religious, concert/performance space, community/cultural
C. G. Searle, 1871
St Mellitus RC Church, Tollington Park, N4 3AG
A grand neo-classical building of 1871 with impressive interior, built as New Court Congregational Chapel. Home to a Hunter pipe organ, installed as a WW1 memorial and recently restored with National Lottery Heritage Fund support.
Finsbury Park, Crouch Hill
W7, 210, W3, 19, 106, 153, 236, 29, 259, 254, 4, 393
Finsbury Park tube and rail stations have step-free access to street level; Crouch Hill station on London Overground does not.
We're delighted to open the doors to St Mellitus in its 152nd year, having also celebrated the centenary of its wonderful Hunter First World War memorial organ in 2020. The instrument has been restored with a generous grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, transforming the interior of the church.
St Mellitus Roman Catholic Church, built in 1871 to a design by C. G. Searle, is a large and imposing Grade II-listed neo-classical building. For almost a century, it was New Court Congregational Chapel before becoming a Roman Catholic Church in 1959.
The first New Court Chapel, in Carey Street off the Strand, was compulsorily purchased in 1865 when the site was cleared to make way for the Royal Courts of Justice.
The congregation moved north to Tollington Park. The architect, Searle, lived in nearby Tollington Villas and was also one of the church's first deacons.
The foundation stone was laid in November 1870 and the chapel was dedicated in September 1871. A member of the congregation later remarked that ‘the Builders were to be congratulated on the fact that the varnish on the seats was dry and hard.’
New Court flourished in the last quarter of the 19th century, but by the early 20th century attendance was beginning to wane. In 1959, the building was sold to the Roman Catholic Church.
The Congregational Yearbook of 1870 noted that ‘the new building will be a handsome structure, in the classic style of architecture, and of the Corinthian order. The leading feature of the front will be a tetrastyle portico of imposing appearance, approached by steps with wide landings; the portico, with the other parts of the front and sides, being constructed of stone. A character of importance and solidity will thus be imparted to the whole design.’
The architect, C. G. Searle (1816-1881) designed many Non-Conformist places of worship in London and elsewhere. The Corinthian style of New Court sets it apart from other great North London Congregational chapels which were all variations on the Gothic (Cubbitt's Union Chapel is a fine local example).
Underneath the chapel is a large parish hall, originally a schoolroom, and other rooms, including one that houses the blower for the organ.
Congregational chapels were designed for oratory, and New Court was no exception. The interior consists of a large rectangular nave with a gallery on three sides. Its seating capacity is 1,340. Over the years, it has been painted in various colour schemes, including vibrant orange and blue, as seen in the Lady Chapel. The interior was repainted in more neutral tones last year.
Originally the chapel had an ornate bow-fronted pulpit in the centre of the nave on a platform, from which New Court’s ministers preached. The pulpit was removed and replaced by an altar when the church became Roman Catholic.
The current organ was installed in 1920 as a memorial to men associated with New Court who had served in the First World War ‘to show [...] gratitude to boys who had fallen in the great war and those who had suffered both at home and abroad.’
Esteemed organ builder Alfred Hunter & Son of Clapham was commissioned to build the organ, which ‘falls squarely into the mainstream of their most successful output, both tonally and mechanically.' (Ian Bell, organ consultant)
The public opening of the organ took place on 17 December 1920 and for the next 40 years, the organ was used for church services as well as regular recitals and performances.
Two memorial plaques, originally fixed either side of the organ, record the names of the 221 soldiers, 46 of whom were killed.
When the building was adapted for Catholic liturgy, the organ console (keyboard, stops and pedals) was moved from its central position up to the gallery, and the pipes were concealed behind a painted screen. The memorial plaques were removed from the church.
By 2014 the organ was almost unplayable; parishioners became concerned that this important heritage asset could be lost forever. It was assessed, placed on the British Institute of Organ Studies Register, and awarded a Grade II historic organ certificate. The same year, a successful application was made to The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) for a grant to restore it.
Kent-based organ builders F H Browne & Sons undertook the restoration, with work beginning in 2019 and completed in time to celebrate the organ’s centenary in 2020 with a live-streamed concert - the first public performance of the newly restored organ.
Now that the organ has been restored, we are delighted to offer a programme of music and heritage activities. We hold concerts ourselves and are host to the London Medical Orchestra's concerts three times a year (see https://www.lmo.org.uk/). We offer the opportunity for organists to practise the organ- please get in touch if you are interested via email: email@example.com
Our archive volunteers are still actively researching the lives of the soldiers commemorated by the organ and publishing their stories at https://stmellitusorgan.co.uk/. We welcome new archive volunteers to help us.
When you visit for Open House you will be able to enjoy the history of the church and creative work by local students on film, and if you have a smartphone, by following QR codes around the building.
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