HISTORY OF THE CHURCH
Founded in 1870
Below follows historical facts about the the church knows as 'The Cathedral of North London', St Augustine Kilburn. Learn more about the church's history; foundation, consecration, movements, community, opposition, vicars and writers & artists.
Known as 'The Cathedral of North London', St Augustine Kilburn has its roots in the 'Oxford' or 'Tractarian' Movement which began with a Sermon preached in 1833 by John Keble in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. The movement placed a fresh emphasis on the Catholic heritage of the Church of England and its continuity with the pre-Reformation Church. Keble was joined by John Henry Newman, who later became a Roman Catholic, and Edward Bouverie Pusey who became the leader of the movement after Newman’s secession to Rome.
By the 1850s the Tractarians had gained a great deal of support in the inner city areas of London and began to be known as 'Ritualists' because of the ceremonial that was practised in their churches, eucharistic vestments and incense in particular. The term 'Puseyite', after Dr Pusey was also used.
This tradition, now well established in the Church of England, is usually referred to as Anglo-Catholicism. St Augustine’s was one of a large number of Victorian churches built to witness to Tractarian or Anglo-Catholic ideals.
Richard Carr Kirkpatrick
Richard Carr Kirkpatrick was the son of an Irish landowner and a friend and firm disciple of Dr Edward Bouverie Pusey who, with Keble and John Henry Newman, was one of the great Tractarian figures. Fr Kirkpatrick was curate of St Mary, Kilburn but in 1867 a new Vicar was appointed who was unsympathetic to the Catholic worship that he found there. Encouraged by a resolute and united body of lay people, Kirkpatrick resigned and received permission from the Bishop to found a mission district in the southern part of Kilburn.
At first the group worshipped at All Saints’ Margaret Street but in 1870 a swampy piece of ground was obtained for the site of the new Church of St Augustine. The Eucharist was first celebrated in a room in Andover Place; in 1871 a temporary iron church was erected and the foundation stone of the chancel laid.
24 February 1880
St Augustine’s Kilburn Church was consecrated on St Matthias Day, 24 February 1880, by the Rt Revd John Jackson, Bishop of London. Described in a contemporary newspaper as 'the Minster of north west London', St Augustine's was regarded as the grandest church in the diocese.
The Service of Consecration began at 11.30am with a procession during which Psalm 24 was chanted; this was followed by Mattins and Antecommunion and an 'excellent if somewhat lengthy sermon from the Bishop on Christian unity'.
Joining the vicar and his six assistant priests were the vicars of Paddington and Willesden, Dr West, Dr Attwood, the Reverends G Greenwood, C F Lowder, W H Cleaver, T O Marshall, H C Woodhead, A Gurney and many others. The collection amounted to £26 0s 4d.
For many years the tower stood in an unfinished state but was finally crowned by the magnificent spire in 1898 when Fr Kirkpatrick (then in his seventy-fifth year!) was hoisted to the giddy height of 240 feet on a small platform in order to lay and bless the top stone.
Past and Incumbent
Below is a gallery of past vicars of St Augustine Kilburn from the First Vicar and Founder Father Richard Carr Kirkpatrick, 1870 - 1907 to the current Incumbent Vicar, The Reverend Father Colin J. Amos 2012 -
COMMUNITY OF THE SISTERS OF THE CHURCH
Closely associated with St Augustine’s were the Community of the Sisters of the Church, founded by Mother Emily Ayckbowm, daughter of the Rector of Holy Trinity, Chester. Miss Ayckbowm had already begun the Church Extension Association to help the poor of her father’s parish. When she came to London she started “Ragged Sunday-Schools” with hot tea and buns for poor children and established catechisms and an embroidery room for helping overseas missions. Leaflets about the Faith and hymn-book for Sunday-Schools began to be published.From the Extension Association grew the Community and Emily was clothed as a novice by Fr Kirkpatrick in 1870. No Anglican community expanded so rapidly. In Kilburn Mother Emily founded and the Sisters staffed St Augustine’s schools and an orphanage. Schools, orphanages and children’s homes were begun in several London parishes and eventually spread to other parts of the country and the world. The spirit of the Sisters is well expressed by the choice of St Michael as Patron.The Holy Angels worship and serve God in heaven and minister to God’s people on earth. St Michael especially is associated with overcoming evil and establishing God’s rule. The Sisters' life was grounded in their daily life of prayer - the Mass, the daily offices, silences and meditation. From their love of God overflowed their caring for God’s people, especially the poor. Mother Emily was prepared to fight any number of battles whenever she came across injustices.After the war the Community moved out to Ham Common. Though much smaller, it still seeks to be faithful to the spirit of Mother Emily.
COMMUNITY OF SAINT PETER
The Community of St Peter was founded in 1861 in the parish of Holy Trinity, Brompton by a wealthy layman and his wife, also daughter of a clergyman, Benjamin and Rosamira Lancaster. It started by providing a small convalescent home.
As the community grew the Brompton house became too congested and Mr and Mrs Lancaster bought a house in Mortimer Place, Kilburn, which became St Peter's Home, then in St Mary's parish. As the new low church Vicar gave the Community no encouragement and banned the celebration of the Eucharist in their chapel they attended celebrations at local churches such as St Mark, Hamilton Terrace and St Mary Magdalene, Paddington.
In 1871 when the temporary church of St Augustine's opened, they had a spiritual centre within easy reach and Fr Kirkpatrick gave them all the help that they needed. Like the Sisters of the Church, the Community of St Peter opened new houses in poorer parts of London and in 1883 St Peter's Convent in Woking, Surrey in spacious grounds with a fine chapel designed by Pearson.
