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Walking through Camden's faith history

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Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying Camden Tour Guides Jenny Rossiter and Lester Hillman as they conducted a trial run of their new Faith Walk! Find out what it's all about and then book your free place on 10th and 17th May...

The Faith Walk has been organised by Camden Council to mark the end of Councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli’s mayoral year. His chosen charity was Three Faiths Forum which aims to build collaboration and understanding between people of all faiths and beliefs.

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St Ethelreda’s church, Ely Place

To kick things off we began at St Ethelreda’s church in Ely Place which is one of only a few medieval churches to belong to the Roman Catholic Church. It survived the trauma of the reformation by becoming the house of Sir Christopher Hatton. The gardens of St Etheldreda’s were said to produce the finest strawberries in London and a Strawberry Fayre is still held here every June. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, Gloucester tells the Bishop of Ely:

My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there. I do beseech you, send for some of them.”

Although I wasn’t provided with any strawberries, we did make a brief stop at Ye Old Mitre pub nearby, which was built in 1546 for the servants of the Bishops of Ely.

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Ye Old Mitre pub

We then walked towards Holborn covering St Andrew’s (now in commercial use); St Peter’s Italian Church (which hosted famous Italian exiles such as Giuseppe Garibaldi); St Alban the Martyr (an impressive Butterfield building later altered by Adrian Scott after war damage); and the Muslim Community and Welfare Association at Baldwin Gardens. On the way we walked through Leather Lane which, Lester reliably informed me, was the birthplace of steam powered road carriages and therefore the steam railway!

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St Peter’s Italian Church
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St Alban the Martyr
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First steam powered carriage plaque

Onwards, past the manicured private gardens of Gray’s Inn Chapel; past the striking 1920s Conway Hall (home of the Ethical Society originally founded in 1787); past the church where Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married in 1956 (St George the Martyr in Queen’s Square); and on to the Weiner Library in Russell Square. This centre for Holocaust and Genocide studies had a key role in the Nuremberg prosecutions following WWII. At that point I was directed to… an invisible church! To clarify this was a church that was sadly demolished in 1975.

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St George the Martyr in Queen’s Square
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Invisible church
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The invisible church before demolition

After some more meandering and chatting, we found ourselves in Tavistock Square which is also unofficially known as the ‘Peace Garden’. Here Jenny and Lester pointed out three features: the statue of Mahatma Gandi, sculpted by Fredda Brilliant and installed in 1968; a cherry tree planted in 1967 in memory of the victims of the nuclear bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and a stone commemorating “men and women conscientious objectors all over the world and in every age” placed in 1994. This square is now used for annual ceremonies at each of these memorials and is also close to the plaque which remembers the 7/7 terrorist bombings outside the British Medical Association.

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Hiroshima Cherry Blossom, Tavistock Square

Nearing King’s Cross (and the end of our walk) we stopped to look at St Pancras New Church which was built in 1816 when the Old St Pancras church was deemed too small. The design (by William and Henry Inwood) is built in Portland stone in neo-grecian style and was the most expensive church erected in London since St Paul's Cathedral at about £90,000.

At this point our ‘official’ tour of Camden’s faiths institutions was finished but, as is often the case when one is confronted with a warm Spring day and enthusiastic tour guides, no one was ready to go back indoors. Lester confessed he had scheduled a couple more stops for the “tenacious and fit” attendees and so we were off to see King’s Cross Mosque and Holy Cross church (named in memory of Commodore James Goodenough who was killed on the island of Santa Cruz in the Solomons).

You can book your place on this walk (10th May) HERE and another Faith Walk which covers Kilburn and Belsize Square (17th May) HERE.

Article by Anna Lowe