The tale behind today’s Wednesday Picture begins as far back as 1449, when a small chapel was built alongside the local dirt track to St Albans, now known as Highgate Road.
This was a chapel-of-ease, meaning it was within the wider parish of St Pancras, but was a more convenient place of worship for those living in and around the hamlet of Kentish Town. The little chapel lasted on the site for over 300 years, serving generations of Kentishtowners in birth, death, marriage and prayer.
In 1784 the chapel was torn down and replaced with the original incarnation of the building that still stands, sandwiched in more recent times between two other former stars of this column, The Forum and Highgate Studios.
By 1863, the now rapidly expanding Kentish Town had become a separate parish, and the re-named St John The Baptist Church was the focal point of this independent, rapidly industrialising community. Sleepy hamlet no more, the social and environmental changes going on in the area were proving seismic. The railways, war, the motor car, factories. All changed the local landscape as the church stood proud. But it was secularisation that proved the devastating blow. By 1993 congregations had dwindled to the point where the building became redundant.
This wasn’t before a thoroughly modern, fleeting reversal in its popularity though. On Christmas Day 1991, the church featured in one of the TV events of the decade, the first of the phenomenally popular annual Only Fools And Horses festive specials. (A christening and a dodgy deal selling knock-off, pre-blessed Romanian wine to the vicar, if you care to cast your mind back).
Famous face about Kentish Town, actor Roger Lloyd Pack (otherwise known at Trigger in the series), only lives a stone’s throw from the church. Perhaps he sorted out the location?
The Grade II listed building subsequently fell into some disrepair and was squatted by a group of hardcore party types in the early 90s. They threw legendary all night raves in the crumbling space that often served as the unofficial, psychedelic carry-on for tripped out electronica shows of the era by acts like The Orb at the neighbouring Forum. Dogs on string were de rigueur.
The caravans and the fluro visuals were eventually moved on, and roof fixed after protracted years of scaffolding. The pious pendulum had swung once more and the Nigerian-based Christ Apostolic Church set up shop, bringing plenty of colour and music back to the building, but with less dogs and laser lighting.
So congregations flock again to this ancient local site as its history flows, ever onwards, towards 600 virtually unbroken years as a site of worship.
Words & pic: Tom Kihl