28 August 2023

Saint Paul’s: a lost
Greek Revival church
in the Anglo-Catholic
tradition in Oxford

The former Saint Paul’s Church is a distinctive building that looks like a Greek temple on Walton Street, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Jericho is one of the trendiest parts of Oxford these days, with its fashionable wine bars, cafés, restaurants, shops and night clubs.

The name of Jericho probably dates from the 17th century, and seems appropriately named for an area outside the city walls. Jericho was the first planned suburb in Oxford, and developed in the 19th century next to the Oxford University Press and beside the canal, but at one time it also included some of the worst slums in Oxford.

Appropriately for its biblical name too, Jericho is also known for its places of worship. The Church of England parish church, Saint Barnabas, is in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Saint Sepulchre’s is the name of the cemetery off Walton Street. The Oxford Baptist Chapel is on Albert Street. The Oxford Synagogue – one of the few in England with more than one Jewish tradition worshipping in the same building – and the Oxford Jewish Centre are both in Jericho.

Saint Paul’s is a distinctive building that looks like a Greek temple on Walton Street, facing onto Great Clarendon Street. It stands opposite the Oxford University Press and beside the Blavatnik School of Government. It is surrounded by the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter of the University of Oxford, formerly the Radcliffe Infirmary site, and in recent years it has been a café and arts venue.

Saint Paul’s was the first new church built in Oxford since the Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Saint Paul’s was the first new parish to be created in Oxford and the first new church to be built in Oxford since the Reformation. The church and the parish came as responses to the first outbreak of cholera in this part of Oxford in 1831, and to serve both the growing new suburb of Jericho and the new industrial area growing up round the University Press.

Saint Paul’s Parish was carved out of the parishes of Saint Thomas and Saint Giles. It covered an area from Saint Giles Road West (now the south end of Woodstock Road) to the canal, and from Workhouse Lane (now Little Clarendon Street) to the end of Walton Street, which then turned west to end outside Carter’s Ironworks.

The parish then included the University Press and the few rows of houses between the Press and Jericho Street, east of Albert Street, Carter’s Ironworks, the odd cottage and Jericho House. On the east side were Walton Hall, Cock’s Alley, the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Radcliffe Observatory with Observatory Street. The present Saint Bernard’s Road was still a crooked sunken lane.

The Radcliffe Trustees made a gift of part of the old burial ground of the Radcliffe Infirmary as a site for the new church. The church was built in 1834 at a cost of about £3,500, and the money was raised by public subscription.

The church was designed by the Oxford-based architect Henry Jones Underwood (1804-1852). He was a brother of the architects Charles Underwood and George Allen Underwood, and trained in London under Henry Hake Seward before joining the office of Sir Robert Smirke. He moved to Oxford in 1830, and much of his work involved designing churches or schools.

Underwood is best known for his Gothic Revival architecture, and his church at Littlemore for John Henry Newman became a model for other churches. He also designed the library of the Oxford Botanic Garden in the Greek Revival style. Underwood died by suicide in 1852 in the White Hart Hotel, Bath.

The church was enlarged in 1853, a year after Underwood’s death, with the addition of an apsidal chancel at the east end designed by the Oxford architect Edward George Bruton (1826-1899).

Two further outbreaks of cholera, in 1849 and 1854, reinforced the parish’s commitments to the liturgical and social values and ideals of the Oxford Movement, emphasising the importance of personal responsibility in promoting education, health reform and social justice, and raising awareness of the living conditions of many people.

One of the churchwardens, Thomas Combe, Superintendent of the University Press, was a friend and follower of John Henry Newman, founding figure in the Oxford Movement, and did much to improve living conditions for people in Jericho.

With further growth of Jericho, the western part of the parish of Saint Paul's was split off in 1869 and became a separate parish, served by Saint Barnabas’s Church, which was built mainly at Thomas Combe’s expense.

The Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows by Charles Eamer Kempe need attention and repairs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows in Saint Paul’s were installed in 1888-1889. Six of the windows are by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907), three depicting the Nativity, two the Resurrection and one the Ascension, with portraits of local dignitaries grouped round the Ascending Christ, including the then Vicar of Saint Paul’s, Father Duggan, and Thomas Combe.

The congregation of Saint Paul’s fell when Saint Barnabas’s opened, but increased again in the 1880s and 1890s, and the number of Easter communicants rose from 210 in 1872 to 320 in 1890.

The vestry was enlarged in 1892-1893, and the church architect and designer Frederick Charles Eden (1864-1944) remodelled the interior in 1908 and added a new doorway at the south-west corner.

Saint Paul’s is a rectangular stone building in the Greek Classic style with a west portico of the Ionic order and a bell turret. A gallery was added to increase the seating and the windows on the north side were raised to put in clear glass panels after the windows were reglazed with stained glass. The coping stones on the north side were removed so that the north and the south elevations are no longer the same.

