25 November 2017

A baroque façade that tells
the story of an old school
and eminent theologians

The elaborately decorated school on Carter Lane, near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, is now a youth hostel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I stayed over this week in St Johns House, Lichfield, which had once been Saint John’s Preparatory School. But earlier, on Thursday morning, as I was walking from Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London to Southwark for a meeting of the trustees of USPG, I stopped to see another school is now also involved in hospitality.

The Youth Hostel Association (YHA) has a unique youth hostel in the heart of the City of London in a remarkable-looking building on the corner of Carter Lane and Dean’s Close that was once the school for the choirboys of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

When I was backpacking and staying in youth hostels in the late 1960s and 1970s, I stayed in old Jacobean manors with no electricity, mediaeval castles, former schoolhouses and country houses, and terraced houses in remote country villages.

But this youth hostel in the heart of London is a hidden gem, only two or three minutes from Saint Paul’s Cathedral, the Bank of England, the Millennium Bridge, the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern. There are fine wine bars and restaurants just a few paces away, and yet I imagine many city people pass by without appreciating its beauty, inquiring about its story and its architectural significance, or knowing that a licensed restaurant is part of its hidden interior.

The school opened in 1876, but had a centuries-old history (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Outside, this looks like a decaying baroque building, but it was once Saint Paul’s Choir School, designed by one of Britain’s leading Victorian architects. Although the school first opened on these premises in 1876 with 40 boys on its books, the establishment has a centuries-old history.

There has been a song school associated with Saint Paul's Cathedral since its foundation in 604. The Choir School for boy choristers dates from about 1123, when eight boys in need of alms were provided with a home and an education in return for singing the daily cathedral offices.

Gradually, two schools emerged, the Choir School and the Grammar School. For many years these two schools co-existed happily, the choristers graduating to the grammar school to finish their education, until the grammar school was re-founded in 1511 by John Colet (1467-1519), friend of Erasmus and Dean of Saint Paul’s.

By the late 16th and early 17th century, the school was more famous for its acting than its singing. The children of Saint Paul’s had their own resident playwrights, who performed regularly at Greenwich Palace before Queen Elizabeth I.

They incurred the wrath of William Shakespeare and his company across the river at the Globe Theatre. In Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2), Rosencrantz rails against the nest of ‘little eyases’ (little eagles) who are roundly applauded for their histrionic efforts:

But there is, sir, an eyrie of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question and are most tyrannically clapped for ’t. These are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages – so they call them – that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose quills and dare scarce come thither.

After the Restoration in 1660, the choristers had a somewhat chequered history. The money set aside to run choir schools and feed the choristers was often sneakily redistributed into other funding areas so that organists could barely earn a living and the boys were left largely to their own devices.

This sad state of affairs moved Maria Hackett, who had sent her foster son to the choir at Saint Paul’s hoping he would receive a high quality of education and care. The cathedral only accepted responsibility for the boys’ showing up at services and choir practices, providing little in the way of basic education and nothing in the way of safeguarding.

Hackett pointed out that the boys spent much idle time on the streets of London. She campaigned to have funds directed back to the choir, but her pleas fell on deaf ears until the Dean and Chapter of Saint Paul’s appointed an almoner with responsibility for the boys and gave them a place to live close enough to the cathedral.

Inspired by the success of her 60-year campaign at Saint Paul’s, Hackett made a grand tour of all the cathedrals in England and Wales, comparing the conditions in which the choristers were kept.

The sgraffito decoration was made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of contrasting colour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The original school in the cathedral grounds had been burnt down in the Great Fire of London. But her campaign for a permanent home for the school and the choristers would lead eventually to the re-establishment of a purpose-built school in Carter Lane, south-west of the cathedral, in 1874.

This new school was built with white brick and terracotta, with sgraffito decoration, made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of contrasting colour.

The Renaissance elements in the building include Venetian and round windows and round leaded doorways and niches. A slightly later red brick portion to the west was the former entrance to the Deanery stables.

All along the frieze, around the side of the building in large capital letters, an inscription in large Latin letters reads:

Mihi autem absit gloriari nisi in Cruce Domini Nostri Jesu Christi / per quem mihi mundus crucifixus est et ego mundo.

‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Galatians 6: 14).

The dean’s arms and the foundation panels on a corner of the old school (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

On one corner of the building, a projecting heraldic cartouche displays the coat of arms of the Dean of Saint Paul’s and putto, with the two panels beneath.

The inscription on the panel on the left reads:

Ad [honorem] Dei Omnipotentis
[et] ad [pr]ote[ctum] Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae
[l]apide[m h]unc angularem
[domus in] usum puerorum choristarum
[Sancti] Pauli Londinensis aedificandae
[posti]die festi Conversionis Sancti Pauli
Deposuit RG Church Decanus

To the honour of Almighty God and under the protection of Holy Mother Church, the cornerstone was laid for this house built for the use of the choirboys of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, on the day after the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul [i.e., 26 January] 1874, laid by RW Church, the Dean.

