News International (the UK subsidiary of News Corporation)

The former premises of Rupert Murdoch's News International empire straddles this parish and that of St Peter London Docks. Although St Bride Fleet Street, because of its location, has traditionally been the church of the press and of journalists, and maintains this role [see below], over the years we have sought to develop good relationships with those who have worked there, despite the controversial aspects of the manner of their arrival, and more recent events. They in turn have looked to us as their local church (see below on the carol service), and for a time supported parish work from their community affairs fund.

'Fortress Wapping'
Older residents remember the arrival of NI in Wapping in 1986, to printworks built on the site of the 'North Stack' warehouses demolished in 1979, and the year-long protests along The Highway, which resulted in serious violence on several occasions, and one death. New-technology printing presses had been covertly built to allow electronic composition of their newspapers (The Times, The Sunday Times, The News of the World and The Sun), rather than the traditional 'hot metal' process. The print unions feared, rightly, that this marked the end of a skilled trade that was replete with 'Spanish practices' and an extended strike and picket ensued. Members of the electricians' union EEPTU manned the new presses, and the road hauliers TNT used articulated lorries and 'white mice' vans to get the papers out of the fortified premises (these drivers were made redundant in 1991). Local roads were closed each night, and an average of 130 police were on duty, at an overall cost of £5m. The impact on strikers' families, and local residents, was serious, and St George-in-the-East offered the facilities of the crypt for a children's Christmas party. Right is a demonstration in Wellclose Square; here are many other images.

The action had the support of the government. The strike eventually collapsed. Whatever one's view of the tactics, the industry was undoubtedly transformed. Ironically, in 2007 further technological developments resulted in the presses leaving the area for new premises in Broxbourne. An touring exhibition marking the 25th anniversary of the events was displayed in the church in September 2011, with a public meeting at which many reminiscences were shared.

Simon Jenkins

From 1990-92 Sir Simon Jenkins FRSL was editor of The Times (he had also edited the Evening Standard) before becoming a freelance writer for The Guardian and other papers; he has chaired the National Trust, and produced England's Thousand Best Churches (1999). His father was the Revd Dr Daniel Jenkins, a distinguished United Reformed Church theologian, and his mother Nell was involved in old people's welfare in Westminster, visiting Olive Wagstaff (from our congregation) and others involved in this work in Tower Hamlets.

Blessing the offices
In addition to the massive new building housing the presses and editorial and management offices, the site included the 280m-long Rum Warehouse, a Grade 2 listed structure described and pictured here, and used to house the archives and some offices and support services.

Then in 1998 NI also took over most of La Lumière (named for its distinctive rooftop), a 7-storey 10,000 m² block between Pennington Street and The Highway. Designed by Rick Mather, this had been built in 1989-90 as residential accommodation but failed to find sufficient tenants. Renamed 'Times House', it was linked to the main building with an overhead walkway and The Times journalists moved in. The Rector was invited to dedicate their premises, in a 30-minute ceremony which included a personal blessing for the editor Peter Stothard. (The sprinkler system precluded the use of incense.) I've blessed people's houses before but never a newspaper, he said. It shows we can all work closely with the will of God and gain strength and support. I hope this signals the start of a very good relationship between us and the newspaper.'  Here are some pictures from the house journal The News, the newspaper for everyone at News International of May 1998 (issue 133) and Ruth Gledhill's subsequent report:

The Times Weekend, Saturday 9 May 1998

I bring you good news     Ruth Gledhill follows as the offices of The Times are blessed

It is to you I call, to all people I appeal, the Anglican priest said to the small crowd of journalists, editors, managers and newspaper secretaries. Understand, you simpletons, what it is to be shrewd, you stupid people; understand what it is to have sense. He paused and looked at us before adding This is the word of the Lord. Thanks to to God, we responded, meekly.

