A Brief History of Our Lady of the Holy Souls, Kensal New Town W10
The Church of Our Lady of the Holy Souls is one of four churches established during the second half of the nineteenth century in West London by the Oblates of St. Charles, Bayswater. The church was opened on April 13th, 1882, less than a year from the date of the first stone-laying by Cardinal Henry Manning. Father Kirk OSC writes, "Like all Mr. Bentley's works, however simple and plain, its outlines were graceful and pleasing to the eyes and what is more important, it was exactly adapted to the purpose for which it was intended."
Our Lady of the Holy Souls is in the vicinity of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, which explains the dedication of the church. St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery was opened and consecrated on 10th May 1858 by Right Reverend Dr Morris, Bishop of Troy. The Oblates held the chaplaincy to the Catholic Cemetery. “Father Kirk’s services were needed both morning and afternoon when several funerals took place at the same hour in the presence of a multitude of friends and relations. On Saturdays the average number of funerals was from eighteen to twenty four. The service had to be repeated over as many coffins as the chapel could hold at one time.”
The Oblates of St Charles, resident in the parish of St Mary of the Angels, Bayswater, were asked by Cardinal Manning, the then superior of the Oblates, to start a mission in Kensal New Town. The mission was established in a small two-roomed cottage. Fr. Francis Kirk OSC stood in the doorway between the two rooms and gave instruction and sang hymns. It was quickly replaced by the use of what was meant to be a baker’s shop which served as a chapel. The outer part of the shop provided accommodation for two hundred people. Mass was celebrated there but the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved. It soon became evident that a larger building was necessary due to the growing Catholic population. Father Francis Kirk, OSC, engaged S.J. Nicholl to build a two-storey red brick building in Bosworth Road in November 1872. The ground floor was used as a church and the upper storey and basement were used as a school. For a short time the priests in charge of this poor and populous parish had combined religious and educational work under the roof of the red brick building. A corner house at 2 Bosworth Road, opposite the school and church, was rented as a presbytery.
A bigger size church was urgently needed for the growing catholic population. A site became available for a church of fair size but money was in short supply. Father Kirk’s response to the situation was: “But whence were the means to come after the large expenditure on the existing buildings? Poverty is an expensive mode of living. Poor people who pawn their goods cannot get them again without additional payment. Poor priests are often in the same difficult position. They must build something that is required; they must borrow money and find security for the re-paying of the loan. The kind gentleman who lends the money makes sure of his cash returning to him with interest. To this general rule we were no exception. Unable to commence the permanent church from want of means, we had to be content with one of those hideous erections called an iron church, which cost a lot of money, supplied partly out of Father Karslake’s private property, and partly by kind friends.” (Father Francis Kirk 1905) The temporary iron church was built in 1873 by John Francis Bentley. The church was recorded by the Registrar General on the 17th November 1880 as a Place of Religious Worship and the solemnization of marriages on 20th November 1880. This church served its purpose for seven years and was named St Mary of the Holy Souls.
“The temporary iron church that had been erected some years previously must now give way to a more permanent building more worthy in some sense to be called the House of God.” (Father Francis Kirk 1905.) Towards the close of 1880 J.F. Bentley, Architect, was invited by Father C.J. Keens OSC to design a more permanent church, to be of necessity a plain building of Roman type providing a seating capacity of not less than five hundred people. Space being limited it was necessary to utilize every inch of the ground available and to avoid as far as possible all buttresses and projections. The church occupies the entire length of the site, an irregular parallelogram lying at an angle at the junction of Bosworth Road and Hazlewood Crescent. By the time that Cardinal Henry Manning, Archbishop of Westminster, laid the foundation stone on 24 May 1881, Bentley had entirely departed from the Oblates intentions, in both style and detail. His design, which he estimated would cost over £4,000.0.0, is a version of Early English Gothic. In the first decade of Bentley's architectural practice, the foundation stone was laid and within a year the church was solemnly opened and blessed by Cardinal Henry Manning on 13th April 1882. The total cost of erecting the church was £4,753.1.9.
Over the west doorway entrance, the wall is pierced with a triplet of lancet windows between octagonal buttresses rising to a great height and connecting the middle stage with the gable; and on the right is a bell turret, capped with a spirelet, which completes the facade. The cost of erecting the turret was £130.0.0 and to fix the bell was £8.17.3. An extract from the Catholic Universe 29th November 1918, signed: ‘James the Least’ described the area and church as follows: “Bosworth Road is a mean and shabby thoroughfare. Externally the shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Souls does not promise great things, though the west front and the belfry are admirable in their austerity. But, once the ugly lobby is left behind, the interior is glorious.”
