Ensuring our historic building has an exciting future!
The story so far...
St Clement’s, King Square began it’s life as St Barnabas Chapel, in the parish of St Luke’s, Old Street. Constructed in the early 1820’s as a part of a government-led scheme to provide church buildings in newly built-up parishes, the pan was conceived as an act of national thanksgiving for the victory at Waterloo. Hence the title “Waterloo Church” given to the thirty buildings eventually constructed.
St Barnabas was designed by the architect Thomas Hardwick, and constructed in neo-Classical style of brick with an Ionic portico surmounted by a short tower with a needle spire in Bath Stone. The roof was low-pitched of Welsh slate. The new church building was considered by a contemporary chronicler to be “for use and duration, rather than particular ornament”. However, the church became the gracious centre-piece facing onto the briefly-fashionable King Square.
The following century saw the area become an increasingly industrial corner of inner London, overshadowed by the proximity of the Regent’s Canal and the industries associated with it. The residential population grew, but the area declined as wealthier residents moved out to new suburbs and houses were subdivided. By the 1930’s much of the area was very poor, some areas desperately so, with poor housing and amenities.
After the Second World War, with the population decreased by slum clearance and the move to new towns and suburbs, the population dropped. However wartime bombing had destroyed a number of local Anglican churches, leaving St Barnabas (closed at the beginning of the war but only slightly damaged) as the only church building left standing. In the early 1950’s the interior was completely rebuilt in a restrained neo-classical style to a design by Norman Haines Partnership and the church re-dedicated as St Clement with St Barnabas and St Matthew, Finsbury.
The decline in the population was mirrored by a fall in church use and membership. By 2000 the usual Sunday congregation was around 15-20, with few children and no mid-week activities. Minor works in the 1970’s and 1980’s upgrade the wiring and sand-blast the brickwork back to its original yellow were conducted against a steadily deteriorating church fabric. Between Sundays the church was closed.
Since this low-point the congregation has begun to grow, and the number of midweek activities such as Holy Communion, Study Groups and special events has grown. Also, the church has been used increasingly for outside groups for day conferences and weekly activities, most especially by musicians, including the nearby City University Chamber Choir and City University Orchestra. A project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2008, replaced badly-decaying parapets (lined with asphalt from the 1950’s) with lead and renewed the rainwater goods. However, the roof continued to leak and the facilities on offer to users of the building remained primitive. (For more history see the History Page).
Keeping a roof over our heads
Quinquennial surveys in 2009 and 2014 repeated the urgent need for major works to the roof. In 2014 the architect noted, “The main nave roof north and south slopes are covered with heavy, ancient slates, probably original to the building… The slated roof coverings are in very poor order. There are many slipped and cracked slates….It is evident that the heads on many slates have deteriorated more than the exposed tails…. The re-slating of the nave roof is absolutely top priority.” Indeed in heavy rain it was necessary to investigate where the roof was leaking and place buckets to catch the drips! The danger to the roof structure and the ceilings in the long term were obvious, and very worrying for the Parochial Church Council. Further conversations with the architect highlighted the additional need not only to re-slate but to upgrade the roof coverings with a impermeable but breathable membrane, as well as replacing any damaged woodwork beneath the roof coverings.
Being more welcoming
As far back as 2005 the parish recognised the problem of not being able to welcome wheelchair users, and presenting only steep steps to all those with poor mobility trying to visit or used the church. The Diocese of London provided an Access Audit for St Clement’s in 2005, outlining a number of problems in providing full access to the disabled. Principal among the challenges identified in the Audit (written by the Disability Advisor), was the lack of a step-free access and an accessible WC for disabled users of the building. Both the main West Doors and the North Door are only accessible up flights of steps (six in the case of the West Doors). This we recognised as at long-term issue, but picked up in successive parish Mission Action Plans. In the 2016-20 plan it was phrased, “ we will plan a significant upgrade the church’s own kitchen and WC facilities and ensure a step-free access point.”How were we to call ourselves an "Inclusive Church" if so many people found it hard even to get in the door?
Becoming better known and loved
St Clement’s, despite being once of the few pre-WWII buildings in the area to be substantially unaltered (at least on the outside) and still being used for its original purpose, has been relatively poorly known outside the church family over the past generation. Few activities and few community links have meant its heritage and history (dating back to the beginning of the neighbourhood) have been little known or understood. Despite the building’s size, and its importance in the built environment of the locality, the fact that it is overshadowed by post-war social housing and faces onto a quiet cul-de-sac rather than a major road, have led to many incomers and visitors unaware of its presence let alone its importance. It’s resource as a important part of local heritage, and a place where the story of local history and building techniques could be rediscovered, was picked up early in our church discussions and those of other local stakeholders and community links.
Planning (a little late) for the Twenty First Century
The project consisted of two main elements, each with two parts. Firstly, the building work to repair and secure the roof and to provide a building accessible for those with mobility problems, providing a more usable, attractive and welcome space for all users and visitors to the building. Secondly, to provide a programme of events and activities which would increase the level of knowledge of and understanding of the building’s heritage and history along with, as one child put it, “how it was built and what it was built out of”. Both these strands would come together to ensure the long-term sustainability of the church as a Listed Building, a viable parish and a community asset by making the building more welcoming, more useful and more interesting.
The essential repair works will involve:
· The repair of the roof, re-slating the whole (reusing slates where possible)
· Repairing rainwater good, repointing parapets (and other minor stonework where necessary)
· Timber repairs to the roof structure
The new works will involve:
· Installation of an accessible entrance, with ramp, and an accessible WC within the church.
· Improvement of the kitchen facilities (providing a small new kitchen in the church vestibule)
· Provision of a new room for meetings and St Clement’s Children’s ministry (to replace the room taken up by the new entrance and accessible WC).
In addition the following we will do the following:
· Archival research of the church’s construction materials. Church members visiting quarries which sourced the original materials. An enhanced website with a historical and restoration section.
· New printed interpretative materials on the building’s heritage for adults and children.
· Permanent exhibition boards with information about the project and St Clement’s heritage.
· Formal building maintenance and conservation training.
· Workshops for 20 children including a demonstration of slate splitting by a professional mason.
· A heritage weekend to celebrate project completion, including a demonstration of slate splitting by a professional mason.
The principal purpose of the project was to ensure the long term sustainability of the church as a building widely used both by the church and by the wider neighbourhood, attracting new groups and individuals, whether church members, local voluntary and charitable organisations or commercial companies. It was also to celebrate and to create new interest in the history and built heritage of the building, to encourage the building to be maintained and developed honouring that heritage in the future. This would both make the church a better amenity to local people and visitors, and to prevent further cycles of neglect and decline in the St Clement’s church fabric.
A building more useful, welcoming and interesting would be bound to be better used and better loved!
London Video Games Orchestra Concert - November 2019