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A second walk through Camden's Faith history

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St Michael’s Camden Town

I joined Camden Tour Guides Jenny Rossiter and Lester Hillman on a trial run ahead of the second Faith Walk. The Faith Walks have been organised by Camden Council to conclude Councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli’s mayoral year and his work building collaboration and understanding between people of all faiths and beliefs.

We started at St Michael’s Camden Town just down the road from Camden Tube Station. The church is a listed Grade II*and was the first London church designed by Bodley and Garner. It is built of brick with stone dressings in the decorated Gothic style. In 1954 it took over the parishes of All Saints, Camden Town (which had become a Greek Orthodox church in 1948) and St.Thomas, Agar Town, Wrotham Road (1864 building demolished due to war damage). In 2003 it became part of the St Pancras team ministry (St Pancras Old Church, St Mary’s Church Somers Town and St Paul’s Camden Square. It is known locally as a welcoming place for people of all faiths and visitors to Camden with an active outreach team providing social projects. The church is linked to St Michaels Church of England Primary School.

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St Michael’s Camden Town

We then walked to the canal bridge on Camden Road descending the new steps next to the coffee shop part of a new residential development. Many of the navigators (navvies) who built the canal (along with much of Camden) were Irish labourers and Catholic Churches in time arrived to minister to their needs.

We crossed over the hidden River Fleet and passed the former Lawford’s Wharf next to Royal College Street The Fleet still flows through the Borough, as it has for millennia, and it offers a reminder of the role that flowing water, springs and wells have had in faith.

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Canal bridge on Camden Road

Climbing up from the canal to Baynes Street the modern Bruges Place is a reminder of William Bruges the Garter King of Arms, the most senior herald at the time of the Battle of Agincourt .Six hundred years ago the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund came to Bruges estate in Kentish Town for a great feast at Whitsuntide 1416. His procession came up through today’s Camden from the Bishop of Ely’s residence in Ely Place, (the starting point for the Mayor’s Faith Walk on 10th May).

Moving on to the next stop and passing the modern housing on the site of the former St Thomas Church we wondered what the future might hold for another place of worship that might be at a turning point, the Rochester Square, Spiritualist Temple. Back in 1926 the great author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of ‘Sherlock Holmes’, laid one of the foundation stones. Another was laid by journalist Hannen Swaffer a socialist and who, Lester said, managed a phenomenal output of a million words a year!

A few minutes earlier a wall of colourful foliage, if not quite the Garden of Eden, heralded the Rochester Square Community Gardens! On leaving Rochester Square we walked through the peaceful Rochester Terrace Gardens where Jenny spotted a blue plaque commemorating onetime resident the celebrated organ builder Henry Willis, who featured later in our walk. He built organs for a large number of cathedrals including St Paul’s Cathedral and also for the Royal Albert Hall and Windsor Castle.

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Walking through the Gardens Lester points out the spire framed by the blossom of the street tree. We are approaching The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Andrew and St Barnabas, the former Anglican Church dedicated to St Barnabas. The building, which was constructed in the style of a three-aisled basilica without a dome, continues today as an important social landmark in Kentish Town.

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St Andrew and St Barnabas

We arrive at The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Andrew. This holy Cathedral was originally an Anglican Church dedicated to St Barnabas. The building was constructed in the style of a three-aisled basilica without a dome.

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The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Andrew

We crossed over Kentish Town Road and headed down Kelly Street Lester tells me Kelly was a local builder and he was associated with Lawford (the builder’s wharf passed a few moments earlier). Before it was Kelly Street it was Church Street, appropriately enough as we arrive at the United Reform Church. We walk past the colourful painted terraced houses that Booth, creating his Victorian poverty maps, described it as the “worst street for immorality in Kentish Town”

We leave Kelly St and move on towards Kentish Town Baths refurbished and reopened in 2010. St Pancras Baths, the original name when it opened in 1903, is now picked out in gold leaf on the building's lovingly restored facade. Our walk took place on St George’s Day. The saint features prominently in the Borough’s coat of arms so it was especially delightful that St George alongside St Pancras greeted us here, their statues gazing down from the Prince of Wales Road frontage.

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Kentish Town Baths
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St George alongside St Pancras

Jenny who lives in Kentish Town told me about the history of the baths where locals took their washing and how the baths were saved from demolition. We headed along Grafton Road and passed the offices of the Mayor’s Charity 3FF (Three Faiths Forum). The building also houses the offices of the Anne Frank Trust UK and Sternberg Foundation who support interfaith work.

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Anne Frank Trust UK and Sternberg Foundation

Our route took us through the residential community off Grafton Road towards Queen’s Crescent Market and here on the corner of Weedington Road we arrived at Baitul Aman Masji (Kentish Town Mosque).

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Baitul Aman Masji

We cross over Southampton Road to St Dominic’s where Lester tells me that in 1883 the specification to build “as much as possible for as little as possible” . Jenny explains that St Dominic’s is 299 ft long and over 80 ft high. Alan Cheales Way at the side of the church is named after a long serving priest who died in 1996. It leads to Tasker Road once called Church Road and soon we are at Belsize Wood Nature Reserve. Alongside stands the iconic Isokon flats and Jenny made the connection to the faith walk in that one of Isokon’s most famous residents, Agatha Christie, wrote in her books about a curate, a vicar and a vicarage.

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St Dominic’s

As we left Russell Nurseries Lester pointed out in the distance Bartram Hostel (my namesake) which is a hostel run by the nuns from Convent Of The Sisters Of Providence.

Facing us was the former Hampstead Town Hall now home to WAC (Wish Aspire Create) where14-19 year olds can pursue an alternative education through a creative arts and media curriculum. The building is also home to University of the 3rd Age (U3A) and provides facilities for religious services.

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WAC Arts

We walk down Belsize Avenue and our end is in sight but let me warn you it is a long road….) We arrive at St Peter’s Church built in 1859 and one with strong linkages to Westminster Abbey.

Lester has a wealth of history about the Percevals who had a substantial family home on the site previously. Spencer Perceval went on to become Prime Minister and was shot dead in the House of Commons in 1812.

Next door, on the site of the former vicarage of St Peter’s, is Belsize Square Synagogue (built in 1958). Here the walk ends but if you come along on Sunday17th May be assured a warm welcome awaits you with refreshments and a chance for a well-earned rest.

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St Peter’s Church
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Belsize Square Synagogue