Monday, May 26th 2014
Tigger has this week off from work except for tomorrow, Tuesday, so we will be “out and about” a bit more than usual over the next few days. Yesterday we did the weekly shopping and the laundry, so we thought we would take things a little easy today.
We took a 205 bus in the direction of Paddington Station. I am not sure where we were going but, wherever it was, we never got there. As the bus passed St Marylebone Church, Tigger noticed that the church was open. It is usually closed when we come to Marylebone and so this was an opportunity to visit the church. We left the bus at the next stop, which happens to be opposite Madame Tussaud’s, and walked back.
On the way we passed the premises of the Methodist Missionary Society, also known as Methodist Church House. The building dates from the 1930s and has a religious relief above the door.
I believe the artist was David Evans (a short biography of him appears here) and depicts the story in the New Testament of Jesus summoning the fishermen to be his disciples and “fishers of men”, a reasonably appropriate motif for a missionary society, I suppose.
We approached the church from the side and the above view shows the massive pillars that support the high porch. The present church (the third to be erected here) was built in 1813-17, though changes were inevitably made later. Originally, this neighbourhood was part an a district called Tyburn after the stream that ran through it. So dangerous and violent was the area that in 1388 a gallows – the “Tyburn Tree” – was set up to dispatch local criminals, several at a time. The local church was often the victim of break-ins and theft and so was moved to new premises in what was considered a safer location. Being near the Tyburn, it was known as “St Mary’s by the bourne”1, a name that eventually mutated into “Marylebone”.
Above the entrance, protected by wires to prevent pigeons perching and shitting on the heads of the faithful, a plaque records the consecration of the church on February 4th 1817 together with the names of the minister in charge and other worthies involved in the ceremony. Two titled gentlemen hold the office of Churchwarden and the Sidesmen are also named. I have no idea who George Allan might have been but suspect that John Russell was the famous John Russell, politician and statesman, later the 1st Earl Russell, whose family, the Dukes of Bedford, owned land around here and had laid out Russell Square seventeen years previously. At this date, John Russell would have been 25 years old and, being the younger son of the Duke, did not have a title, so his name appears unadorned. These persons probably served in the named roles just for the ceremony of consecration, showing that the consecration was a grand occasion and that the church of St Marylebone was a prestigious institution.
The church interior strikes me as a beautiful example of an early 19th century, late Georgian, church, less flamboyant than some, perhaps, but rich without excess. The church possesses a 1987 Rieger organ but I counted three sets of organ pipes, two flanking the altar and a third at the rear of the church (see below). Whether these all belong to the one organ or are remainders of previous instruments, I do not know.
A notable feature of the design is the elaborately styled gallery, suggesting that the church once attracted large numbers of worshippers, including many from socially elevated classes.
Although the church is about two hundred years old, the stained glass windows are modern. The one shown, for example, is in memory of Margarita Victoria Goodwin who died in 1953. The reason is the usual one: the original windows were blown out during the bombing of World War II.
Some of the windows show an intriguing feature: a border of glass fragments. The reason for this is explained in a panel in one of the windows which reads thus:
ARE SURROUNDED BY
FRAGMENTS OF STAINED GLASS
THE ORIGINAL MEMORIAL WINDOWS
OF THIS CHURCH
WHICH WERE DESTROYED
THE AIR RAIDS ON LONDON
IN THE WAR 1939-1945
The glass shards were painstakingly collected and suitable pieces selected to form the decorative and colourful borders of new windows. Though the originals could no be restored, this imaginative idea goes some way towards providing a memorial to them.
I rather liked the carving on the end of the choir stalls of an angel playing a trumpet. He has the absorbed look of one concentrating on a task performed together with others.
After visiting the church, we walked round to Portman Square where stands a plainly styled but elegant Victorian drinking fountain. It is dated 1876 and is in honour of Sir James John Hamilton (1802-76), 2nd Baronet of Woodbrook. Strangely, there is not the usual dedication in praise of subject, but a simple statement of his name and a quotation from the Bible: THE MEMORY OF THE JUST IS BLESSED, (Proverbs 10:7).
In the side of the fountain is a small door or plate with a keyhole which probably gives access to the stopcock. It bears a longer quotation, this one slightly amended from the King James version of John 4:13:1, Jesus [answered and] said [unto her,} Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. While the Victorian era is still close to us in many ways, the adorning a public monuments with Biblical quotations indicates a ready piety quite at odds with our own more secular outlook.
We next took a bus to Westbourne Park. Westbourne was anciently a farm belonging to Westminster Abbey and is mentioned in a charter of 1222, taking its name from the River Westbourne which formed its eastern boundary. Both the Westbourne and the Tyburn originate in the wells and springs of Haverstock Hill in Hampstead.
After the Reformation, Westminster Abbey recovered its lands here and leased them to tenant farmers but today, Westbourne Park is part of Paddington within the City of Westminster. It is one of the many almost-towns that, like the units of a patchwork quilt, make up Greater London.
We looked for somewhere where we could have lunch and eventually tried a Spanish restaurant called La Bodega. There is quite a large Spanish community in this area and the restaurant struck me as authentic (unlike the many not-really-Spanish tapas bars that have sprung up in recent times). We chose the vegetable paella, a dish we had enjoyed elsewhere, not least during our trip to Barcelona (see Barcelona 2012 – Day 1). We were told we needed a serving each but these were so large that I think we would have found it hard to finish just a single serving between the two of us. Add to that the fact that the paella was not very nice and you have a recipe for a disappointing meal.
After this, we decided to make for home as Westbourne Park did not thrill us enough to make us want to stay. Maybe we shall return another time for a longer look and find points of charm and interest that we missed today.
The day was not a complete write-off, however, as we had managed to take a look inside St Marylebone Church which, until today, we had seen only from the outside.
1The name Tyburn derives from the Anglo-Saxon Teoburna (“boundary stream”). Bourne, burn, etc, meaning “stream”, commonly appear as components of the names of places situated close to streams and rivers.