The Watts Church Crawl (Part the Fourth) South Kensington

“They’re a ravenous horde, and they all come on board at Sloane Square & South Kensington Stations”.

Quite why W. S. Gilbert chose these two particular stations, I don’t know: they had both been open for well over 10 years when the operetta Iolanthe (from which those words emanate) was written, so it is a little out of date for satire, but never mind, it is one of the finest patter songs in the G&S canon.

South Kensington is an area so rich in culture and beauty that it is impossible to digest it in at one sitting. But we shall have a stab at it.

The Station

The oldest parts of South Kensington Station (or Sarrrf Ken, as it is known colloquially) date from 1868, and the exterior boasts some of the most attractive London transport ironwork in London. It is also just about as busy as Gatwick airport, especially at the rush hour.

Emerging from the station, we go on to the Brompton road, and we are faced by a vista of many and splendoured buildings, from the Natural History Museum (the Natch), in Victorian Romanesque, with zoological motifs, then the red brick mannerism of the Victoria & Albert Museum, with Price Albert surveying all who go through its doors, and finally the London Oratory (The O) in its perfect imitation Roman baroque. Also in the area are St. Augustine’s, Queensgate (not what it was in the great days), with its very attractive Butterfield/Travers combination (although there are those who opine that the Butterfield brickwork should never have had its whitewash stripped), and Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road: highly significant for Watts, as it was one of G.F. Bodley’s last commissions, and boasts a very fine memorial to him.


The Church

As, Geographically, the Oratory is closest, we will poke our noses in there.

During Benediction at the end of the 40 hours devotion.


There are few buildings which boast the sort of atmosphere which the Oratory possess: it is usually a very quiet place, but with much activity also. It is the largest Catholic parish church in London, founded by the author and hymn writer Fr. Wilfrid Faber (who died 150 years ago this month) and staffed by the Congregation of the Oratory. It’s intention was to bring a rather large bit of Rome to South Kensington, and it succeeded in no small way: everything that takes place there is redolent of a Rome that existed when Faber was there, down to the sanctuary lamps. The statues and the Lady chapel Altar notably come from Italian churches which had no use for them at the time, and so were installed in the Oratory. It also boasts a stunning Calvary which was executed only a couple of years ago (what we especially like is the incorporation of the Oratory’s three stars above the Crucifix). It is a church that benefits many hours of wandering round, and taking in the many fine and small details which make up the whole, such as the painted window in St. Patrick’s chapel. Its liturgy is also world renowned, and offers stability in the changes and chances of this fleeting world.


The Place

Well, we couldn’t not go to the V&A…

Arguably the most brilliant collection of “things” in the world: not merely the brilliant, though they are all there, but also the mundane, the average and even the downright awful. The permanent exhibition spaces are brilliantly laid out, together with the various temporary exhibits on such varied themes as the gothic revival, costumes of Hollywood, David Bowie and London fashion in the 1980s.

There are however, two things we would like you to see: the Hereford Screen and the Cast Courts (which are your intrepid reporter’s favourite parts, not least the life size copy of the great doors of Santiago de Compostella and Trajan’s column).


There really is to much in South Kensington, and we aren’t doing it justice, however, we must move on. Do explore the websites we have linked to. Next stop, Gloucester Road!

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