Monday, 4 May 2009

The French Connection
Next week when we are in Ricky for the festival, London Transport are running heritage trains from Harrow-on-the-Hill to Ricky and Amersham. Usually they use some old locomotives and we are hoping to see Sarah Siddons again. When the world's first underground railway - the Metropolitan - was opened in January 1863 it ran from Paddington to Faringdon. The line was constructed on the Cut & Cover technique following the line of the Marylebone and Euston Roads. The first locomotives of course were steam which must have been even dirtier than it is today. The first ten electric locomotives were soon introduced and in 1922 Metro-Vickers delivered 20 engines of a new design of which Sarah Siddons was the second to be commissioned.
It was named after the famous tragic actress who came to fame in London in 1782 in Fatal Marriage at the Drury Lane Theatre. She went on to establish herself with her portrayal of Lady Macbeth which she made her own until retiring in1812. Although she gave up acting then, she continued with public readings until her death in 1831.
Very much a Celeb, she was painted by both


and Joshua Reynolds, who portrayed her as the Tragic Muse.

She was buried in the cemetery of St. Mary's Church , Paddington Green which is close to where we are currently moored. Most of the gravestones have been moved to the perimeter of the cemetery and to make a very pleasant park. Whilst we were walking through there the other day we found an ecclesiastical building - perhaps a chapel of rest - against the outer wall of the cemetery but with no access from it. This seemed odd and so we investigated.When we emerged into St. Mary's terrace, tucked between two houses we found this Gothic arch
It leads to St. David's Welsh Church - the building we had seen form St. Mary's cemetery.
Sarah Siddons was in fact born in Brecon,Wales ,in 1755, the eldest child of Roger Kemble who ran a travelling theatre.
The church, unfortunately closed in 2006. This event seemed to have been overlooked when the only other Welsh language church in London was threatened with closure in July 2008. The congregation of seven was recommended to transfer to St. David's, Paddington.
Inside the lych gate is an inscription in Welsh.

My Welshness extends no further than my surname so I sent this to my cousin Gwyneth who even has a Welsh first name.
Not happy with her effort at translation she passed it on to the poet Les Barker who doesn't sound Welsh at all. When you have finished admiring the splendid nature of his translation you should take the time to listen to some of his poetry. I particularly like Reinstalling Windows.

The translation is:
For the glory of God and in the memory of Howell Powell Edwards AC Oxford, Canon of Llandaff Cathedral.
There is another inscription in the lych gate but I don't have the courage to impose on these good people further.

So where do the Welsh worship in London? Our quest took us to the City and just south of St. Paul's Cathedral we located St. Benet's Guild Church (it has no parish)

The present building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren during his phenomenal career. After the Great Fire
he designed 55 of the 87 churches built in London along with others around the country (and one in USA)
St. Benet's is remarkable for several reasons: unusually for Wren it is built in red and blue bricks with stone quoins ; the pulpit is by Grinling Gibbons; it is one of only four Wren churches which were not damaged during WWII; and it remains much as it was built.
In 1652 Inigo Jones was buried here and Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones married his second wife here in 1747. Until 1867 it was the parish church of Doctors Commons the legal institution which amongst other activities was noted for arranging 'quickie' marriages.
After a few years of redundancy it was scheduled for demolition but successful petitioning of Queen Victoria resulted in an Order in Council permitting the conduct of services according to the rites of the Church of England in the Welsh language. This came under serious examination in 2008 when the poor attendance prompted a schism when proposals were made to close it. Study of the Order in Council disabused those who believed that the church had been given to the Welsh community in perpetuity. However it has survived as a working church despite the difficulty in finding Welsh-speaking ministers. Perhaps the size of congregation has been affected by the obliteration of the community which used to surround the church. Now it is isolated from humans by a collar of roads.

Opposite our house in Bathwick is a church and on the wall is the following plaque

So where is this French connection? I hear you muttering....

Despite the construction of St. David's Welsh Church in 1889 involving the demolition of the last thatched house in London, revenge has not been exacted by converting it to a disco. In 2006 Franck and Veronique acquired a lease on the premises and established a
Bilingual French/English Primary School
which they have done without any major changes to the structure or fixtures. The ground floor was always a hall with the church upstairs so this lent itself to accommodating the 100 primary-aged children. The real wonder is upstairs where education and exercise takes place amongst the pews, pulpit, altar, font and organ.

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