Legacy photographs show a bright and colourful interior in Saint Paul’s

Legacy photographs show a bright and colourful interior with a magnificent high altar and tabernacle, adorned with candles and embroidered hangings, many the work of local women such as Ada Earl of Cardigan Street.

The pulpit was in wrought iron. The font, designed by Edward Bouverie Pusey, was an odd rectangular shape on a stand with medallions like a Wedgewood vase. Both the pulpit and the font have disappeared since the church was closed.

There were side altars with statues of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady, Saint Anthony and Saint Joseph, brought in France by Father Roger Wodehouse, along with the tabernacle. The Stations of the Cross were given by Sir Herbert Miller.

Saint Paul’s was known for its ritual and processions. There was Mass on Sunday morning, Benediction in the evening and many weekday services. Sunday evening services created long queues of students waiting to hear the distinguished preachers. There were two Sunday schools, for boys and girls, each with about 100 children.

The church celebrations included May Day and Corpus Christi processions. The annual pilgrimage to Walsingham continued until the church closed. Saint Paul’s also had its own amateur dramatic society, the SPADS. The church staged dramatic tableaux depicting biblical events and there was great competition to take part.

Sunday School and choir outings included visits to Blenheim Palace, Clifton Hampden, London Zoo and Margate. The social club in the 1920s organised a day trip to France by special train to Dover and by the ferry. There were garden fetes in Somerville every year and a Christmas fair in the ballroom of the Randolph Hotel.

When Saint Paul’s was founded, the patronage was vested in the Bishop of Oxford, with the consent of Saint John’s College and Christ Church. The first Vicar of Saint Paul’s was the Revd Henry Gary.

Gary was succeeded by his former curate, Canon Alfred Hackman (1811-1874), as vicar in 1844-1871. Hackman had been chaplain of Christ Church College, Oxford, and Vicar of Cowley, and was also Precentor of Christ Church (1841-1873) and sub-librarian of the Bodleian.

In Hackman’s time, the church developed a reputation as a centre of Tractarianism. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were said daily, and Holy Communion was weekly, with about 63 communicants. The congregation was 400 in the morning and 600 in the evening, but some people came from outside the parish. The number of weekly communicants had risen to 110 by 1866, and the congregation of 600 could not grow because of space needs.
Hackman’s curates included Canon James Ridgway (1826-1881), curate in 1851-1853, later a canon of Christ Church and Principal of Culham Training College. The Revd Addington Robert Peel Venables (1827-1876), curate in 1852-1863, was later the second Bishop of Nassau in the Bahamas (1873-1876).

Hackman’s successor was another curate, the Revd William Bottomley Duggan (1844-1904), who was the vicar in 1871-1904. He introduced a surpliced choir, altar frontals in liturgical colours, and Eucharistic vestments.

Father Roger Wodehouse (1890-1958) was a grandson of both the poet Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) and John Wodehouse (1826-1902), 1st Earl of Kimberley, a former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1864-1866). He had been a curate at Saint Thomas and was one of the original trustees of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.

Despite a long vacancy, the church attracted large numbers of people in the 1930s with its combination of ‘Roman Catholicism with Moody and Sankey Protestantism.’ But the decline of the parish began in the 1930s with the demolition of some of the worst slums in Oxford, including Jericho Gardens and King Street, when about 50 large families with many children were moved out to Rose Hill. Later, the homes on the north side of Cardigan Street, the south side of Jericho Street, and part of Union Street, now Hart Street, were demolished and the people were moved out to Marston.

As more people moved out of Jericho in the post-war decades, the congregation dwindled to a handful, most of them living outside the parish. The decline was hastened in the 1950s by the rise of the neighbouring church of Saint Mary Magdalen as the centre of Anglo-Catholicism in Oxford.

The old and the new … reflections of Saint Paul’s in the Blavatnik School of Government (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The parishes of Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas were united in 1963, and Saint Paul’s was closed in 1969. The vicarage at 1A Observatory Street, built in 1905, was sold in 1965. The organ went to Gosford Hill School, some of the statues went to Saint Aloysius Roman Catholic Church, some of the embroidery to Middleton Stoney, the registers to the Bodleian Library and the war memorial is now in the south aisle in Saint Barnabas Church.

The church stood empty until 1975, when the Oxford Area Arts Council bought it as a theatre and arts centre. But the conversion was mismanaged and was incomplete when the Arts Centre opened in 1985, and it closed again in 1987.

The building was acquired in 1988 by Secession Ltd to prevent its demolition, and it opened that year as Freud’s Arts Café, a café bar created by David Freud that offered live music, including jazz, punk, post-punk and blues. The name is written in Roman-style capital letters as ‘FREVD’ above the main entrance door.

