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Watts Church Crawl (Part the First)

 

The Watts Church Crawl (part the first)

This year of grace, 2013, sees the 150th anniversary of the London Underground Railway (tube). In honour of this occasion, we thought we would give you a little church crawl around the circle line, starting at St. James’s Park, the headquarters of Transport for London, (and the closest station to 7 Tufton Street).

Over the coming weeks we will take you around each station on the Circular line and show you not only the station, but also a church and a place of interest, so that those of you who are impeded by distance or other reasons from seeing the delights that central London has to offer in the flesh may not be bereft of some of the experience. (Truth be told you are probably better off this way: the tube in the rush hour can be… unpleasant). We also hope to have quotes on some of the churches by the late Sir John Betjeman ( well, who else could you have in a series focusing on both trains & churches?) As well as some other sources.

So we will begin with St. James’s.

 

THE STATION

St. James’s Park station at 55 Broadway is a remarkable building in it’s own right; it was opened on the 24th December, 1868, as part of the Metropolitan District Railway (now the District Line) and described by some as a “Fascist Cathedral”. In it’s current incarnation it was built between 1927 & 1929 and is part of 55 Broadway, the headquarters of Transport for London. It also boasts some very fine and deeply controversial exterior carving by Eric Gill, Alfred Gerrard, Allan G. Wyon, Eric Aumonier, Samuel Rabinovitch, Jacob Epstein & Henry Moore. At the time of completion it was the tallest tower block in the city.

Eric Gill’s North Wind

THE CHURCH

Methodist Central Hall

 

Like most of the very notable buildings on Victoria Street, it is quite easy to walk past Methodist Central Hall, but it is a truly vast building, with a spectacular, Viennese baroque exterior, designed by the Lancashire firm of Lanchester, Stewart & Rickards, who also designed other neo-baroque examples of what might be termed Edwardian Civic architecture, it was finished in 1911 and paid for by the Million Guinea Fund between 1898 and 1908 (“A Million Guineas for a Million Methodists!”). The carvings on the exterior may be thought to be a bit militant for a Methodist building, but represent the tools of spiritual warfare. It also boasts one of the most spectacular staircases (Pevsner describes it as “unabashedly theatrical”) in the world. It also boasts one of the largest domes in the world, and some of the earliest examples of re-enforced concrete framing.

In its history it has seen many historic and significant events take place within its walls, such as the UN General Assembly in 1946, various public enquiries, and the first performance of “Joseph & his amazing technicolour dream coat” in 1968. It was the central headquarters of the Methodist church until 2000.

 

Main entrance & staircase of Methodist central hall

 

THE PLACE

Faith House, 7 Tufton Street

 

Well where else? Home to Britain’s most prestigious firm of vestment makers,

Built 1899 by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the St. John’s Institute (named from St. John’s, Smith Square), it is his first serious example of classical architecture, in which he learns many of the lessons which would stand him in good stead for the remainder of his career.

 

Sir Edwin Lutyens

 

Watts & Co moved here from Baker Street in 1965, and have occupied the basement ever since. Various people, such as the Church Union (who famously had a bookshop here) and Faith Craft have occupied the upper floors over the years, and currently our other main occupant is the student charity Restless Development.

This a hugely interesting building, which warrants a fuller post in its own right, which we hope to produce at some point in the future.

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