On St Peter's Day 1944, the mother house in Kilburn was caught by the blast from a flying-bomb whilst the Community was at Mass in a semi-basement linen room which was used regularly for worship during bombing periods. Many of the houses around were demolished and the convent suffered irreparable damage. But no one was seriously hurt except the celebrant who was hit with a flying candlestick and cut about the face and head and had a broken nose and the very black eye.
A later account claimed that the chalice containing the consecrated Sacrament had been found upright and unspilt when the room was cleared. Fr Atkinson, who was then Vicar, came to rescue the Blessed Sacrament and move it to a safer place, the chapel having had the east window blown out. But he first conducted Devotions and the Sisters walked in Procession singing a hymn. So ended St Peter's Day and work of the Sisters in Kilburn. The Woking Convent then became the mother-house.
From the late 1850s there was some opposition to Catholic practices in the Church of England. Some of this came from “aggrieved” parishioners who resented the liturgical changes that priests had introduced. Much came from Protestant groups who opposed everything Roman Catholic and regarded Tractarian teaching and ritual as “Popery.” Anglo-Catholic church services were sometimes interrupted and protests made. The notorious John Kensit who worked for the Protestant Truth Society instigated much of this “brawling” in church. In 1874 the Public Worship Regulation Act was passed to suppress the growth of “Ritualism.” The wearing of Eucharistic vestments and the use of incense were particularly abhorrent and “spies” were sent to “Ritualistic” churches to report on what they saw. This often resulted in prosecutions of offending clergymen and between 1877 and 1882 four priests were imprisoned. It soon became clear that the Public Worship Regulation Act was not working and in order to bring about a measure of uniformity the Bishops agreed to forbid certain liturgical practices in their dioceses whilst allowing others. One of the things forbidden was “the use of incense during the Service.” Fr Kirkpatrick gave a robust response and wrote in the St Augustine’s, Kilburn parish magazine of November in 1899:
“In accordance with the directions of the Bishop of London, the ceremonial use of incense during Divine Service to which the congregation have been accustomed for the last few years, was given up on Sunday, the 8th of last month. The use of incense during processions, before or after the service and at the singing of the Introit, has been substituted for the previous use, as being outside the Prayer Book and not in any way contrary to the recent opinion of the Archbishops, nor to the reasons upon which it was based.
The Protests against the Lambeth Decision, a copy of which appears in this number of the Magazine, is now laying in the Church for signature by the whole congregation. It is, of course, important that as many signatures as possible should be obtained without loss of time, as the Churchwardens are anxious that it should reach the Bishop on or before the 14th instant. Separate sheets for signatures by families, persons at a distance, or sick people, can be obtained of Mr Eades, Mr Crosland, or of the Editor.”
John Kensit rented a property in St Augustine’s parish and was therefore a parishioner. Kensit attended the Easter Vestry meeting of 1901 and had himself nominated by one of his supporters as people’s warden against a Frederick Holiday. Mr Holiday had been a resident parishioner for twenty nine years and was greatly respected in the parish and throughout the diocese, being a member of the House of Laymen for the Province of Canterbury and served on the London Diocesan Conference and the Diocesan Board for Schools; he had been closely connected with the building of the church and its schools and had served as churchwarden for the preceding nine years. At the vote, as expected, Holiday was duly elected, upon which Mr Kensit demanded that a poll should be taken of all those who lived in the parish for which the law provided should there be serious disagreement (even though it was Kensit himself who had caused any disagreement that there might have been!) The Vicar knew the law and wisely agreed that Kensit should have his way and announced that the poll would take place a fortnight later.
In the meantime, Kensit addressed a meeting in Kilburn Hall at which he enlarged about the distress at what he had seen at St Augustine’s and the “Babylonish Vestments” worn by the clergy. “The enemy has sowed his priestly tares,” he proclaimed. In the meantime churchwardens and sidesmen distributed a letter of support for their Vicar and Mr Holiday. On the day of the Poll the Eucharist was celebrated for the peace of the parish and the man who was persecuting it. A little later the doors opened and for twelve hours the friends and enemies of the Church had an opportunity of recoding their votes in the parish room. Towards the end of the voting grew more brisk and the crowd in the streets grew. At eight o’clock the Vicar ordered the closing of the doors for the count. Mr Holiday polled 290 votes, Mr Kensit 49.
Despite the Vicar’s request that there should be no cheering a tremendous cheer went up when the crowd heard the figures. Mr Kensit and his friends quietly left, being protected from the crowds by the police, and sought the retirement of Wycliffe House. The Vicar was escorted home too.
“Let’s see the old man home” rang out the affectionate cry and, accompanied by his people, the faithful and much loved pastor returned to the Vicarage to rest from the trouble and distress brought upon him by John Kensit.
“When Hardy came up to London from Dorset in the years of his fame, he would sneak into St Augustine’s Kilburn, from time to time, to hear the music and admire Pearson’s wonderful building.”
- Churches 1870-1914, Volume 3 The Victorian Society
WRITERS AND ARTISTS
Many famous writers and artists have visited the church over the centuries, drawn by the fame of its architecture and its strong Anglo-Catholic traditions. Notable figures include Thomas Hardy, who visited from time to time to hear the music and admire the magnificent building, and Leonard Bernstein, who conducted an English Bach Festival concert at the church in 1977. You can watch the video footage here. Barbara Pym based Neville Forbes's church in her novel No Fond Return of Love on St Augustine's (Robert Smith, Exploring London Churches with Barbara Pym).
In more recent times, the church has been visited by actors and musicians for filming and recording, including Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine), The Sixteen and Simon Russell Beale, continuing St Augustine's tradition of artistic connections.