The porch to the church was originally covered in finely painted decoration and images of saints. It was designed and painted by the Marquis de Saint Andre de Tournay d’Oisy, St John’s Wood, and was blessed on 11th November 1921 to the memory of Fathers J.J. Greene, OSC and A.S. Baker, OSC, the then parish priests. Above the entrance of the church is a Gothic inscription in Latin from Psalm 24: “aut quis stabit in loco sancto eius innocens manibus et mundo corde hic accipiet benedictionem.” Translated it reads: “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? The man with clean hands and a pure heart, He shall receive blessings from the Lord.”
The design of the church comprises a six bay nave with narrow aisles and a three bay sanctuary adjoining the sacristy and one side chapel. Piers of Bath Stone separate the nave from the narrow processional aisles. Both side aisles are really little more than passages for processional purposes, the reason being that the widest possible nave would prove to be more advantageous for congregational use. The church’s wooden ceiling was intended to be painted and decorated as funds permitted. Shafts of Bath stone support the timber roof. On the sanctuary the organ gallery projects several feet beyond the limits planned by the architect. In the wall of the south aisle were four arcaded recesses, two of which contained side altars and two confessional boxes. The pulpit was designed by Bentley in 1886, and considered to be more or less of a temporary nature. He built the church, provided temporary fittings, such as altars, confessionals, and seating for the opening, and there his connection with it ended. Due to a shortage of money, Bentley had little to do with any of the decorations.
There is no east window as the end wall adjoins the presbytery. The carved and painted reredos was erected in 1889, in the Tudor style. The east wall was covered by a reredos of wood, carved, painted, and gilt. It was designed by Father Arnold S. Baker, OSC (for thirty-one years priest in charge of the church) who, assisted by friends, designed and painted the panels. “The reredos with its twenty or thirty grandly painted panels is far more worth seeing than many of the things mentioned in the London Guide Books.” (from an article in The Universe, November 29th 1918 by ‘James the Least’). The central picture depicting the “Adoration of the Magi” was copied from a picture in Cologne Cathedral and was removed.
Father Arnold Baker believed Bentley intended the church to have a rood screen, which seems likely to be the case, since he introduced this feature wherever possible. The exquisite rood screen, in 15th century style, was the work of Father Baker. The inscription on the screen was taken from the Good Friday Liturgy: “Crux Fidelis, inter omnes arbor una nobilis: nulla silva talem profert.” Translated into English: “Faithful Cross, above all other the one and only noble tree.” The words of the Biblical Psalm 129 – ‘De Profundis’ - were inscribed in Latin in Gothic lettering, beneath the clerestory windows, around the south and north walls sometime after 1907.
A side altar dedicated to the Holy Spirit consisted of a wooden altar and triptych designed by Bentley and painted by Mr. Stacey of St. John's Wood. No money being available, Father Baker painted and gilded some of the paintings himself, following Stacey’s directions. The altarpiece frontal was originally designed by John Francis Bentley for the Holy Spirit side altar. The altarpiece depicts the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in personified form. The beautiful stain-glassed west window and the window on the south wall, depicting Jesus inviting mothers to bring their children to him, are the only stained glass windows in the church.
The Liturgy Commissions Department of Art and Architecture established a Conservation Committee in July 1978 and included in the list of buildings Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church as a place of special Architectural or Historic interest.
Responsibility for the pastoral care of the parish of Our Lady of the Holy Souls was in the hands of The Oblates of St Charles from 1858 until 1971 when the Diocese of Westminster took on the care of it. On completion of Father Thomas Keane’s seven years as parish priest the Diocese asked the Order of Augustinian Recollects to take on responsibility for the parish. The Augustinian Recollects cared for the Catholic population of the Parish from 1978 until 2004 when they returned the parish to the Diocese and Father Sean O’Toole became Parish Priest from 2004 until 2007. Like the visitor of 29th November 1918, I would like to say with James the Least: May we whom the Oblates of St Charles served so faithfully over one hundred and eleven years, the Augustinian Recollects for twenty six years, Diocesan Priests for fourteen years… “May they indeed have peace. And may we whom they served live worthily and over them pray" (remembering those who have died): ‘Eternal rest give to them, O Lord.’ And to those who are still living: the priests and the many parishioners for their prayer and self-sacrifice in contributing to the building and upkeep of the church an assurance of our prayers in this church dedicated to the faithful departed: You will be forever remembered in prayer, particularly as the De Profundis is prayed daily after Mass. “Every brick of the church in Bosworth Road sings with triumphant Faith and Hope.” (based on the Universe, November 29th 1918 by ‘James the Least’). To our Parish Priest, Father Shaun Church who together with the parishioners had the vision, the dream and the courage to restore some of the church’s beautiful and prayerful original features – a very big thank you. To our present Parish Priest, Father Peter Michael Scott who continues to inspire and encourage his parishioners in their faith journey – thanks.
Sister Angela Moroney rsm