After more than ten years in a former Wapping warehouse, The Times had moved into new offices on the other side of Pennington Street. In doing so, the 213-year old newspaper left behind the rest of News International in the parish of St Peter's, Wapping, and found a new spiritual home in the parish of St George-in-the-East, Stepney. Thus it was that the rector, the Rev Gillean Craig, was at the reception desk of the new offices, designed by American-born architect Rick Mather, requesting God's blessing on the newspaper, the building and all who worked in it.

We proceeded through the newsroom, business, sports and picture desks. We went up to the more elevated offices of the feature, arts, letters, obituary, Weekend and leader departments. Fr Craig, in cope and surplice, blessed as we passed. He sprinkled the shiny new desks and computers with holy water using an aspergillum made from the mythically-cleansing herbs of rosemary and thyme, from his rectory garden at St George's.

AT YOUR SERVICE -  a five-star guide
Rector The Rev Gillean Craig
Architecture Modern building ****
Sermon "God is as much here as in my church." *****
Spiritual high Protestant work ethic, Catholic spirituality ****
After-service Care Sandwiches ***

At times our procession stopped for a brief commentary, or a reading or prayer. Visit we beseech you O Lord this place, prayed Fr Craig at the foot of the stairs. Let your holy angels dwell here to guard and preserve in peace all who work here.  On the ground floor, home to the newsroom, we have more tough talk from Proverbs 8: Listen! For I shall speak clearly, you will have plain speech from me; for my lips speak nothing but the truth, and my lips detest wicked talk.

We arrived in the conference room, where the news schedule is debated, and it was time for the address. There was no such thing as private religion, said Fr Craig. Our relationship with God is worked out corporately, together. ...The calling of running a newspaper is a very high calling. Truth can very frequently be an uncomfortable challenge. But it is only truth that counts.

He ended with a prayer that all who worked for
The Times should be guided and guarded by God. Grant them a fierce love of truth, a clear discernment of evasion and falsehood, he said, that, presenting true report and just analysis of events, your justice, righteousness and peace may prevail and flourish.

In March 2010 the current Rector was invited to The Sun offices to join an interfaith team - with an imam and a rabbi, both football fanatics - to bless the World Cup prior to the season's matches. In the event FIFA ruled that this was not permissible, but they got to see it (though only past winners, such as George Cohen from 1966, who was present, are allowed to touch it). The rabbi assumed that George was Jewish, and promised to tuck a prayer into the Western Wall in Jerusalem, but he confided to the Rector that he is a 'good Protestant'. See here for how the paper handled the story.

Carol services
News International held their first carol service at St George-in-the-East in 1988, organised by John Murray, a counsellor on the staff. Clergy of three local churches - St Peter London Dock and St Patrick Wapping - took part, and St Patrick's provided a school choir. It has become an annual event, featuring in recent years three choirs: NI's own choir Wapping Great Voices, the professional choir of St Bride Fleet Street (the press and journalism church) and our own school choir. We are pleased that they continue to make the deliberate choice of their local church for this event (the 2012 service was the best-attended for many years). There is also an active News International Christian Fellowship meeting weekly, and linked to local churches.

Recent developments
Rupert Murdoch announced plans to develop the whole site as a 'media campus' which would have housed about 4,000 staff, including HarperCollins, MySpace, Dow Jones and related businesses alongside NI. After much debate about temporary relocation to enable this, many of the editorial staff moved into premises in nearby Thomas More Street, where they remain. However, in 2011 NI became embroiled in a massive phone-hacking scandal, which led to the closure of the News of the World and subsequent redundancies. Court cases and enquiries continue. The whole site was put for sale, and was acquired by St George Central London Ltd, a member of the Berkeley Group (who are also developing the Goodmans Fields site). They are consulting on how to develop and open up the site for a mix of commercial, residential and possibly educational uses - in which restoration of the Rum Warehouse will be an important feature. Tower Hamlets has identified the site as a strategic allocation; here is the current draft development plan, under the Local Development Framework (CAB 051/112). network Wapping, a recently-constituted local group, is taking a keen interest in the site, seeking to ensure that its future development will help to benefit and regenerate the local area.

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