Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Half a century later,
Centre Point is still
‘coarse in the extreme’

Centre Point … still a landmark building in London after half a century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

When I began training as a chartered surveyor after I left school, one of the modern wonders of the property developers’ word was Centre Point, a large, multi-storey office block that stood empty for years.

It was controversial even then, when it was seen as being brash and crude. It featured on television programme and on the cover of book, and half a century ago it was at the heart of many protests that were closer to my heart then than the training was going through with a large property company and the College of Estate Management at Reading University.

Yet Centre Point was held up as an object lesson to my generation of the ‘build-em-high’ approach in the property world at the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s, and Harry Hyams, its developer, was held up as an innovative, entrepreneurial developer who managed to build up his portfolio and amass his wealth with a minimal staff.

Harry Hyams (1928-2015) made much of his fortune developing office space in London in the 1960s and 1970s when rents there were rising significantly. He preferred to find single, blue-chip tenants for his properties, having them fully repair and insure the buildings they occupied.

This approach allowed him to manage a valuable and sizable property business with a staff of just six. He also used that as justification for keeping Centre Point empty for years after it was completed, claiming he could find no tenant willing to lease all the space.

The negative reactions created by Centre Point were in sharp contrast to the positive acceptance of the nearby Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower), with its revolving restaurant.

All these memories came back in London last week as I walked back to the St Giles Hotel in Bloomsbury from Westminster, along Whitehall and Charing Cross Road, and found myself in front of Centre Point at 101-103 New Oxford Street and 5-24 St Giles High Street. It also has a frontage to Charing Cross Road, close to St Giles Circus and is almost directly above Tottenham Court Road Underground station.

Centre Point was built between 1963 and 1966 as speculative office space by the property tycoon Harry Hyams, who leased the site at £18,500 a year for 150 years.

This was one of the first skyscrapers in London. It is a 33-storey tower, with 27,180 sq metres of floor space. A nine-storey block beside it has shops, offices, retail units and maisonettes, and there is a linking block between the two at first-floor level.

The building was designed by George Marsh of the architects R Seifert and Partners, and was built by Wimpey Construction for £5.5 million.

Hyams wanted one single tenant for the whole building. Because he was a tough negotiator, the building remained vacant for many years after its completion in 1966.

Property prices were rising at the time, and most business tenancies involved leases for set periods of 10 or 15 years. Hyams could afford to keep Centre Point empty and wait for his single tenant at his asking price of £1.25 million. He was challenged to allow tenants to rent single floors, but consistently refused.

Because it was vacant for so long, it became known as ‘London’s Empty Skyscraper.’ Skyscrapers were rare in London, and Centre Point became a focus for protests in London.

The homeless charity Centrepoint was founded in 1969 as a homeless shelter in nearby Soho, and named Centrepoint in response to Centre Point being seen as an affront to the homeless because it had been left empty as Harry Hyams saw the value of his property portfolio increase.

An umbrella group of Direct Action housing campaigners, including Jim Radford, Ron Bailey and Jack Dromey, organised a weekend occupation of Centre Point from 18 to 20 January 1974 to draw to the housing crisis in London as Centre Point remained vacant.

Eventually tenants were found in 1975. From 1980 to 2014, Centre Point was the headquarters of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Centre Point was bought in 2005 by the commercial property firm Targetfollow for £85 million, and was extensively refurbished. The tenants included the US talent agency William Morris, the Saudi state-owned national oil company Aramco, the Chinese oil company Petrochina, and electronic gaming company EA Games.

Although Centre Point became a Grade II listed building in 1995, and won the Concrete Society’s Mature Structures Award in 2009, it was never really a pretty site. Perhaps the iron is not lost that the site was once occupied by a gallows.

A promised transport link never materialised, the pedestrian subway attracted anti-social activities, the building was cited as an example of bad design, badly-designed pavements were forcing e pedestrians into the bus lane and reports pointed to the highest level of pedestrian injuries in Central London.

Recently, it was bought by Almacantar, and was converted from office space to luxury flats in 2015 by Conran and Partners.

As I looked up at Centre Point that grey and wet afternoon last week, I had to agree with England’s greatest architectural historian and critic, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, who once described Centre Point as ‘coarse in the extreme.’

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Working my way through
‘Limerick in 50 Buildings’

No 17 The Crescent … one of 50 buildings included in Pat Dargan’s new book on Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Since moving to West Limerick at the beginning of 2017, I have enjoyed my regular trips into Limerick, not only to take part in events in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, and not merely to catch trains or buses to Dublin.

As a city, Limerick has an interesting history that dates back to the arrival of the Vikings on the Shannon estuary. After a brief period in the hands of the O’Briens, Kings of Thomond, Limerick passed to the Anglo-Normans in the late 12th century and later was fought over during the many civil wars in the 17th century.

Limerick’s Gothic Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the Norman-era King John’s Castle, and the city’s walls and defences have survived since the mediaeval era. But much of the architectural fabric of the city centre dates from the Georgian and Victorian eras, when the Pery and Barrington families were involved in laying out a new street plan with elegant houses lining the parallel streets and squares.

As I walk around the mediaeval quarter on King’s Island and the Georgian and Victorian streets and squares, I keep my eyes up, watching for what intrigues me, photographing it, and then researching it before I blog about it.

Now I have a new guidebook to Limerick’s streets and buildings.

Dr Pat Dargan is an architect and planner who has lectured in the Technological University Dublin from many ages. He has a special interest in the history and development of towns and villages.

He has published books on the architectural heritage of Dublin, Bath, and London and on the Georgian buildings in his native Limerick.

Now he has produced a new book, Limerick in 50 Buildings in a series published by Amberley Books. Three years ago, my friend the Lichfield blogger wrote a similar book in this series, Lichfield in 50 Buildings.

Pat Dargan’s selection includes imposing Georgian public buildings, extensive Victorian religious and industrial buildings, the city’s museums, including the Hunt Museum and Frank McCourt Museum, and its modern architecture all reflect a dynamic local history.

The former Leamy School on Hartstonge Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

He begins with Kilrush Old Church, on Old Church Street, near Villiers School and said to be the oldest building in Limerick, and ends with the Clayton Hotel on the Quays, one of the most striking buildings visually on the quays.

In between, the selection is captivating. He includes churches, castles and courthouses, ruins and modern structures.

I have already blogged about many of these buildings. Inevitably, when it comes to choices, there are some I might have selected that are not here – such as the former Jesuit church on the Crescent; and there are others that are here that I might not have thought about or have yet to see.

One way he caught my imagination was the inclusion of No 17 The Crescent, which is his No 24 in his selection, right in the middle of the book. This house is typical of the 600 or so Georgian townhouses in Newtown Pery, although it is positioned in the curve of the Crescent.

Limerick in 50 Buildings explores the history of this city and the changes that have taken place in Limerick over the centuries. A small quibble is the spelling of some of the street names on the map, and the map location for O’Connell Street. But this is a book that I plan to take with me again and again as I wander through the city streets.