A new building for the Blavatnik School of Government of Oxford University opened on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter site beside Freud in 2015. David Freud opposed the scheme because of the size and height of the building compared to the former church.

But when I tried to visit Freud’s or Saint Paul’s last week, the gates were padlocked, weeds were growing profusely on the site and Kempe’s Pre-Raphaelite windows looked like they are in serious need of attention, repair and conservation.

Saint Paul’s Church became Freud’s Arts Café in 1988 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (92) 28 August 2023

‘Father Forgive’ … reconciliation is at the heart of the ministry and outreach of Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XII, 27 August 2023). Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers the life of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Teacher of the Faith, 430.

Today is a bank holiday in England, and we have been invited to a BBQ with friends in Stony Stratford later in the day. But, before the day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the churches in Tamworth and Lichfield. This week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a church in Coventry;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Reconciliation monument in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Coventry Cathedral (old):

Sir Basil Spence’s Cathedral in Coventry, which opened over 60 years ago in 1962, was not the first, or even the second cathedral in city, but the third.

In the closing days of World War I, when a new Diocese of Coventry was formed in 1918 to cater for that part of the expanding, heavily industrialised West Midlands, an earlier mediaeval cathedral had long been destroyed.

Instead, the city’s large mediaeval parish church, Saint Michael’s, became the cathedral of the new diocese. Saint Michael’s was one of the largest parish churches in England when it became a cathedral in 1918.

But it did not remain a cathedral for long: 23 years later, on the night of 14 November 1941, the German Luftwaffe blanket bombed Coventry.

The city was targeted because it was known for its industries, including factories making aeroplanes and munitions factories, and it was at the heart of the motor industry.

The Provost of Coventry Cathedral, Richard Howard (1884-1981), was one of four firefighters who went on the roof to try save the cathedral from incendiary bombs designed to cause firestorms.

A fire broke out in the cathedral at around 8 p.m. and, despite extinguishing the initial fire, other direct hits caused fires that ultimately led to the destruction of the city.

The Coventry Blitz continued into the morning of 15 November, and Saint Michael’s Cathedral was among the many buildings in the city centre razed to the ground.

In just one night, more than 43,000 homes, the entire city centre, two hospitals, two churches and the police station were destroyed by around 500 tons of explosives. About 568 people died in the raid, with over 1,000 people had serious injuries.

The heart was ripped out of the city of Coventry that night. All that remained of the cathedral was its tall, 300-ft Gothic tower and the shell of its red sandstone walls.

In the morning, Jock Forbes, the cathedral stonemason, found two wooden beams lying in the rubble in the shape of a cross and tied them together. This became the Charred Cross and was first placed in the ruins of the old cathedral on an altar of rubble.

That morning, Richard Howard chalked the words ‘Father Forgive’ on the sanctuary wall of the ruined cathedral. He was recalling Christ’s words on the Cross, ‘Father Forgive them’ – but there was a subtle omission. In dropping the word ‘them,’ and instead saying simply ‘Father Forgive,’ he was reminding everyone that we all need forgiveness, not just those who have harmed us.

Later, after the Blitz, Richard Howard formed the Cross of Nails, made of three nails from the roof truss of the old cathedral. It is now placed in the centre of the cross on the High Altar in the cathedral.

The Cross of Nails has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation around the world. There are over 330 Cross of Nails Centres all over the world, all of them bearing a cross made of three nails from the ruins, similar to the original one. When there were no more nails, a continuing supply has come from a prison in Germany.

All around the cathedral ruins today are signs of reconciliation and forgiveness. The statue ‘Reconciliation’ is linked to the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University and was presented to the cathedral in 1987. The ‘Choir of Survivors’ is a sculpture presented to the cathedral as a gift from a church in Dresden, the German city that was also blanket-bombed during World War II.

But, perhaps, the most moving part of the cathedral ruin is the area around the former east end and high altar. Here Richard Howard’s words, ‘Father Forgive,’ were carved on the wall behind the rebuilt altar in the spring of 1948. On the altar stands a version of the Charred Cross, in a shape similar to the Cross of Nails.

The new Coventry Cathedral, designed by Basil Spence, was built beside the shell of the cathedral bombed in 1940 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 23: 8-12 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 8 ‘But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

‘Ecce Homo’ by Jacob Epstein in the ruins of the Old Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is the ‘República de Jovens Home in Brazil.’ This theme was introduced yesterday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (28 August 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, for all their churches and congregations, and for their church leaders and ministry.

The ‘Choir of Survivors’ by Helmut Heinze at the west end of the ruins of the old cathedral … a gift from the Frauenkirche Foundation in Dresden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
who turned Augustine from his sins
to be a faithful bishop and teacher:
grant that we may follow him in penitence and discipline
till our restless hearts find their rest in you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with Augustine to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The effigy of Bishop Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs, first Bishop of Coventry, in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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