The inscription on the panel on the right reads:

Roberto Gregory Canonico
Henrico P Liddon Canonico
Josepho B Lightfoot Canonico
Piers C Claughton Canonico
Alberto Barff Magistro Puerorum
Francisco C Penrose Architecto

In the presence of the brothers, Canon Robert Gregory, Canon Henry P Liddon, Canon Joseph B Lightfoot, Canon Piers C. Claughton, Albert Barff the Master of the Boys, and Francis C Penrose, architect.

Richard William Church (1815-1890) was born into a well-known Quaker family from Cork, and was a named after his uncle, General Sir Richard Church (1784-1873), the Irish-born commander of the Greek army during the Greek War of Independence.

Church became a tutor at Oriel College, Oxford, in 1839, and despite his mixed Evangelical and Quaker background, he was a close friend of John Henry Newman and closely allied to the Tractarian movement. He was appointed Dean of Saint Paul’s in 1871.

The canons of Saint Paul’s named on the stone included some of the most influential Anglican theologians of their day.

Robert Gregory (1819-1911), one of the canons named on this panel, would succeed Church as Dean of Saint Paul’s in 1891.

Henry Parry Liddon (1829-1890) was a former vice principal of Cuddesdon Theological College (1854-1859) Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford. With Dean Church, he restored the influence of the Tractarian school, and he succeeded in popularising the works of Edward Bouverie Pusey and John Keble. He is buried in the crypt of Saint Paul’s.

The patristic scholar Joseph Barber Lightfoot (1828-1899) was Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity in Cambridge. There, with Brooke Foss Wescott and Fenton Hort, he was part of the ‘Cambridge Triumvirate’ of Biblical scholars. He became Bishop of Durham in 1879.

Piers Calveley Claughton (1814-1884) was the first Bishop of St Helena (1859-1861) and then Bishop of Colombo (1862-1871) before returning to England as Archdeacon of London and a canon of Saint Paul’s.

Albert Barff (1828-1911) was the head of the choir school at Saint Paul’s. When he died he was the Vicar of Saint Giles, Cripplegate, and a Prebendary of Saint Paul’s.

The architect of the school, Francis Cranmer Penrose (1817-1903), was a rower, architect, archaeologist and astronomer. He was the Surveyor of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Director of the British School at Athens.

Penrose was a son of the Revd John Penrose, Vicar of Bracebridge, Lincolnshire, and was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He rowed for Cambridge in the Boat Race in 1840, 1841 and 1842.

Penrose studied architecture under Edward Blore from 1835 to 1838, and studied abroad under the Cambridge designation of ‘travelling bachelor’ from 1842 to 1845. In Rome in 1843, Penrose noticed a problem with the pitch of the roof of the pediment of the Pantheon, and subsequent research confirmed that the angle had been changed from its original design.

In Greece, he studied the classical monuments and was one of the first people to discover the entasis of the Parthenon and to show the deliberate curvature of the steps and entablature. The Society of Dilettanti was interested in his discoveries and sent him back to Athens to confirm them.

There is a debate about whether Penrose is the author of an article on Athenian architecture published in 1852, or whether the true author was Coventry Patmore.

He was appointed surveyor of Saint Paul’s Cathedral that year, and did his main work in that role. His work in the cathedral itself included the choir seats and the marble pulpit and stairs. He designed the memorial to Lord Napier of Magdala and the Wellington tomb in the crypt and arranged the relocation of the Wellington monument.

Penrose was also responsible for rearranging the west entrance steps and for exposing the remains of the old cathedral in the churchyard. The new cathedral choir school in Carter Lane was built to his designs in 1874.

Penrose became a Fellow of Magdalene in 1884. He designed the entrance gate of Magdalene College and the Chapel Court of Saint John’s College, Cambridge. In 1886-1887 and again in 1890-1891, he was the Director of the British School at Athens, which he designed.

It is said there was a cricket pitch on the roof of the school. The school remained on Carter Lane until the 1960s, when a road-widening scheme to divert traffic away from the edges of the cathedral included proposals to demolish the school and it moved to its present location in New Change.

However, the road-widening scheme for Carter Lane was later cancelled. The school could have stayed there, but the site was then empty, and today it is a YHA youth hostel.

The hostel still displays some old school choirboy graffiti that can be seen in a wood-panelled classroom, as well as a spiral staircase, wall paintings, ornately carved front door, and, of course, the elaborate exterior, with its Latin lettering.

The hostel has 213 beds in rooms with a wide range of sizes, from one to 11 beds. The hostel is suitable for families, groups and individual travellers. It has no self-catering facilities but has a fully licensed restaurant that is open daily for breakfast and dinner.