Pat Dargan, Limerick in 50 Buildings (Stroud: Amberley, 2019, paperback, ISBN: 9781445691237, €17.99)

The Clayton Hotel, Pat Dargan’s choice No 50 in ‘Limerick in 50 Buildings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ten modern martyrs
above the West Door
of Westminster Abbey

The ten martyrs of the 20th century above the West Door of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

While I was standing at the west front of Westminster Abbey last week [12 August 2019], I spent some time thinking about ten modern martyrs whose statues stand above the Abbey’s Great West Door and who gave up their lives for their beliefs.

After the restoration of the western towers of the Abbey had been completed in 1995, it was decided to fill the 10 gothic niches above the west doorway with statues.

The lower part of the towers date from the 15th century and the tops of the towers were completed in 1745. The niches never had statues, although this was obviously the plan of decoration.

Instead of traditional figures of kings or saints, the abbey decided that martyrs of the 20th century should be remembered. Their statues were chosen to represent all those who have died in circumstances of oppression and persecution and they are drawn from every continent and many Christian denominations.

Four sculptors completed the statues, carved from French Richemont limestone. The Archbishop of Canterbury unveiled the statues in July 1998 at a service attended by Queen Elizabeth II.

The West Front of Westminster Abbey, with the statues of the ten martyrs above the West Door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

These 10 statues are (from left):

Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941):

Andrew Tanser carved the statue of Maximilian Kolbe, who died as prisoner 16770 in Auschwitz-Birkenau, offered his own life to save a fellow prisoner, Franciszek Gajowniczek, condemned to death by the camp authorities after a successful escape by a fellow prisoner.

Kolbe was born on 8 January 1894 in Zdunska Wola. At 18, he went to Rome to study philosophy and theology. He returned to Poland to lecture at the Fransciscan seminary at Krakow. In 1930, he travelled with four of his brothers to Nagasaki in Japan.

He returned to Poland six years later Kolbe returned again to Poland. Soon after the Nazi invasion of Poland, he was sent to Auschwitz, where he was known to give his own food discreetly to other prisoners, to hear confessions and to celebrate Mass.

A prisoner in his own block escaped in July 1941, and now Kolbe stepped forward to make his sacrifice. In the starvation cell, six of the 10 who had been selected died within two weeks. Kolbe was still fully conscious when he was killed by lethal injection on 14 August 1941. The cell where he died is now a shrine.

Maximilian Kolbe was beatified by Paul VI in 1970 and canonised as Martyr by Pope John Paul II in 1982. A service to mark his 125th anniversary of his birth was held in Westminster Abbey earlier this year [13 January 2019].

Manche Masemola (ca 1913-1928):

John Roberts is the sculptor of the statue of Manche Masemola, a young woman of the Pedi tribe, lived in Sekhukhuneland, in the Transvaal in South Africa.

Manche Masemola was born ca 1913 in Marishane. She did not go to school, but worked with her family on the land and at home.

Father Augustine Moeka of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection established a mission at Marishane in 1919. When Manche Masemola heard Father Moeka preach, she began to attend classes twice a week, although her parents tried to discourage her.

Because she had defied them, her parents Lucia and Moeka took her to a lonely place and killed her on 4 February 1928, and she was buried on a remote hillside. A few days later her younger sister, Mabule, became ill and then died at the nearby Jane Furse mission hospital. Later, however, her father planted trees beside the grave, which became a place of pilgrimage, and her mother was baptised.

The name of Manche Masemola was added to the calendar of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa in 1975.

Archbishop Janani Luwum (ca 1922-1977):

The statue of Archbishop Janani Luwum is the work of Neil Simmons.

Janani Luwum was a young teacher when he was converted to Christianity in his village in Acoli, Uganda, in 1948. He became an evangelist and went to a theological college at Buwalasi in east Uganda where he trained as a catechist. He was ordained deacon in 1955 and priest in 1956.

He was appointed Provincial Secretary of the Anglican Church of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire in 1966. Three years later, he became Bishop of Northern Uganda in 1969. His consecration was attended by the Prime Minister, Milton Obote, and the army chief of staff, Idi Amin.

Two years later, Amin deposed Obote in a coup. Luwum was elected Archbishop of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire in 1974.

The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches increasingly worked together to frame a response to the political problems in Uganda. They were soon joined by the Muslims of Uganda. On 12 February 1977, Luwum delivered a protest to Amin against acts of violence by the security forces. Amin summoned Church leaders to Kampala and ordered them to leave, one by one. Luwum turned to Bishop Festo Kivengere and said, ‘They are going to kill me. I am not afraid.’

He was taken away and murdered; later his body was buried near St Paul’s Church, Mucwini. A memorial service for Archbishop Janani Luwum was held in Westminster Abbey on 30 March 1977.

Grand Duchess Elizabeth (1864-1918):

The statue to this modern martyr is the work of Sculptor John Roberts. Elizabeth of Hesse-Darmstadt was born on 1 November 1864. Her mother died when she was a child, and she came to England to live with her grandmother, Queen Victoria. Her childhood was Lutheran and her adolescence was Anglican.

Elizabeth married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the fifth son of Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1884, and joined the Orthodox Church in 1891. When her husband was assassinated in 1905, she gave away her jewellery, sold her most luxurious possessions, and opened the Martha and Mary home in Moscow. Elizabeth and 17 of her companions formally became nuns in 1909. They soon opened a hospital and began other philanthropic works.

The Tsarist state collapsed in March 1917, and the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917. Elizabeth was arrested with two sisters from her convent on 7 May 1918, and transported across country to Perm, then to Ekatarinburg, and finally to Alapaevsk. On 17 July, the Tsar and his family were shot dead. During the following night, Elizabeth, Sister Varvara, and members of the royal family were murdered in a mineshaft.

Elizabeth was recognised as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1984 and by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1992.

Martin Luther King (1929-1968):

This statue is by the sculptor Tim Crawley. The Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr was born on 15 January 1929. His father was the minister of the Ebenezer Baptist church in Atlanta, Georgia.

He was educated at Morehouse College, Atlanta, and Crozier Theological College. After he was ordained, his first church was at Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama. He was soon drawn into protests against segregation and racism and formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

After a Civil Rights march on Washington in August 1963, Congress passed a civil rights act in July 1964. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but was shot dead in Memphis on 4 April 1968. He was 39.

The ten martyrs of the 20th century above the West Door of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Oscar Romero (1917-1980):

The statue of Archbishop Oscar Romero is by the sculptor John Roberts. Oscar Romero was 13 when he decided he had a vocation to the priesthood. He went to a seminaries in San Miguel and San Salvador, and then studied in Rome, and was ordained in 1942.

He became auxiliary bishop of San Salvador in 1970. Many people found him a conservative in views and by temperament. In 1974 he became Bishop of Santiago de Maria, a rural diocese, and in 1977 Archbishop of San Salvador.

He realised that the wealthy sanctioned the violence in which death squads committed murder in the cities while soldiers killed as they wished in the countryside. More and more, Romero committed himself to the poor and the persecuted, and he became the catalyst for radical moral prophecy. His church began to document human rights abuse, and Romero was accused of allying the church with revolutionaries.

