History of St Paul’s Church

Soon to be an arts centre

Posted - December 08, 1979

As 1980 will see St. Paul's taking part in the life of Jericho once more, as an arts centre, it seems, fitting to end 1979 with some recollections of St. Paul's as a Church. The Jericho Echo therefore expresses its thanks to a former Churchwarden the former Secretary and members of the congregation for bringing to life so vividly, the place that the Church held in the lives and affections of the people it served.

St Paul's is not an old church. It was built in 1834, on land given by the Radcliffe Trustees and cost about £3,500 to build. Yes, £3,500, the money being raised by public subscription. It does hold the distinction of being the first new church built in Oxford since the Reformation. One must exclude the rebuilding of St Martin and All Saints on the High. First John Wesley and then the Oxford Movement had made people aware of the truly awful conditions people were living in and to provide, through the churches, the welfare and amenities that are now: offered by bodies like the Social Welfare and Arts Councils.

So, St Paul's' was built to serve the new industrial estate of Jericho growing up round the University Press. The ideas were new but the architecture was not. It looks so like a Greek temple that one has to look twice to see that it is a church. A simple rectangle with a fine pillared portico and it is very little altered. A gallery was added to increase the seating and the windows of the north side raised to put in clear glass panels after the windows were reglazed with stained glass. The coping stones on the north side were removed so that the north and the south elevations are no longer the same. The windows themselves are extremely fine examples of Victorian work. Six of them by Kemp, three of them showing pictures of the Nativity, two the Resurrection and the last one on the south side shows The Ascension with portraits of local dignitaries grouped round Our Lord. Two of them are easily recognisable as of Fr. Duggans, the then Vicar and Thomas Combe, Superintendent of the University Press who did so much for Jericho. A minor addition, some eighty years ago, was the sloping path up to the south door built for the convenience of elderly or disabled folk who found climbing the stops too difficult.

Photographs of the interior showed that it was a bright and colourful place with a magnificent high altar and tabernacle, dressed with candles and beautifully embroidered hangings, many of them the work of local ladies notably Miss Ada Earl who lived with her sister in Cardigan Street. On the right was the wrought iron pulpit and at the back the font designed by Dr. Pusey himself. It was an odd shape. Rectangular on a stand with medallions like a Wedgewood vase. Incidentally, no-one seems to know what happened to this when the church was closed. It has disappeared.

Round the walls were side altars with statues of the Sacred Heart, Our Lady, St. Anthony and St. Joseph which were brought from,France by Fr. Wodehouse, together with the tabernacle. The pictures of The stations of the Cross were given by Sir Herbert Miller. One of the early, incumbents was Fr Venables, later Bishop of Nassau the Bahamas. Those who are remembered personally are Fr Duggans followed Dr Kiddv. Then Fr. Wodehouse, formerly curate at St. Thomas and one of the original trustees of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, Fr Maund, who died after lying in a com.a for five months after being knocked off his bicycle, Fr Favell, formerly curate at St. Alban's in East Oxford, Fr. Horton and finally Fr. Wood.

The vicarage was in Observatory street opposite Belsyre Court. It was a lively church with an active congregation who thought nothing of going to Mass in the morning and Benediction in the evening as well as the numerous weekday services. There were two Sunday schools, for boys and girls, each having about 100 children. The girls met in St. Paul's school, now part of Somerville and the boys met at St. Philip and St James school once St Paul's school, in Juxon Street where Shirley Place now stands. Every Sunday, twice a day, two crocodiles could be seen walking down from the school to the church to take part in the service after the sermon. The children were taught by local volunteers, The two Miss Earl, the two Miss Hines and sisters from the convent of The Holy and Undivided Trinity on Woodstock Road, where St, Anthony's College is now.

