Built as a successor church to St Matthew, Friday Street, in the City, which was demolished in 1888; it was consecrated in 1889. Ewan Christian was the architect. It is of red brick, in Christian’s usual lancet style: nave, with separately gabled aisles, west baptistery and porches; chancel and apsidal south chapel, and a mixture of hall (added in 1901), passages and vestry on the south; wagon roofs; dormer windows in the chancel. The low iron screen is a Great War memorial. The east window is by Kempe and glass in the chapel and baptistery by Clayton and Bell. ‘Thus Basil Clarke’s entry on St Thomas’ in his survey of London churches.
When English Heritage came to list the church in the late 1990s their inspector, Andrew Saint, was impressed that its architectural integrity had been respected. The church has not been reordered and works well liturgically in the original orientation. This continuity may not have been entirely by design. By the late 1970s the congregation was small and had very limited resources.
However, since then the situation has been transformed and the Common Fund is paid as requested. Over the last 20 years it has also been possible to bring the building back to a proper state of repair and maintenance. This has been done in stages: some demolition of additional structures behind the east end that were causing damp; renovation of the interior and then exterior of the hall to make it available for parish use; extensive redecoration of the painted areas of the interior with designs by Alan Dodd that now look as if they were original; replacement of the southern and northern slopes of the roof with their lead and stonework; and cleaning and re-leading of the Kempe east windows.
The replacement of the roofs over the baptistery, narthex and porches as well as the ‘Sunday school’ behind the east end in 2009 has completed this work and put St Thomas’ back to a regime of maintenance rather than rescue. Apart from grant aid the congregation itself raised considerable sums to fund this work and many gave up time to assist with the redecoration.
St Thomas’ is a back street church, with a not particularly distinguished exterior but one that fits in very successfully with the scale of the surrounding housing, which was under construction at the same time. The interior is, however, quite a surprise: spacious given the constraints of the site, very sympathetic to the worship in the catholic tradition for which it was built and with many attractive details.
The most recent improvements have been part of our collaboration with St Thomas’s Playgroup, which has used the hall since 1991. Their presence helped with grant aid in 1994, and again last year (INSERT DATE) when the kitchen and lavatory were renovated. The work to renew the hall path and landscape the surrounding parts of the garden so that the children can use it to help them understand more about the natural environment as well as for play has attracted a substantial grant from Islington Council.
We are also now able to open the church more regularly outside the times of worship as one of the porches has been converted into a room with some very fine ‘in-keeping’ glass doors, where members of the congregation can be present to welcome visitors.