He visited the Pope in May 1979, and presented him with seven dossiers of reports and documents describing the injustices of in Salvador. But he was isolated in the Church as the threats against him mounted. On 24 March 1980, he was shot dead while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the hospital where he lived.

Oscar Romero was beatified in 2015 and canonised on 14 October 2018. A special Evensong for the Canonisation of Saint Oscar Romero took place in Westminster Abbey on 17 November 2018.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945):

This statue is by the sculptor Tim Crawley. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on 4 February 1906 in Wroclaw (formerly Breslau), and grew up in a comfortable professional home, where his family was nominally Lutheran. At the age of 13, he decided to study for ordination.

He studied at the University of Berlin, at the age of 18 visited Rome, and studied at Union Theological Seminary, New York (1930-1931).

Following the rise of the Nazis in 1933, Bonhoeffer saw Nazism as a counter-religion and a danger to Christianity. In October 1933 he became the pastor of two German-speaking parishes in the London area, and began his friendship with Bishop George Bell of Chichester.

On his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer ran the seminary of the Confessing Church at Finkenwalde, which was shut down by the police in 1937. He went to New York in 1939 but chose to return to Germany, aware of the costs that lay before him and fearing a Nazi victory would destroy Christian civilisation. For Bonhoeffer, true discipleship now demanded political resistance against the criminal state.

He was arrested in March 1943 and survived as a prisoner until 9 April 1945. He was executed only a few days before the end of World War II.

The Rose Window in the North Transept of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Esther John (1929-1960):
Neil Simmons was the sculptor of the statue of Esther John. She was born Qamar Zia, one of seven children. While she was reading Isaiah 53, she was suddenly overtaken by a sense of conversion to Christianity. With the partition of India, she moved with her family to Pakistan.

Her Christian faith grew privately and secretly. She ran away from home, fearing a forced marriage to a Muslim husband. For a while she worked in an orphanage in Pakistan and took the name Esther John.

She fled again in 1955 to Sahiwal, in the Punjab, where she lived and worked in a mission hospital, stayed with the first Anglican Bishop of Karachi, Chandu Ray, and trained as a teacher.

She was brutally murdered in her bed in Chichawatni on 2 February 1960.

Lucian Tapiedi (ca 1921-1942):

The statue of Lucian Tapiedi is by Tim Crawley. Lucian Tapiedi was born in 1921 or 1922 on the north coast of Papua. His father was a sorcerer, who died when he was still young. He was taught at mission schools and in 1939 he entered Saint Aidan’s teacher training college, where he joined the staff as a teacher and evangelist in 1941.

The Japanese invaded Papua on 21 July 1942. Lucian Tapiedi was determined not to abandon the missionaries he was working with. But Tapiedi was murdered near a stream by Kurumbo village, and the other members of the group perished soon after, six of them beheaded by the Japanese on Buna beach.

A shrine marks the place where he was murdered. His killer later converted to Christianity, and built a church dedicated to the memory of his victim.

Wang Zhiming (1907-1973):

This statue is the work of the sculptor Neil Simmons. Wang Zhiming, a Miao pastor, was educated in mission schools, and then he taught in one of the schools for 10 years. He was elected chairman of the Sapushan Church Council in Wuding in 1944, and he was ordained in 1951. There were 2,795 Christians in Wuding county in the mid-1960s, and Wang Zhiming lived among them as a pastor.

During the Cultural Revolution, between 1966 and 1976, churches were closed and Christians were forced to meet secretly. At least 21 Christian leaders in Wuding were imprisoned between 1969 and 1973.

Wang Zhiming was a known critic of the local Red Guards, and he and other family members were arrested in May 1969. Four years later, he was condemned to death. He was by then seen as an old man of 66.

Wang Zhiming was executed on 29 December 1973 at a mass rally of more than 10,000 people. His wife was jailed for three years, two of his sons for nine years, and a third reportedly died by suicide while he was in detention.

Wang Zhiming was ‘rehabilitated’ by party officials in 1980, and his family was offered compensation.

A well-known prayer by the West Door of Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Monday, 19 August 2019

A giant sculpture by
a giant among sculptors
at Congress House

‘The Spirit of Brotherhood’ by Bernard Meadows at Congress House in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Bloomsbury is associated for many people with the literary figures, writers, poets, playwrights and artists, who lived in this part of London. But an unexpected place of cultural interest is Congress House, the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), in Great Russell Street.

David du Roi Aberdeen won an architectural competition to design the new TUC headquarters building in 1948. Staff began moving into the new office block in 1956, and Congress House was officially opened on 27 March 1958. It was one of the earliest post-war buildings in Britain to be listed at Grade II*, in 1988.

The best-known work there is the giant pietà-style statue by Jacob Epstein in the internal courtyard of a woman holding her dead son. It was commissioned as a memorial to dead trade unionists who died in both world wars.

Less well-known but more visible is the bronze sculpture by Bernard Meadows that dominates the front of the building. ‘The Spirit of Brotherhood’ represents the spirit of trade unionism, with the strong helping the weak.

The British sculptor Bernard Meadows (1915-2005) was associated at an different stages in his career with Henry Moore, and was also part of the Geometry of Fear school, a loose-knit group of sculptors whose prominence was established at the 1952 Venice Biennale.

Bernard Meadows was born in Norwich in 1915, and educated at the City of Norwich School. After training as an accountant, he attended Norwich School of Art and in 1936 became Henry Moore's first assistant at his studio in Kent, and took in the first Surrealist exhibition in London that year.

He moved to Chalk Farm on 1937, assisting Moore in his studio at Hampstead, and he studied at the Royal College of Art and at the Courtauld Institute.

At the outbreak of World War II, Meadows registered as a conscientious objector. But when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, he withdrew his objection and was called up to the Royal Air Force. He worked in air-sea rescue, spending time the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

After World War II, he returned to Moore’s studio and helped him with his marble sculpture Three Standing Figures (1947) and his bronze Family Group (1949).

He found acclaims with an elm figure exhibited in the open air sculpture exhibition at Battersea Park in 1951, alongside the Festival of Britain, which went to the Tate Gallery.

He exhibited in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale a year later, with Anthony Caro, Lynn Chadwick and Eduardo Paolozzi. Their angular styles, contrasted with the rounded work of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth gave them the name of the ‘Geometry of Fear.’ His edgy pieces often based on animals and seemingly carved from shrapnel could imply Cold War menace.

He first solo exhibition was at Gimpel Fils in 1957, with four more in the decade to 1967, and he also exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1964.

Meadows was a Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art for 20 years, from 1960 to 1980. He returned to assist Henry Moore again at Perry Green, Hertfordshire, from 1977, after Moore’s health started to fail. After Moore’s death in 1986, he became an acting director of the Henry Moore Foundation.

Bernard Meadows died in London in 2005.

An introduction to John
Thompson’s architectural
legacy in Peterborough

The Lindens … the Arts and Crafts house John Thompson built for his family in Peterborough in the 1860s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

One the great figures in the architectural heritage of Peterborough was John Thompson jnr, a skilled Victorian stonemason and master-builder. I had seen his work at Peterborough Cathedral before I found myself on Lincoln Road, after my fruitless search for Peterborough’s synagogue, and found both The Lindens, which Thompson built as a family home in the 1860s, and Saint Mark’s, the parish church he built a few years earlier.

