The Watts Church Crawl, Part the Sixth: High Street Kensington

Moving on from Gloucester Road, we head up to High Street Kensington; formerly the great shopping district of this part of London. Sadly now all of its 5 department stores are vanished. The line here has an interesting bit of history to it: there ran parallel to it the “Cromwell Curve”, which was opened (without parliamentary permission, mark you) by the MDR in the 1870s. The Metropolitan Railway was furious about this, as it meant that the MDR would receive larger revenues from the Inner Circle. All of this caused a legal dispute which lasted 15 years and ended with the Cromwell Curve being ripped up just before the first world war. The station itself boasts some very fine architecture, especially in the small shopping mall.

 Alighting at High Street Ken (as it is affectionately known), we head up the hill to St. Mary Abbots, and so begins something of a Gilbert Scott fest, for today we shall be looking at not one, nor even two, but three churches, all within a few minutes of each other, and all built by generations of the Scott family.

(It should be noted here, that those In The Know know that the family surname was always Scott, never Gilbert-Scott. Gilbert was in fact an hereditary Christian name)

The name of St Mary Abbots derives from the church and land attached being gifted to the Abbey of St. Mary at Abingdon in the 1200s. The current church is about 120 years old, and replaces an earlier renaissance church. Sir John Betjeman tells us more:

(St. Mary Abbots) Parish Church
Rebuilt by Sir Gilbert Scott, 1869-72. Correct Victorian middle-pointed, well suited to the correct rich middle-class suburb of its time. Spire and tower nobly proportioned. Attractive cloister from road to S. Door by Micklethwaite and Somers Clarke, 1889-93. Dark lofty interior damaged in war and inexpensively restored. Glass in W. Window by Clayton and Bell.

Coming out of St. Mary Abbots, we turn up Kensington Church Street, and reach the Carmelite Church (dedication: Our Lady of Mount Carmel & St. Simon Stock). There is astonishingly little on this beautiful, very simple and very Carmelite church: it was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (grandson of the Scott of St. Mary Abbots) in 1957. Very plain interior, with the focus drawn entirely towards the High Altar, by the very fine reredos. The light fittings are distinctly Fun, and there are many charming little side Altars, which at least looked cared for, if not used. Many of the architectural ideas of this place can be seen in Scott’s proposed designs for Coventry Cathedral.

We must now double back on ourselves and head up to the other end of Kensington High Street, to Our Lady of Victories, at one time pro-Cathedral for the diocese of Westminster, until the Cathedral was built on Victoria Street.

The church was almost totally flattened by bomb damage in 1940, and there are many very evocative images of the church in ruins being prayed in by men, women, children and nuns.

The fresh air must have got too much for them eventually, because in 1952 they commissioned Adrian Gilbert Scott to build them something a little warmer, which he did, and which was opened in 1959 “amidst great rejoicing.” It was consecrated in 1970 by a former curate, Derek Warlock, then archbishop of Liverpool.

Another stroll brings us round to Kensington Gardens, which are best seen on a warmish summer’s evening, although there are still evenings in September when it is perfectly pleasant to look round. There are a great many lovely things to see, but we will leave you with a picture of the Peter Pan statue:

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