Every year any child who had recited the collect for the day every Sunday was given a prayer book and hymn book some of which are still prized possessions. Prizes such as beautifully illustrated lives of The Saints were presented on St. Paul's Day, 25th. January. There were no Youth Clubs in those days so St Paul's provided the St. Agnes guild for girls and the Confraternity of St Joseph for the boys and the members met on different nights in St Paul's school for handicrafts, followed by games and singing. The results of their efforts sold readily at the Christmas Fair held in the Ballroom of the Randolph Hotel. For adults there was the Sodality of Our Lady, a branch of the Mothers Union and a men's club at the vicarage. This may all sound very goody-goody and boring but the people who went enjoyed it. As one of them said there was no question of being dull or not knowing what to do with yourself on a Sunday though they admitted that the teenagers wanted a bit of a change at times.

The thing everyone remembers were the processions. No ordinary processions either. Mayday and Corpus Christi were the high spots with all the girls in white dresses and shoes, carrying posies and every group led by its own banner, when the church was filled to bursting with people coming in from outside the parish. On Mayday a tenor in the balcony sang the Ave Maria during the procession, and on Corpus Christi baskets of rose petals and rosemary were strewn in the path of the procession and the whole building was scented as they were crushed underfoot. Then there were the Midnight Masses at Christmas and tableaux by the children, during-which the lesson was-read. Admission had to be by ticket because of the demand. During the war the services had to held by candlelight because of the blackout. St. Paul's was famous for its sermons too and it was no uncommon sight to see a queue of people, waiting to get in particularly when the preacher was well known, like Dean Inge or Fr Clarence-May.

Then there was the annual pilgrimage to Walsingham which continued right up to the closure of the church. Other well remembered occasions were the Sunday School and Choir outings. During the earlier part of the century they did not go very far afield. Games on St, Paul's field in the Observatory grounds where the Radcliffe Maternity block was later built, by train to Woodstock to visit Blenheim grounds, or to Clifton Hampden to play in the meadows by the river. By the 1920s they were going on day trips to the London Zoo, to Margate, and one never to be forgotten year to Boulogne. Leaving Oxford Station at 7.30 and by train to Folkstone via Reading arriving at noon. A picnic lunch and a set tea before leaving Boulogne and back to Oxford by ll.00 p.m.

Garden fetes were held in Somerville every year and when Rev. LLeweLLyn Davies was curate St Paul's had its own amateur Dramatic Society, the SPADS whose performance of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn ran a week. With this tradition one is not surprised that the building is seen, as the ideal site for an arts centre. What may be more surprising is that all this activity died. It began in the 1930s with, the long-talked of demolition of of some of the worst slums, Jericho Gardens and King Street, when about 50 large families with many children were moved out to Rose Hill.

Later the homes on the north side of Cardigan St., the south side of Jericho St. and part of Union now Hart St were demolished to make the recreation ground which has recently given place to the new St. Barnabas School. The people were moved cut to Marston and with then the children who might have played on the rec. and gone to the Sunday School. Not that the buildings were any loss to anyone. Jericho Gardens may sound an attractive name and the honeysuckle grew over the walls, but they were unhygienic hovels grouped round a central courtyard with a wooden gate at the entrance. So dark that the people spent most of their days outdoors in the courtyard, washing eating and mending. T

he war brought temporary improvement and the church ran a nursery school for the children of the war workers in St. Paul!s school but when the evacuees had gone and more people moved out of Jericho the congregation dwindled to a handful, most of whom lived outside the parish. So in 1965 the Church was closed though £10,OOO would have repaired it, and the parish was united with that of St. Barnabas. For those of you who might be interested the organ went to Gosford Hill School, some of the statues to St. Aloysius, some of the embroidery to Middleton Stoney and the registers to the Bodleian Library. It has been suggested that when the building re opens as an Arts Centre one of the first functions should be an act of thanksgiving for blessings received, in the St Paul's tradition, and that this be repeated every year on or about St. Paul's Day.

Author: Fr. Overton

Did you know?

The origins of Walton?

Walton is derived from "wall town" which was used centuries ago to indicate a location outside the Oxford city walls. The ancient manor of Walton was certainly in existence before the Norman conquest in 1066.

What St Barnabas Church cost to build?

Thomas Combe the Superin­tendent of OUP and it was he who commissioned and paid for the construc­tion of the church in 1869 at a cost of £6,492. All the interior fittings were provided for about £900. The campanile was erected in 1872 for £800.