Thompson worked on six English cathedrals and also worked on the Glasgow University buildings in 1866 and Royal Holloway College. His influence lives on not only in Peterborough Cathedral and in buildings throughout his home city, but in cathedrals, churches, colleges and other works of architecture throughout Britain.

The firm that would become Thompson and Sons can be traced back to the late 1820s, when the young Edward Blore entrusted John Thompson snr and Francis Ruddle with re-ordering the choir of Peterborough Cathedral, then located east of the crossing.

Later, in the 1840s, Blore worked with Thompson and Ruddle on re-ordering the Choir of Westminster Abbey, also in an early 14th century style.

When John Thompson snr died in 1853, his son John Thompson jnr took charge of the family firm. Thompson of Peterborough was engaged in many building works of scale and ambition in Peterborough, including the complete reconstruction of the crossing tower in Peterborough Cathedral, under the supervision of the architect John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897).

John Thompson was engaged in the complete reconstruction of the crossing tower in Peterborough Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Other major cathedral repair and restoration schemes included those at the cathedrals in Hereford, Chester, Ripon, Lichfield, Bangor and Winchester where, from as late as 1906, the firm was main contractor for underpinning the retro-choir. Similar schemes were undertaken in many parish and collegiate churches in England.

Thompson’s new building work included the chapel of Balliol College, Oxford (architect William Butterfield), Glasgow University (Sir George Gilbert Scott) and Royal Holloway College (WH Crossland), which was an astonishing evocation of Chambord in the Loire Valley.

The spire of Saint Mary-without-the-Walls, Handbridge, built by Thompson for the Duke of Westminster, dominates Chester from the south bank of the River Dee.

There was new work in Peterborough too, including Saint Mark’s Church (architect Edward Ellis), immediately to the south of The Lindens, the beautiful Arts and Crafts home Thompson built for himself on Lincoln Road.

Peterborough expanded in the mid-19th century following the arrival of the railway, but for generations church services were only provided at Peterborough Cathedral and the Church of Saint John the Baptist, the parish church of Peterborough.

As the area around Lincoln Road, the main road north out of Peterborough, was developed from the mid-19th century, The Church Commissioners realised new churches were needed to serve the expanding population. Two new churches were commissioned: Saint Mark’s and Saint Mary’s were built on land in areas that been rural but that were owned by the Church of England.

Saint Mark’s, built by Thompson, was consecrated on 26 September 1856, two years before he bought the nearby site for The Lindens. It is a fine example of a Victorian Gothic revival church.

Thompson was the first churchwarden at Saint Mark’s and donated a stained-glass window to the church. Other stained-glass windows in the church are linked with Westgate House School, which stood where the department store stands today.

Saint Mark’s, the Victorian Gothic revival church built by John Thompson, was consecrated in 1856 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Thompson and his wife Mary lived in The Lindens with their two sons. He was an alderman of the city and the Mayor of Peterborough for two successive years in 1881 and 1882. He died on 11 April 1898.

His family business continued until it was forced into voluntary liquidation in 1931 while building Peterborough Town Hall.

Thompson bought a site on Lincoln Road for £350 in 1858 and built The Lindens as a family home between 1860 and 1865. The house was named ‘The Lindens’ after 10 linden trees at the front of the property.

The street elevation of the house has been altered over time – a projecting stone porch bay with more of an Arts and Crafts flavour was added – but the garden front essentially retains its original form.

There are picturesque half-timbered cross‐wings that are embellished with convincing Gothic Revival detail. Some figure carving might seem, at first glance, to be salvaged mediaeval work.

The interior retains sumptuously carved joinery, especially in the staircase hall which is lit by stained glass panels celebrating great composers.

The Lindens remained in the Thompson family until 1920, when it was bought at auction for £4,375 by Alfred J Paten, a local wine and spirit merchant and hotelier who lived there with his wife Emilie and family. The Lindens was also used as a military hospital in both World War I and World War II.

Alfred Paten died in 1950 and in 1953, and The Lindens was bequeathed to the City Council for a public purpose.

Although many of the original features on the ground floor remain, there has been much renovation and redevelopment over the years.

The recent development of The Lindens was undertaken in two phases, with the consent of the Trustees of the Paten bequest. Phase 1, comprising 22 one-bedroom and three two-bedroom sheltered flats and warden’s accommodation, was completed in 1987.

Phase 2 was completed in July 1990 to provide office accommodation for the Special Needs section of Peterborough City Council’s Housing Department, the Lifeline alarm control centre and facilities for Age Concern Peterborough.

A plaque at The Lindens commemorates John Thompson’s contribution to the architectural heritage of Peterborough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Tamworth remembers
royal visit to Comberford
family 400 years ago

The Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … the future Charles I was the guest of the Comberford family here 400 years ago on the night of 18 August 1619 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout this weekend, the Tamworth and District Civic Society has been marking the 400th anniversary of the visit by King James I to Tamworth. When James I made the first of his three known visits to Tamworth on 18 August 1619, the king stayed as Tamworth Castle, while his son, the future Charles I, stayed at the Moat House on Lichfield Street, the Tamworth townhouse of the Comberford family of Comberford Hall.

James I seemed to enjoy summer stays at Tamworth Castle, as he returned in August 1621 and again in August 1624, the year before his death.

At Tamworth Castle, his host was Sir Humphrey Ferrer, a loyal supporter of the crown, and the new Tudor buildings at Tamworth Castle would have comfortably accommodated the King in both privacy and grandeur.

During that first visit 400 years ago, the 18-year-old Prince Charles stayed at the nearby Moat House in Lichfield Street as a guest of William Comberford. King James is believed to have stayed in the suite of rooms at Tamworth Castle known today as the Day Parlour.

Years later, William Comberford of the Moat House raised a small royalist force and to garrison Tamworth Castle for King Charles I during the English Civil War.

The 400-year anniversary of the royal visit on 18 August 1619 was celebrated at the weekend with a special evening organised by Tamworth and District Civic Society at the Moat House on Friday (16 August 2019). The ticket-only event included a buffet reception and audience with ‘King Charles’ under the gold painted and heraldic ceiling in the Long Gallery in the Moat House depicting the Comberford tree.

As surprise treat at Friday’s reception, the Mayor of Tamworth, Councillor Richard Kingstone, brought the borough maces out of their secure vault in honour and explained them to the guests in the Moat House.

The two silver maces are adorned with royal and national emblems and with Tamworth’s symbols of the fleur-de-lys and the mermaid. They were presented by King Charles II – son and grandson of the 1619 royal visitors – with his charter to the borough in 1663. They have been carried before the Mayor and Bailiffs of Tamworth by the two Serjeants-at-Arms or macebearers at all formal civic occasions for the past 356 years.

One guest said afterwards: ‘Seeing the maces was the icing on the cake!’

