I’ve often thought wistfully of my schooldays. I think back to when I was a sixth former, writing endless essays on the Duchess of Malfi or Antony and Cleopatra. I can’t remember much about either, but one thing I do recall is how I loved to construct essays, salivating with relish at the prospect of each assignment that asked me to examine the role of Bosola or Enobarbus in each respective play.
Sadly, the skill of essay construction has proven to have very limited use within the remit of daily life. After school I ended up working my way up the management ladder in retail, where instead of writing essays I found myself trying to control the drinking habits of newly matured eighteen year old boys, which was no easy task considering that most evenings I sympathised with them quite strongly.
Moving forward a few years after a diversion into retail by way of HMV, with occasional freelance work doodling for various people including Channel 4 and Heston Blumenthal, I still found that my hunger for writing wasn’t being satiated. This is one of the reasons why I co-founded this blog with Christina – every week, I wanted to find something I was interested in and to write an article about it and present it to my readers.
With the influence of Twitter and my interest in history (notably my love of the Spitalfield’s Life blog by the Gentle Author), and the self confessed envy I had at numerous friends of mine going off to Uni and utilising their research skills to improve their own prospects, I decided to see what I’d be able to come up with, drawing upon my interest in Victoriana and the history of London. I was linked to a potential opportunity via Twitter about something that was of great interest to me, and, being a tease, I shan’t impart what that was , but I’ll summarise to say that I decided to involve myself in the process and what I was tasked to do gave me an unexpected thrill to research and chronicle.
I was asked to give a three minute talk on Marylebone Parish Church. It wasn’t specified what aspect I should focus on within my allocated time – it could’ve been the architectural worth of the building, the musical tradition or a history of the clergy. I decided to take the ‘laymans’ route and give a general overview of the history of the Church, not going too in-depth but to divulge enough information to a casual listener that would enlighten them to the history of this particular London Church.
I started with the basics, and went to the official website to see what I could discover about the Church. Unlike most Parish Churches, the website for Marylebone is remarkably detailed and lists the history the Church has contributed to the local area from 1200 to the present day, and why this isn’t the standard to most Parish Church websites I’m not entirely sure.
I went on to see that the current building is actually the fourth to serve the area, the first one being constructed in the 1200’s closer to Marble Arch than its current location. By 1400 this building was deemed to be too far removed from the village by the Bishop of London, and a new building dedicated to St. John the Evangelist is built for the use of parishoners. It’s this building that was featured by William Hogarth in his ‘Rake’s Progress’ series, as a very cramped and dilapidated building that seemed ripe for demolition. By the late 1730’s the decay of the building meant a new, smaller chapel was to built to accommodate the needs of the Parish. By 1770 it was clear this building was not big enough to meet the needs of an expanding population and Sir William Chambers, with the support of local land owners (the third and fourth dukes of Hereford) proposes two designs to provide a place of worship fit for the Londoners of the Georgian period.
These impressive designs languished in obscurity: the indecisiveness of the Parish Council as to which plan should be implemented meant the scheme was abandoned. The need for a larger Church remained however, and by 1810 new ground was acquired to provide a Chapel of Ease to alleviate the burden which was being placed on the Parish Church. Chamber’s pupil, Thomas Hardwick, designed the current building which sits on Baker Street , which towards the end of construction, was decided to be the new Parish Church. Designs were altered accordingly, a Portico was added with eight columns in the Corinthian style and a steeple added instead of the planned Cupola.
Alterations were made barely nine years after construction finished in 1817, with a major refurbishment undertaken in 1884 by a radical new incumbent by the name of Revered Barker, who was keen to modernise the Church to the needs of the congregation of the time. Utilising the Churchwarden who also happened to be an Architect (a gentleman by the name of Thomas Harris), improvements such as a new Pulpit, removal of the upper galleries and the creation of a Chancel for a robed Choir, work began in 1884 with a memorial stone laid by the wife of the Prime Minister, William Gladstone.
Now, I’m a self confessed Wren Church fan-boy. I have a working knowledge of the Queen Anne Churches that followed but anything after that had never really registered any kind of interest to me. To be asked to prepare a talk on something that was completely alien to me was not only stimulating but also integral to why I started writing again – the thrill it gave me to research something new. Writing about Cemeteries is almost second nature to me but to do something for a structured talk and present it to a group of people was unexpectedly satisfying. I got to learn about a beautiful place which for hundreds of years has given the people of Marylebone a place of reflection and solace, and acquaint myself with some prominent people in London society that I was unfamiliar with. I had no idea Nelson christened his daughter here or that Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning were wed here under cloak and dagger.
The exact reason why I had to give this talk…shall be concealed for now, but if it comes to fruition, it shall become an integral part of this blog. I rather enjoyed researching the history of a place in London that’s been there for so long, used by countless (and now long dead) Londoners as a place of healing and support.The joy of writing again and the creation of the Cemetery Club has given me the pleasure to write again, a skill which will hopefully be exploited more regularly as a result, something I hadn’t thought I’d be doing again after I left school – watch this space.