There is a refectory and kitchen, toilets and a room set aside "For Reconciliation", used for confessions, spiritual guidance, interviews and private conversation. Two stained-glass windows of former Bishops of London stand in the refectory. The Bishops are Mandell Creighton who consecrated a Christ Church extension in 1899 and Winnington Ingram. The windows were presented to Christ Church in July 1992 by the Old Boys' Association of the former Kilburn Grammar School (the Old Creightonians) in whose assembly hall they used to stand.
A bell, rescued from the tower, and a stained glass window are stored in the basement awaiting installation when money becomes available. It was the wish of the late Mrs GA Park who gave it that this window, "the Miraculous Catch of Fish", by local artist Lilian Pocock, should be retained for the new Christ Church, failing which it should go to the chapel of the Missions to Seamen. Mrs Park made the quaint little men who stand as guardians and doorstops to the sacristy and reconciliation room. They were originally in use at the communion gates.
The Church Hall
The Church Hall, the Parochial Church Council's own property, was not included
in the development project. It continues to render service to the wider community
and is a modest source of income. It is the home of the Beehive Montessori School
(081-451-5477) and of Adele's
School of Dance
(071-435-5951) which is served by a canteen catered for by the church refectory committee. Guides, Brownies, the Keija Self-Defence Club
(081-969-7204) are other regular tenants. It was also for many years worship centre for the Church of God of Prophecy.
The present Rector in his inaugural address to the Parochial Church Council on 1st March 1976 said:- "Brondesbury is a kind of laboratory where insights are more likely to be given than in religiously less hard-pressed areas, insights which will be valid for world society and which can be passed along." (PCC Minute)
The years recorded in these pages have witnessed dramatic change. They are years in which Christ Church all but died out and in which new life grew from the roots. Christ Church has learnt to understand God as active in the realities of contemporary urban life, and has "turned-in" to natural movement and growth. She has come to have a clearer perception of her place in the social fabric of the district as witness to Christ's resurrection, proclaimer of the activity of God and of a tomorrow giving purpose to today. Particularly through her School she is a creator of social unity, and educator of the young and a pastor and healer of families. Members of the Christ Church community have been supported by a sense of vocation or personal calling, and looking back over the story one feels a sense of destiny, of inevitability even. Experience of the Sunday Eucharist with God as the prime mover and themselves as linked with everyman has been the heart of the matter.
The inner truth
On May 22nd 1992, Graham Dow, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Coventry, was consecrated Bishop for the episcopal area of Willesden. On June 14th in a service of remarkable freedom he conducted the first confirmation to take place in the new Christ Church. The families presented to him young people who for the most part had grown up in the vital years of the Church's development at the School worship centre, incidentally revealing the network of family relationships which are one of Christ Church's strengths. The Bishop led the newly confirmed to exercise immediately their ministry of prayer and healing. Signifying and giving the Holy Spirit, this memorable Confirmation celebrated expectancy of the future and spoke the inner truth of this story we have told.
The Churchwardens are John Gill, 168 Hanover Road, London NW10 3DP
(081-459-2399) and Barrie Jaggs, 127 Chevening Road, NW6 6DU (081-969-0444) to whom any enquiries should be addressed.
To record the succession: John Gill succeeded Jack Wreford in 1982. Barrie Jaggs succeeded Russell Britton in 1991. Russell Britton followed Jack Miller in 1970 after a year without a churchwarden.
A history of the School exists by local historian Ken Valentine, prepared for its building's centenary in 1989*. Apply Headteacher (Mrs CEM Swan), Christ Church (Brondesbury) C of E, JM & I School, Clarence Road, Willesden Lane, London NW6 7TE (071-624-4967). *(The School before 1889 was in hired rooms opposite the present buildings in what was Lincoln Terrace).
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© Brent Heritage website 2002