A former Mayor of Tamworth Mayor, Lee Bates, later said: ‘Thank you to Tamworth and District Civic Society for an excellent evening at the Moat House tonight commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the visit to Tamworth by King Charles I.’

The guests welcomed by the chair of TDCS, Dr David Biggs, included the Deputy Lieutenant of Staffordshire, Richard Dyott, representing the Queen; Councillor Kath Perry, chairman of Staffordshire County Council, and her husband, Ray Perry; and the Mayor of Tamworth, Councillor Richard Kingstone.

A feature by John Harper marking the anniversary of the visit was published in the Tamworth Herald on Thursday: ‘The 1619 visit of Two Kings’ (15 August 2019).

Councillor Jeremy Oates, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Heritage and Growth, said at the weekend: ‘Tamworth Castle has such a long and rich heritage and has played a significant part in the history of the country throughout the centuries. The visit of King James is one of those occasions that has built Tamworth’s fascinating and diverse heritage. To learn more about this, and other interesting facts, I’d encourage people to visit the castle and explore some of the Tamworth story.’

Tamworth and District Civic Society has been actively promoting and protecting the history and heritage of Tamworth and district since 1973. Three months ago, the society invited me to present a paper in Saint George’s Chapel, Saint Editha’s Church, on the Comberford Family and the Moat House [9 May 2019], followed by refreshments in the Comberford Chapel.

For castle opening and admission times, to book tickets online, and for more historical information, visit www.tamworthcastle.co.uk.

Tamworth Castle … James I was the guest of the Ferrers family here 400 years ago on the night of 18 August 1619 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Facing the challenges
brought by a time when
‘Water and fire shall rot’

‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens’ (Luke 12: 54) … clouds above the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 18 August 2019,

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IX)

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

The Readings: Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 1-2, 9-20; Hebrews 11: 29 to 12: 2; Luke 12: 49-56. There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘I have a baptism with which to be baptized’ (Luke 12: 50) … the new font in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

When I was a student at the Irish School of Ecumenics in the early 1980s, we all had to do a residential placement in Northern Ireland in a church that was in a tradition other than our own. I spent time with Shankill Road Methodist Church in Belfast, while others went to Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or Anglican churches.

One Anglican student, from Barbados and now a priest in Massachusetts, was placed with the Redemptorists in Clonard Monastery.

As his placement came to end, there was one experience he had not yet explored. On his last Sunday evening, he went to hear Ian Paisley preach in the Martyrs’ Memorial Church on Ravenhill Road.

When he returned to Clonard Monastery, unscathed, an old priest asked him, tongue in cheek, ‘Well, did the Big Man give you an old-style Redemptorist sermon filled with hellfire and brimstone?’

Perhaps this is the sort of sermon some people may expect in churches this morning with these lectionary readings.

The Prophet Isaiah, in words that echo the Psalm, speaks of vineyards that yield only wild grapes (verses 2, 4); breaking and trampling down walls (verse 4); vines giving way to briars and thorns (verse 6); bloodshed instead of justice, a cry instead of righteousness (verse 7).

The Epistle reading speaks of mockings and floggings (verse 36), chains and jails (Hebrews 11: 36), prophets being stoned to death, sawn in two and killed by the sword (verse 37), or wandering in deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes (verse 38).

And then, we hear the warnings in the Gospel reading of fire on earth (verse 49), families and households divided and fighting each other to the death (verses 52-53), people being blown about by the storms and tempests of the day (verses 54-56).

They are images that might have inspired Ian Paisley’s sermons. But they have inspired too great creative and literary minds in the English language, from William Shakespeare and William Blake to TS Eliot in the Four Quartets:

This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire. ( – Little Gidding)

If we dismiss these apocalyptic images because they have been hijacked by fundamentalist extremists, for their own religious and political ideals, then we miss an opportunity to allow our values to challenge those ways we may be allowing our lives to drift along without question or examination.

Fire and water were a challenge for me a few years ago during a visit to Longford. One Sunday afternoon, three of us headed off on what we had come to call our church history ‘field trips.’ We wanted to see the completed restoration work at Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Longford.

The cathedral was destroyed in a blazing fire early on Christmas morning 10 years ago [2009], but was restored and rebuilt so beautifully that it has been voted Ireland’s favourite building.

Outside, it still looks like a grey, classical revival, fortress-style cathedral. But inside it is filled with light and joy. It has risen from the ashes, and its restoration is truly a story of redemption and resurrection.

As we walked into the cathedral, I was overwhelmed by the beautiful baptismal font that has been placed at the main entrance door to the cathedral.

The font was sculpted by Tom Glendon and the blue mosaic work by Laura O’Hagan is a creative representation of the Water of Life.

This font is a challenge to all who enter the church and is placed exactly where it should be, for Baptism is entry to the Church.

Baptism is not a naming ceremony, it is not about my individual experience, it is never a private event. It is a public event, and it incorporates me into the unity, the community of the Body of Christ.

In this Gospel reading, Christ challenges us with three themes: Fire, Baptism and Division.

In the Bible, fire can represent the presence of God – think of the pillar of fire in the wilderness (Exodus 13: 17-22) or the tongues of flame at Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-4).

It can represent judgment (see Revelation 20: 7-10), and it can represent purification – the prophets Zachariah (13: 9) and Malachi (3: 2-3) speak of the refiner’s fire in which God purifies his people, as a refiner purifies silver by fire.

At the Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2: 22-38), old Simeon foresees how the Christ Child ‘is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inward thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (verses 34-35).

The sword that pierces the soul of the Virgin Mary, the sword that has killed the prophets, the sword the divides families, is a reminder that Christ, who embodies the presence of God, simultaneously judges and purifies.

In the New Testament, Baptism represents both judgment and purification and Saint John the Baptist connects it with fire (Luke 3: 16-17).

In this Gospel reading, however, Christ is referring not to the baptism he brings but to the baptism he receives. He not only brings the fire of judgment and purification, but he bears it himself also.

The Kingdom of God he proclaims is governed:

● not by might but by forgiveness (think of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11: 4);
● not by fear but by courage (‘be not afraid’ in Luke 1: 13, 30, 2: 10, 5: 11, 8: 50, 12: 4, 7, 32);
● not by power but by humility (see Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55).

But it is easy to be lured by the temptations of wealth, status, and power rather than the promises that come with our Baptism.

In the second half of the Gospel reading, Christ chides the crowd for not recognising the signs he bears. They know how to forecast the weather, but they cannot forecast, watch for the signs of, the coming Kingdom of God.

There is a fashion in the Church today for ‘fresh expressions of the Church’ that blow where the wind blows. They seek to be fashionable and claim that they are relevant.

Sometimes, you may not know whether you are in a coffee shop or in a church, whether you are in the guiding hands of a barista or of a priest. The old forms of church have been abandoned, and with it we may ask whether they have thrown out the core content too.

I visited one of these churches recently. Yes, there was a rambling sermon of 35 or more minutes. Yes, there was a time of ‘fellowship’ where people turned around their chairs and were chummy with one another, in a clumsy sort of way.

