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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

The Jesuits’ Church in London

This Friday, 30th of March 2017, will see the launch of the eagerly anticipated Farm Street: The Story of the Jesuits’ Church in London by Michael Hall, Sheridan Gilley and Maria Perry. The gloriously illustrated volume celebrating 50 years of the Farm Street Parish explores the history of Farm Street Church to 1914, the architecture and furnishings of the Church and its associated buildings, and takes a look at life at Farm Street between the wars. Several of the photographs of Jesuits and plans of the Church scattered between the Andrew Twort’s beautiful photography came from the Jesuits in Britain Archives’ Farm Street Church collection. To tie into the launch, this blog post will showcase some of our favourite items from the collection.

Colourful squares with labels on waxy looking paper
PC/1/2/2 19th century map of Farm Street

This hand drawn plan of Farm and Mount Streets is likely to date between 1849 and 1885 as it includes both the Church and the workhouse, which was demolished in 1886 as part of redevelopment of the area, and the original building layout on Mount Street. When the Community moved to 111 Mount Street in 1868, numbers 112-105 were an unbroken row of houses. From 1873, 112 was leased and the Provincial Fr Robert Whitty SJ (1817-1895), who had apparently until that time been at 9 Hill Street, moved there with his staff. The Society’s lease of 111 & 112 Mount Street ended in 1885, so under the Rector Fr George Porter SJ (1825-1889), numbers 110-112 were pulled down, and what is now 114 Mount Street was built. The house at 31 Farm Street was completed in the same year, and the Community lived there until 1887 when the building work was complete. The Duke of Westminster demolished 107-109 to provide an entry to Mount Street garden, and Fr James Hayes SJ (1839-1907), Fr Porter’s successor, bought the freehold from the Berkley Estate of the land on which the Church and 31 Farm Street were built, as well as the garden and the stables at the Farm St end of the west side, and the a narrow strip of land along the whole length of that side of the church. This allowed for the building of the west aisle and side altars between 1898 and 1903.

Section of manuscript writing in a lined notebook date shown at top left corner is 1849 July 31
PC/1/10/1 Farm St Notices 1849- 1955

This entry in the Farm St Notices provides details of the first services to be performed at the Church at its opening on the Feast Day of St Ignatius, 1849. Dr Nicholas Wiseman (1802-1865), who read the sermon at the High Mass, was one of the chief architects of the 19th century revival of Roman Catholicism in England. In 1849 he was Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic of the London district, and at the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales the following year, he was installed as the first Archbishop of Westminster.

Booklet with brown paper and blue spine. Title in blue and an oval image of Mary in the centre.
PC/1/14/3 Church of the Immaculate Conception Guide Book, 1933

Several versions of the Farm Street guidebook have been published over the years, providing an historical background to the Church as well as information about architectural details. This edition from 1933 is signed by the architect William Henry Romaine-Walker (1854–1940), who was commissioned to design a new aisle after land next to the Church was secured at the end of the 19th century. Work on the St Ignatius Aisle began in 1898 and was completed in 1903. Romaine-Walker also designed the chapel of St Ignatius and the statues in it, as well as the statue of St John Nepomucene beneath the choir loft.

Drawing outline of window sections with two letters laid on top
PC.1.3.5 & PC.1.2.14 Evie Hone West Window

Throughout late 1940 and early 1941, the Church and house suffered considerable damage due to the German bombing campaign known as the Blitz. On 16 April 1941 a bomb fell nearby shattering all the windows in the house. The Rose window, the window above it in the organ loft and the Lourdes window in the Church were all blown out, and slight damage was caused to the masonry, roof and sounding board of the pulpit by shrapnel. In the early 1950s, the Irish painter and stained glass artist, Evie Hone (1894-1955) was commissioned to design new windows, and these were installed in 1953: the West ‘rose’ depicting the Instruments of the Passion; two small lancets above the West Window with two saints; and the three-light window in the Lourdes Chapel depicting the Assumption. This image shows a sketch of the West (or Rose) Window by Evie Hone, and letters written by Evie Hone to Fr Hubert McEvoy SJ (1899-1973), who was then Superior, regarding the windows.

Bold black outline of a church with feinter squares representing chairs inside the outline
PC.1.2.17 Curved Seating Plan, c1970

There are various architectural plans of the Church held in the Archives dating from the mid-19th to late 20th centuries, but this curved seating plan by Williams and Winkley from c1970 is perhaps one of the most intriguing. The layout is largely familiar, but the sanctuary takes a curved form which the seating plan follows. A letter to the Parish Priest, Fr John Brooks SJ (1920-1998), from Williams and Winkley dated 15 June 1970 (ref. PC/1/3/14) might provide a clue to the proposed arrangement. It seems that the Architects were commissioned to re-develop the church, particularly the sanctuary, so that the priest could celebrate the Eucharist facing the people, which meant that the altar had to be brought forward. It may be this curved seating arrangement that Austin Winkley refers to when he says that

“the seats arranged sideways at either side of the extended sanctuary are a high priority, as they express a new continuity with the ministers.”

Two open notebooks laid out with two loose photos. The notebooks also contain photos and manuscript notes. The photographs all show buildings and are sepia coloured.
PC/1/26/6 Fr Pollen’s Notebook, Early 20th Century

A selection of photographs and pages taken from Fr John H Pollen’s notebook in which he sought to document the Church, Community, and aspects of local life in the area, such as shop fronts and street scenes, in the first years of the century. Fr John H Pollen SJ (1858-1925) was a noted Jesuit historian and leading authority on Elizabethan Catholic history who was central in the Cause of the English Martyrs until his death in 1925. If you are interested in the Farm Street Church archives, please contact us to find out more.

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