A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Brighton Cross

Kip Fenn
A novel about
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40 - Through motherland and churchland, with another Baker's presence all around

A large red brick church is pressed in on the west side of Tufton Street. This was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and A. T. Scott in the 1920s for the Christian Scientists. After closing down in the 1990s, though, it became the Emmanuel Centre and the Emmanuel Evangelical Church. A notice informs me about a 'celebration service' every sunday at 10:30, and a 'Cantonese service' at 11:00.

On the same side of the road but further north is Mary Sumner House, the home of the Mothers' Union. On a stone tablet in the wall, the following message is writ: 'To the glory of god in grateful remembrance of Mary Elizabeth Sumner who founded the Mothers' Union 1876. This stone was laid by her daughter Louise Gore-Brown 18 July 1923.' The corner of Mary Sumner House, at the junction of Tufton Street with Great Peter Street, is given over to a prissy shop with 'gifts for all occasions'. The Mothers' Union says it has three million members in 71 countries. It also claims to be 'the largest voluntary worldwide women's organisation', and to play 'an important role in the religious life and social policies of many countries'. Recent Mothers' Union projects include: parenting in the UK; literacy and development in Sudan, Burundi and Malawi; and a family life programme in Uganda. During 2003, the organisation formally extended its operations into the United States.

The Mothers' Union, with its special blend of family and religious concerns, serves extraordinarily well as a streetscape link between Eleanor Rathbone and the virgin Mary, for the northern end of Tufton Street is steeped in Christianity. On the west side, Church House fills up the entire block, bounded by Great Smith Street, Little Smith Street, Tufton Street and Dean's Yard. The original Church House was built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887, but, when vacant possession of the whole site was finally achieved in the 1930s, and after elaborate negotiations with Westminster School and Westminster Abbey, the new Church House was constructed to a design by Baker. The foundation stone was laid in 1937 by Queen Mary; in 1940, King George VI, accompanied by his teenage daughter Elizabeth, formally opened the new House and attended the first session of the Church Assembly in the building's great circular hall. A short while later, during the war, it was employed as a substitute for the Houses of Parliament. Today, the building is not only the headquarters for both the Archbishops' Council and the Church of England Pensions Board, and the meeting-place for the General Synod, but it also functions as a commercial conference centre. (The Church Commissioners have their own building a couple of minutes walk away on Millbank.)

On the east side of Tufton Street there is an elaborately decorated building which carries a tablet stating: 'To the glory of god and in the furtherance of the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. This stone was laid by HRH George Prince of Wales on April 27 AD 1907.' The Society was established by King William III in 1701 to send priests and school teachers to the American colonies. Although initially its aim was to support the colonists, it soon began to focus more on the conversion of 'heathens and infidels'. Thereafter, it spread its mission to Australasia, Africa, and then China and Japan as well. Of particular note, though, was its late 19th century policy of allowing British and Irish women to become missionaries. Throughout the 20th century the Society continued to represent the missionary aims of the Churches of England, Wales, and Ireland through its pastoral, educational and medical work. In 1965 it merged with the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, and in 1968 with the Cambridge Mission to Delhi, to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Nearby, two church furnishers ply their trade - J. Whippel and Watts & Co. The former, established in the 18th century, has a shop window with some very fine looking brass crosses and clerical robes, and an expensive-looking spread eagle lectern. The latter operates from Faith House, which is also the home of the Church Union.

The Church Union is nearly 150 years old. This is how it describes its own history: 'On May 12th 1859 the Church of England Protection Society was formed to protect the rights of priests and worshippers and to defend the Faith against a claim of secular courts to determine what a Churchman was permitted to believe on the subject of Baptism. This resulted in the riots at St George's in the East. In May 1860 the organisation was renamed The English Church Union and under that designation it accomplished a task of incalculable value defending the Church's faith, laws and practice with singular zeal and wisdom for more than half a century. In 1933 the Anglo-Catholic Congress and the English Church Union coalesced under the new title of The Church Union, as it still is today.' To this day, the Church Union is pledged to work for 'the visible unity of the Church', and believes the Church of England should be 'called to repentance and renewal in the Catholic Faith'.

Snuggling up (or not as the case may be) to Faith House is St Edwards House which is home to the Society of St John the Evangelist. This claims to be the oldest monastic Community for men in the Anglican Church. Although its work includes teaching English to immigrants, conducting retreats, individual counselling, spiritual guidance and teaching liturgies, the Society also offers 'a place of quiet and reflection beside Westminster Abbey and Parliament, at the very centre of the nation's life'. There are 15 single bedrooms, each with central heating and a washbasin, available for overnight stays (with or without dinner).

Tufton Street merges into Great College Street - Hawksmoor's towers filling the view high above - and my route takes me through a wrought iron gate and under a vaulted arch into Dean's Yard, a quiet pleasant rectangular green. This was once Westminster Abbey's farmyard. The north and south sides are filled with Abbey buildings and Church House respectively, while some buildings belong to Westminster School. The historical buildings guru, Nikolaus Pevsner, says the lack of architectural coherence in the square is the fault of Baker's Church House, with its flint-faced ground floor and 'a timid pediment'. A sign greets me on the corner of the green: 'This area is Private Property and is not available to the public who are asked to respect its use as a playing field, and also to keep dogs off it. By order of the Dean and Chapter.' Indeed, there are some Westminster boys warming up for a game of hockey.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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