There was one reading, but no Gospel reading. There was no confession and absolution, no Creedal statement, no Trinitarian formula in the prayers. The prayers prayed for those present and those like them, but there were no prayers for those outside, no prayers for a world that is divided and suffering, no challenge or judgment for those who have created the plight and sufferings of wars, refugees, racism, homelessness, economic injustice and climate change.

In this smug self-assurance, without any reference to the world outside, there was no challenge to discipleship, to live up to the promises and challenges of Baptism.

And, needless to say, there was no Sacrament, and no hint of there ever being a sacramental ministry.

Content had been abandoned for the sake of form. But the form had become a charade. For the sake of relevance, the church had become irrelevant.

The challenge of our Baptism is a challenge for the Church to be a sign of, a sacrament of, the Kingdom of God.

We can be distracted by the demands and fashions of what pass as ‘fresh expressions of Church’ and never meet the needs of a divided and suffering world.

Or we can be nourished by Word and Sacrament and respond to the demands of our Baptism in a discipleship that seeks to challenge and confront a suffering and divided world with the values and promises of the Kingdom of God.

But it is costly. And in that struggle, like Simeon warns Mary, we may find ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘End of the beach’ at Platanias in Rethymnon … but do we know how to read the signs of the end of the times? (see Luke 12: 54-56) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 12: 49-56 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to his disciples:]

49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’

‘When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes’ (Isaiah 5: 4) … grapes on a vine in Cordoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who sent your Holy Spirit
to be the life and light of your Church:
Open our hearts to the riches of his grace,
that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit
in love and joy and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

Merciful Lord,
cleanse and defend your Church by the sacrifice of Christ.
United with him in holy baptism,
give us grace to receive with thanksgiving
the fruits of his redeeming work
and daily follow in his way;
through the same Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Holy Father,
who gathered us here around the table of your Son
to share this meal with the whole household of God:
In that new world where you reveal the fulness of your peace,
gather people of every race and language
to share in the eternal banquet
of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymns:

645, Father, hear the prayer we offer (CD 49)
636, May the mind of Christ my Saviour (CD 36)
352, Give thanks with a grateful heart (CD 21)

‘My beloved had a vineyard’ (Isaiah 5: 1) … in a vineyard in Rivesaltes near Perpignan in France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Peace on earth and
reading the signs of
the times as disciples

‘My beloved had a vineyard’ (Isaiah 5: 1) … in a vineyard in Rivesaltes near Perpignan in France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 18 August 2019,

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IX)

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

The Readings: Isaiah 5: 1-7; Psalm 80: 1-2, 9-20; Hebrews 11: 29 to 12: 2; Luke 12: 49-56. There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘I have a baptism with which to be baptized’ (Luke 12: 50) … the new font in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

When I was a student at the Irish School of Ecumenics in the early 1980s, we all had to do a residential placement in Northern Ireland in a church that was in a tradition other than our own. I spent time with Shankill Road Methodist Church in Belfast, while others went to Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or Anglican churches.

One Anglican student, from Barbados and now a priest in Massachusetts, was placed with the Redemptorists in Clonard Monastery.

As his placement came to end, there was one experience he had not yet explored. On his last Sunday evening, he went to hear Ian Paisley preach in the Martyrs’ Memorial Church on Ravenhill Road.

When he returned to Clonard Monastery, unscathed, an old priest asked him, tongue in cheek, ‘Well, did the Big Man give you an old-style Redemptorist sermon filled with hellfire and brimstone?’

Perhaps this is the sort of sermon some people may expect in churches this morning with these lectionary readings.

The Prophet Isaiah, in words that echo the Psalm, speaks of vineyards that yield only wild grapes (verses 2, 4); breaking and trampling down walls (verse 4); vines giving way to briars and thorns (verse 6); bloodshed instead of justice, a cry instead of righteousness (verse 7).

The Epistle reading speaks of mockings and floggings (verse 36), chains and jails (Hebrews 11: 36), prophets being stoned to death, sawn in two and killed by the sword (verse 37), or wandering in deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes (verse 38).

And then, we hear the warnings in the Gospel reading of fire on earth (verse 49), families and households divided and fighting each other to the death (verses 52-53), people being blown about by the storms and tempests of the day (verses 54-56).

They are images that might have inspired Ian Paisley’s sermons. But they have inspired too great creative and literary minds in the English language, from William Shakespeare and William Blake to TS Eliot in the Four Quartets:

This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire. ( – Little Gidding)

If we dismiss these apocalyptic images because they have been hijacked by fundamentalist extremists, for their own religious and political ideals, then we miss an opportunity to allow our values to challenge those ways we may be allowing our lives to drift along without question or examination.

Fire and water were a challenge for me a few years ago during a visit to Longford. One Sunday afternoon, three of us headed off on what we had come to call our church history ‘field trips.’ We wanted to see the completed restoration work at Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Longford.

The cathedral was destroyed in a blazing fire early on Christmas morning 10 years ago [2009], but was restored and rebuilt so beautifully that it has been voted Ireland’s favourite building.

Outside, it still looks like a grey, classical revival, fortress-style cathedral. But inside it is filled with light and joy. It has risen from the ashes, and its restoration is truly a story of redemption and resurrection.

As we walked into the cathedral, I was overwhelmed by the beautiful baptismal font that has been placed at the main entrance door to the cathedral.

The font was sculpted by Tom Glendon and the blue mosaic work by Laura O’Hagan is a creative representation of the Water of Life.

This font is a challenge to all who enter the church and is placed exactly where it should be, for Baptism is entry to the Church.

Baptism is not a naming ceremony, it is not about my individual experience, it is never a private event. It is a public event, and it incorporates me into the unity, the community of the Body of Christ.

In this Gospel reading, Christ challenges us with three themes: Fire, Baptism and Division.

In the Bible, fire can represent the presence of God – think of the pillar of fire in the wilderness (Exodus 13: 17-22) or the tongues of flame at Pentecost (Acts 2: 1-4).

It can represent judgment (see Revelation 20: 7-10), and it can represent purification – the prophets Zachariah (13: 9) and Malachi (3: 2-3) speak of the refiner’s fire in which God purifies his people, as a refiner purifies silver by fire.

At the Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2: 22-38), old Simeon foresees how the Christ Child ‘is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inward thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (verses 34-35).

The sword that pierces the soul of the Virgin Mary, the sword that has killed the prophets, the sword the divides families, is a reminder that Christ, who embodies the presence of God, simultaneously judges and purifies.

In the New Testament, Baptism represents both judgment and purification and Saint John the Baptist connects it with fire (Luke 3: 16-17).

In this Gospel reading, however, Christ is referring not to the baptism he brings but to the baptism he receives. He not only brings the fire of judgment and purification, but he bears it himself also.

The Kingdom of God he proclaims is governed:

● not by might but by forgiveness (think of forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11: 4);
● not by fear but by courage (‘be not afraid’ in Luke 1: 13, 30, 2: 10, 5: 11, 8: 50, 12: 4, 7, 32);
● not by power but by humility (see Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55).

But it is easy to be lured by the temptations of wealth, status, and power rather than the promises that come with our Baptism.