The school was designed by the architect Francis Cranmer Penrose (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Christ the King at the heart
of reports on exciting
mission work with USPG

Patrick Comerford

The theme of Christ the King and the Kingship of Christ runs through the readings, collects and hymns tomorrow (26 November 2017).

It was moving, then, to hear in yesterday [24 November 2017], during the USPG Birmingham Regional Day, Rebecca Woollgar, the USPG Volunteering Manager, about her experiences in the Anglican Parish of Christ the King in the ‘City of God’ outside Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Rebecca is facilitating these regional days in a number of cities, and has already shared stories about the work of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in Cardiff, Grantham, Manchester and Bristol, with more planned in the new year.

I was present as a trustee of USPG, and the day in Birmingham involved people from the dioceses of Lichfield, Derby, Leicester, Southwell and Nottingham, Birmingham and Worcester, including former missionaries, staff, trustees, council members, and parish and diocesan volunteers and supporters.

These days aims to build relationships, provide updates on new resources, share stories about world church partners, and help equip and inspire volunteers to spread the word about the work of USPG. This is a working example of USPG coming to the dioceses and parishes, and not just being London-based.

The Revd Antonio Terto, Vicar of Christ the King

Rebecca spoke of her ‘life-changing’ experiences in Brazil, including her visits to the Anglican Parish of Christ the King in the ‘City of God,’ Cidade de Deus, a neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city, and Belem in the Diocese of the Amazon.

Father Antonio Terto works as the priest with a small congregation in an area that became internationally famous through the 2003 movie City of God that focused on the conflict between rival drugs gangs and the police.

The community faces many challenges. In 2008, a major police operation clamped down on drug dealing, but in 2016 a new wave of crime and violence emerged that may be linked to government austerity measures, including the cutting of social services. It is estimated that only 3% of teenagers finish school, while is above 25%, and the average income per household is just £50 a month.

Although Anglicans are in a tiny minority in Brazil, the church Anglicans are well regarded locally and something of a community hub. The Anglican congregation of Christ the King is small but growing and concerned to share God’s love, especially in these difficult times. computer training.

USPG is supporting this work by funding Father Antonio Terto at Christ the King. The church's focus remains on reaching out to the poor and marginalised, and Rebecca described community and children’s activities, including sports, language lessons, literacy courses, computer training, meetings for Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, counselling, dance classes, a second-hand clothes shop and a church café.

USPG is also supporting a human rights and social action programme in the Diocese of Amazon, helping local communities to find a way out of exploitation and poverty.

In recent decades, men have been lured to the Amazon with the promise of land, only to end up as slave labour. As well as plundering the Amazon of its natural resources, more and more forest is being destroyed to make room for beef cattle, highways, hydro-electric plants, and plantations of whatever product is in fashion around the world. Some call it development – but it is not development for the local people.

There is also a global impact. The rainforest has been called the ‘lungs of the planet’ because it helps clean the air by removing carbon dioxide generated by cars, planes, power stations, and so on. Destroying the rainforest means more carbon in the atmosphere, which will increase global warming.

The church – with funding from USPG – is running workshops entitled Social Agents and the Fight for Rights. We are training leaders to support local people in the Amazon. This will include education, better salaries, protection of the rainforest, and more.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria, in Batista Campos, is developing a programme reaching out to the local elderly population, many of them lonely and suffering from depression.

Rebecca also described the work of Partners in Mission, a new USPG scheme that seeks support for a diversity of programmes in 12 areas:

● Protecting health, Bangaldesh,
● Protecting health, India,
● Tackling modern-day slavery, India,
● Justice for Girls, India,
● Lifeline for Women, India,
● Green Schools, India,
● A Future With Hope, Malawi,
● Education for Change, Sri Lanka,
● Protecting Babies from HIV, Tanzania,
● Protecting Women from Violence, Zambia,
● Tackling HIV Stigma, Zimbabwe,
● Improving Livelihoods, Southern Africa.

In the afternoon, Victoria Howard spoke movingly of her work with Street Pastors and street people during her placement with USPG in the Seychelles.

The USPG Advent appeal this year is presenting uplifting stories from world church partners and looking at how faith is inspiring practical action that is saving lives, such as the vital maternity care being provided by Anglican healthcare programmes around the world.

The problems surrounding Climate Change are the priority for USPG in 2017/2018, and is being emphasised in seasonal resources, the winter edition of Transmission and the Prayer Diary.

Anglican churches around the world are engaged in sustainable development under the heading of the 5 Ps: Prosperity, People, Planet, Peace and Partnership. The USPG resources available for churches and parishes on faith in a changing climate include a prayer meditation video based on the Lord’s Prayer.

Future events include the ‘Rethinking Mission’ conference in Birmingham Cathedral on 17 March 2018, the annual conference in High Leigh on 2-4 July 2018, and the annual reunion at All Saints’ Church, Saint Margaret Street, London, on 15 September 2018.