In l958 the Bishop of Stepney – Evered – said (for 25 minutes he
spoke) S. George-in-the-East is a ruin .... if I have painted a drab,
gloomy picture, I have not exaggerated one bit. We have a plan to
restore it with a hall and flats for staff within the building. The
Archdeacon of Hackney will fill in the details. Go and see him and the
parish and consider whether you would accept it as a living.
The Archdeacon (Hodgins) said that the L.C.C., War Damage Commission, Historic Churches Association, The Georgian Society, the Hawksmoor Society and the Fine Arts Commission had approved the plan. The Architect was Arthur Bailey who had put it out to selective tender. Eight specialist builders of churches were applying and Arthur Bailey had the drawings and plans. Arthur Bailey said It is a privilege for an architect to be chosen to re(build) a church. I do it with a deep sense of humility and pride.
The Rural Dean said that the feeling in the Deanery among the clergy was that the restoration of S. George's would be ill-advised – a white elephant – much better to use war damage for a purpose-built brick church in the site of S. John's, Golding Street, the geographical centre of the parish.
The parishioners and the P.C.C. said it would be a relief to have anything. They were tired of the pre-fab hut they had been using as a church. BUT – would it really happen that S. George's would be restored. They were tired of hearing about plans – they wanted action!
I had had some time to think during the 2½ year lag before restoration began – and to pray for inspiration as to what to make of this novel adaptation of a Hawksmoor Church, nobly conceived architecturally and about to be restored as a practical all-purpose Church unit.
Two factors seemed to emerge:-
i) Stepney had been bombed out of all recognition and had to be replanned and rebuilt.
ii) Ancient and Modern were the watchwords: the best of the Old preserved, the best of modern materials and technology used.
S. George's must be rebuilt with modern technology and materials within the framework of Hawksmoor's walls and tower. The baroque shell preserved, the interior invested with a fuller life. At the Heart of the building a new smaller significant SOUL: around it human life inspired by it being lived in; the flats occupied by staff; the hall available to all, for every kind of social, educational, artistic use.
As the building began to be used an even fuller significance seemed to emerge. Within the first year and from the first glorious Eucharist of the Restoration and Rededication, it gave the lie to the Bishop of Stepney's fears that the building would be a financial liability. Not only did the F.W.O. increase in money and membership but the Hall attracted Orchestras, Drama Societies, Art Examinations, Opera, Theatre – all eager to use the facilities and contribute to the finances [see list below, which he had compiled in 1979]
We thought we had a restored Church with social, educational, artistic and dramatic assets for the use of the best organisations in London, but very soon the five elements knit together and an ecumenical and sacramental unit was emerging.
At the heart of the building the eye travelled up to the Reserved Sacrament above the Altar and by Divine Grace a WIDE Cross Section of LIFE was being attracted by it. No one who came into the building for whatever purpose could escape noticing. So the Rector became a key figure with the new Rectory surveying the drive which attracted passers-by (and that included motorists) to walk up the steps and through the courtyard to marvel at the atmosphere of worship and to be induced to come in and say a prayer within its quiet, peaceful and awe-inspiring (worshipful) surroundings dominated by the Reserved Sacrament. He and the Staff saw to it that enquiries were answered; a library was provided by an S.P.C.K. priest who had come to live in the Old Rectory; and a wide range of literature conducive to Christian thought and mediation were placed along the wife window ledges and display boards.
Mid-week celebrations of Holy Communion, all Saints Days and the usual Sunday Services were a witness to the street and beyond to the flats overlooking the church that the Risen Christ was at the heart of a live church with a growing regular congregation within the parish and beyond it.
It seems that the whole life of S. George's in its variegated service to all who visited it and used it for work at artistic, education, theatrical and other pursuits, depended on the key figure of the Rector and his wife, established in the south west maisonette of the building, directing and welcoming everybody to God's House.
The Rector performed his primary duty as parish priest leading the worship of the church, part of which was his home, and then going out and making himself known and available to fringe members of S. George's as well as other Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus etc., all of whom knew their parish priest and the width of his ministry.
During this time all the usual parish activities run by local people were taking place in the church and hall: Brownies, Cubs, Guides, Youth Club, O.A.P. Club, Sunday School, etc. and at some time or other these groups received and were received by the visiting professional and amateur groups coming in and out.
They received them by acting as hosts, arranging chairs, manning the canteens and received much from attending concerts, rehearsals, plays performed by the artistes. It was not unusual for a Brownie in full uniform to be seen holding a deep conversation with e.g. a member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
All this seemed to fade and die when a new Rector was appointed in 1979 who was already priest-in-charge of his parish church and did not live at S. George's.
Therefore it is plain that S. George's can only live again by the whole unit being re-established. The Rector must be the key figure living in the building and seen to belong to it. From this base he will operate in the life of the parish and beyond.
Worthing, November 1986 A.M. Solomon
|Just for the Record: The Fifteenth Anniversary of Restoration
The Church and Hall have been used for a variety of people and activities:
The Church: The Guardian critic who attended the first night of George wrote After last night no-one can say that the devil has all the good theatre. The church's appearance and setting make it ideal for drama. When the altar is moved back from its central position the sanctuary becomes a large and very splendid acting area. Acoustics are excellent.
The Hall: Its excellent acoustics have been admired by the well-known conductor who rehearsed here and by BBC sound mixers after film was done here.
Joseph Weingarten (2); Dr Douglas Mews (3); The Cavendish Consrot (Trinity College, London); London Scottish Choir; Capella Singers; Nell Hall; Margaret Newman (3); Robert Bell & Enid Hartle (at a CEM 6th form conference); students from LGSM, Trinity College London, RAM, RCM; prospective professional musicians from USA, New Zealand, India
London University, GCE A-level Art; Reading University (and others) - portfolio inspection of art; Cass-Redcoat GCE and CSE examinations; Scheidegger Typewriting School courses (Swiss); London School of Accountancy, 4-week crash courses
Barnardo Centenary 3-day summer conference (church & hall); IVS weekends (summer work camp); USPG projects for children; Christian Education movement all-day conferences
Danielle Arpajou (BBC recording sessions); London Philharmonic Orchestra; Royal Covent Garden Opera; Royal Scottish Opera; English Chamber Orchestra; Philharmonic Chorus; Handel Opera Group; Royal Shakespeare Company; Drury Lane Theatre (Hello Dolly), Marlan Productions (On the Level); Grodowski Polish Theatre Workshop
Hammersmith Philharmonic Orchestra; Southwark Singers; Lambeth Philharmonic Orchestra; London Boy Singers; Bart's Hospital Music Society; St Bride's Players; King's College London Spanish Society; Madame Yandie's Child Ballet; The Classical Dance Group; Mosque Dance Theatre; Raine's School Dramatic Society; Tower Hamlets School
|We are two pensioners, lately and
reluctantly retired from Tower Hamlets. We have been sent a copy of the
February "The Highwayman", the so-called parish magazine of St
George-in-the-East, St Paul's Dock Street, and St Paul's Shadwell; a
very crude and ugly pamphlet and most unworthy of the churches named;
it is really a socialist and almost communist document with idiotic
However, what really shocked us and, we learn, hundreds of other parishioners, is the statement made about closing St George-in-the-East as a church, and putting it to commercial use. This is entirely unthinkable. Naturally, changes must take place in the riverside churches, with the changing population, but to close St George-in-the-East to worship (repairs will of course cost money) and possibly rebuild St Mary's Cable Street, is unbelievable, and the idea of building a dual purpose church-cum-parish room in Wellclose Square, when St George's is there, with everything, just waiting to be used again: this is impossible to conceive ...