In the second half of the Gospel reading, Christ chides the crowd for not recognising the signs he bears. They know how to forecast the weather, but they cannot forecast, watch for the signs of, the coming Kingdom of God.

There is a fashion in the Church today for ‘fresh expressions of the Church’ that blow where the wind blows. They seek to be fashionable and claim that they are relevant.

Sometimes, you may not know whether you are in a coffee shop or in a church, whether you are in the guiding hands of a barista or of a priest. The old forms of church have been abandoned, and with it we may ask whether they have thrown out the core content too.

I visited one of these churches recently. Yes, there was a rambling sermon of 35 or more minutes. Yes, there was a time of ‘fellowship’ where people turned around their chairs and were chummy with one another, in a clumsy sort of way.

There was one reading, but no Gospel reading. There was no confession and absolution, no Creedal statement, no Trinitarian formula in the prayers. The prayers prayed for those present and those like them, but there were no prayers for those outside, no prayers for a world that is divided and suffering, no challenge or judgment for those who have created the plight and sufferings of wars, refugees, racism, homelessness, economic injustice and climate change.

In this smug self-assurance, without any reference to the world outside, there was no challenge to discipleship, to live up to the promises and challenges of Baptism.

And, needless to say, there was no Sacrament, and no hint of there ever being a sacramental ministry.

Content had been abandoned for the sake of form. But the form had become a charade. For the sake of relevance, the church had become irrelevant.

The challenge of our Baptism is a challenge for the Church to be a sign of, a sacrament of, the Kingdom of God.

We can be distracted by the demands and fashions of what pass as ‘fresh expressions of Church’ and never meet the needs of a divided and suffering world.

Or we can be nourished by Word and Sacrament and respond to the demands of our Baptism in a discipleship that seeks to challenge and confront a suffering and divided world with the values and promises of the Kingdom of God.

But it is costly. And in that struggle, like Simeon warns Mary, we may find ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘End of the beach’ at Platanias in Rethymnon … but do we know how to read the signs of the end of the times? (see Luke 12: 54-56) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 12: 49-56 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said to his disciples:]

49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’

‘When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes’ (Isaiah 5: 4) … grapes on a vine in Cordoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who sent your Holy Spirit
to be the life and light of your Church:
Open our hearts to the riches of his grace,
that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit
in love and joy and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect of the Word:

Merciful Lord,
cleanse and defend your Church by the sacrifice of Christ.
United with him in holy baptism,
give us grace to receive with thanksgiving
the fruits of his redeeming work
and daily follow in his way;
through the same Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Hymns:

645, Father, hear the prayer we offer (CD 49)
636, May the mind of Christ my Saviour (CD 36)
352, Give thanks with a grateful heart (CD 21)

‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens’ (Luke 12: 54) … clouds above the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

An old coaching house
has survived recent
changes in Peterborough

The Bull Hotel on Westgate has survived recent, large-scale developments in the centre of Peterborough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Like the Wortley Almshouse on Westgate, the Bull Hotel is another interesting listed building in the centre of Peterborough that has survived recent large-scale commercial developments.

The Bull Hotel is the only AA recognised four-star hotel in the city centre. It is directly opposite the entrance to Queensgate Shopping Centre and close to Peterborough Railway Station. But it dates back to the 17th century.

Over the years, this Grade II listed building in Westgate has been carefully restored and refurbished.

The Bull Hotel was first a small 17th century coaching inn and it had only eight rooms until 1901. The front entrance and reception area was a courtyard that provided convenient access from the main street through to the nearby cattle market, located in what is known today as Cattle Market Road.

In the 18th century, it was customary for hostelries and inns to be given a ‘town pound’ from the local magistrate, meaning a certain amount of livestock had to be accommodated in the outhouses as a service to the local farmers staying overnight before Market Day.

As a courtesy, stables were provided for resident guests in what is now the hotel car park.

When the motor car became fashionable at the start of the 20th century, petrol and oils were dispensed from hand pumps at the rear of the hotel.

In recent decades, the Bull Hotel has benefited from major development and refurbishment that began in the early 1970s, when the then Labour Government provided grants to help develop the hotel industry.

Much has changed since then, and in 1998 the Bull Hotel was acquired by Robert Peel in 1998 after the formation of Peel Hotels PLC.

A failed search to
find a synagogue
in Peterborough

No 142 Cobden Avenue, Peterborough … for many years this was the home of Peterborough’s synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting Peterborough Cathedral and the Church of Saint John the Baptist, the parish church of Peterborough, earlier this week, I went in search of Peterborough’s synagogue.

Peterborough has two Jewish communities, one Orthodox and one Liberal.

The Peterborough Hebrew Congregation was formally established around 1948, having developed from the Membership Group, which in turn had been formed in 1940 by families evacuated from heavily populated areas in central and East London during World War II.

The new congregation, which followed Ashkenazi Orthodox traditions, first met in Westgate Congregational Church Hall, Westgate, and was linked to the United Synagogue.

Later, it moved to 12 Queen’s Gardens, a house in the northern suburbs of Peterborough, and in 1954 Peterborough Hebrew Congregation opened its synagogue at 142 Cobden Avenue.

Later, a Liberal Jewish congregation was formed in Peterborough in 1991. The Peterborough Liberal Jewish Community is part of the Liberal Jewish family. In Britain, Liberal Judaism has about 9,000 members in almost 40 communities. With the Reform Movement they constitute a significant proportion of the Jewish community in Britain.

The Peterborough Liberal Jewish Community does not have a permanent building, and has fewer than 50 members. But its dream is to continue to grow over the generations and to establish a vibrant, inclusive Peterborough synagogue the expresses the progressive values of Liberal Judaism.

All the websites I searched gave no premises for Peterborough’s Liberal Jewish Community, and so I went in search of the synagogue at 142 Cobden Avenue, using Google Maps to assist my navigation.

Cobden Avenue runs west-east between Cromwell Road and Lincoln Road. The side streets enclosed in this area are closely packed terraces of Victorian houses, with halal shops on many corners.

Towering over all is the green dome and tall minaret of the Faizan E Madina Mosque at the corner of Cobden Street and Gladstone Street, which caters for 25% of the city’s Muslims. This is one of the largest mosques in Western Europe, with a capacity for about 3,000 worshippers at any given time.

The Faizan E Madina Mosque at the corner of Cobden Street and Gladstone Street is one of the largest mosques in Western Europe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Eventually, I found the building I was looking for on Cobden Street. It was in behind terraces of suburban housing. But there was no synagogue there. Instead, a car repair and crash recovery business is operating from the premises.

The Muslim proprietor was happy to greet me, and said he had built up his business there over the past three or four years. He said the premises had been vacant for a few years, and he had no forwarding address for the synagogue.

I was welcome to look around, but he could help me no further. Google Maps and internet searches continued to insist I had arrived at my location.

I walked back into the centre of Peterborough, and read how the Jewish community in Peterborough came to media attention two months ago with the victory of Labour’s Lisa Forbes in the Peterborough by-election in June. She faced controversy in the week before the by-election over a Facebook post she ‘liked’ that said Theresa May had a ‘Zionist slave master’s agenda.’

She later apologised for ‘not calling out these posts’ and promised to challenge antisemitism in the future. But a Jewish community representative in Peterborough said the new MP had made no effort to reach out to her Jewish constituents who are feeling ‘more vulnerable’ since her unexpected victory and the antisemitism controversy.

Janet Berkman, honorary secretary of the city’s Liberal community, told the Jewish Chronicle there had ‘certainly not’ been any contact from Lisa Forbes in the immediate aftermath of the by-election.

Janet Berkman said the Liberal Jewish community in Peterborough had ‘felt relatively safe for quite some years.’ But in the wake of Ms Forbes’s victory, ‘some of our members are saying that they feel rather more vulnerable than they used to.’ But she said that after Labour’s by-election win, the community had received ‘messages of support from people within the local area – not just Jews – expressing concern on our behalf.’

Janet Berkman told the Jewish Chronicle ‘there has been no contact’ with her community nor the national Liberal Judaism body. She said: ‘We have said … that what we want to see is action, not words. And we want her to make the first move. If she is sincere, then we want to see her making the first steps and the first moves to engage with the broader Jewish community and possibly with ourselves.’

But the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips, said that while she was glad the Brexit Party had been defeated in Peterborough ‘I cannot be (as) gleeful or proud as I’d want to be because of how it shows that antisemitism is becoming normal in the party.’

She said: ‘Lisa ignored and endorsed antisemitic things, I’ll take her explanation and apology at face value and look forward to her proving, as others have, that actions not excuses alone can heal. But with every case the party’s values chip away and our ability to stand up against hate erodes.’

The Labour MP for Ilford North, Wes Streeting, stopped campaigning in Peterborough when Ms Forbes’s social media activity came to light. He said she ‘will need to work hard to persuade the Jewish Labour Movement and wider community that her apology was meaningful and that she is genuinely committed to tackling antisemitism.’

A former Labour minister, Dame Margaret Hodge, said on Twitter: ‘Seriously mixed feelings about the Peterborough result. I never want to see Nigel Farage’s party in Parliament. But Lisa Forbes & the Labour Party have a lot to answer for. We must learn lessons & never have a repeat of this. Have formally raised concerns with party leadership.’

Euan Philipps, a spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism, said his group would be submitting a complaint about the new MP and said ‘The narrow victory by Lisa Forbes in the Peterborough by-election is a dark day for the Labour Party.’

The Jewish Labour Movement urged the party to suspend the whip of newly-elected MP. A JLM spokesperson said the party had ‘consistently failed to take a zero tolerance approach to anti-Jewish hate … Labour’s newest MP is a perfect example of this.’ JLM said that, despite talking about reaching out to the community, Lisa Forbes had not made contact with the group.

Meanwhile, Westgate New Church, where the Orthodox Jewish congregation first met in the 1940s, is now a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the United Reformed Church and the Methodist Church, which worships as a single church community.

Westgate New Church, Peterborough … the Jewish community met in the church hall in the 1940s before acquiring a synagogue (Photograph: Visit Peterborough)

Friday, 16 August 2019

The almshouses in
Peterborough that
became an alehouse

The Wortley Almshouses seem to have survived recent large-scale commercial developments in the centre of Peterborough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

As I walked from the railway station in Peterborough into the city centre to visit Peterborough Cathedral earlier this week, I noticed the Wortley Almshouses, which seem to have survived the recent large-scale developments of this side of Peterborough.

When Sir Edward Wortley Montagu was an MP for Peterborough in 1734-1761, he bought two small houses and the grassland that sat behind them in 1744 and donated them as a new parish workhouse to supplement the existing workhouse in Cumbergate.

A new and larger workhouse was built on Thorpe Road in 1837 as the new Peterborough Union Workhouse. The two city centre houses were largely rebuilt and converted into a row of almshouses or almsrooms, still with the purpose of helping the poor and needy.

Local legend in Peterborough claims Charles Dickens visited the Wortley Alamshouse at this time and that they provided inspiration for his Oliver Twist.

The building was almost demolished in the Queensgate development. But, as the Queensgate shopping centre took shape in the 1970s, the houses were saved. They were bought by Samuel Smith’s brewery and became a pub in October 1981. So, an almshouse became an alehouse.

The pub was refurbished in 2003, when that six drinking areas were provided, with two bar areas, two snugs and two reception rooms with real fires, and the walls were decorated with pictures of old Peterborough.

The pub closed for some years and there were fears for the future of this building. But, as plans unfold for the new North Westgate development in Peterborough, the developers confirmed that the Almshouses will not be demolished, and the Wortley Almshouse reopened last February 2019 after a lengthy closure.

The Wortley Almshouses were founded in 1744 and rebuilt in 1837 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The original benefactor of the Wortley Almshouses, Sir Edward Wortley-Montagu (1678-1761), was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, husband of the writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and father of the writer and traveller Edward Wortley Montagu.

The Montagus and Harringtons, two inter-related families from Northamptonshire, were at the heart of the early years of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and James Montagu was the first master.

Sir Edward Wortley-Montagu, born in 1678, was a son of Sidney Wortley Montagu (1650-1727) of Wrotley, Yorkshire, and Walcot, Northamptonshire, who was an MP for both Huntingdon and Peterborough and a grandson of Edward Montagu (1625-1672), 1st Earl of Sandwich. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge (1693) and trained in the law at the Middle Temple (1693). He was called to the bar in 1699 and entered the Inner Temple in 1706.

He was best known for his correspondence with, seduction of, and elopement with the aristocratic writer, Lady Mary Pierrepont, daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, 1st Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull. They were married in 1712.

Wortley Montagu was a prominent Whig politician. He was MP for Huntingdon (1705-1713) before becoming a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury from 1714 to 1715.

He was nominated the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (1716-1718), and arrived with his wife at Adrianople, present-day Edirne) on 13 March 1717. In this role, he was charged with negotiating between the Ottomans and the Habsburg Empire.

But he was not successful in this post and he did not become the full Ambassador to the Ottoman Porte in Constantinople before he was recalled in October 1717. He left Turkey on 15 July 1718 and, for some time travelled in the East.

When he returned to England from Constantinople, he fell out with the Whig leadership. However, he returned to Parliament as an MP, first for Huntingdon once again (1722-1734) and then for Peterborough (1734-1761).

From 1757 to 1761, he remodelled Wortley Hall, adding the East Wing. He disinherited his son Edward in 1755. When he died, he left Wortley Hall and a large fortune to his daughter Mary, who married the future Prime Minister, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute.

His wife, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, is remembered for introducing the smallpox inoculation from Turkey to England. She died in 1762 and is commemorated in a monument by the west porch of Lichfield Cathedral.

It is interesting that the almshouses took the name Wortley and not Wortley Monatgu. The heraldic arms outside the Wortley Almshouse look more like a pub sign than an 18th century memorial. They caught my eye, because they are similar to so many depictions of the Montagu arms around Sidney Sussex College, but they show Sir Edward’s arms before he was knighted.

The heraldic arms at the Wortley Almshouses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)