Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory:
Anglo-Catholics and their Funeral Ceremonies

by Dr Brian Parsons

This paper was given on Monday 4 November 2019 at the invitation of the
Friends of St Cuthbert's Church Earl's Court.

This paper may also be downloaded as a pdf file

It is indeed appropriate that a paper on death and funerals is scheduled for this time of year, a month of remembrance and one that commenced with the feast of All Saints and then All Souls. Death and funerals are very much at the heart of the Christian faith. Indeed, burial of the dead is the seventh corporate work of mercy. Christ died and was buried. But he didn't have much of a funeral. If we look at the six key characteristics that define a funeral as we would understand them today - confirming the reality of death, utilising [religious] ritual, providing social support, making an act of procession, the requirement for material expenditure and effecting sanitary disposal - our Lord's obsequies only take in the last one. [1]  His was more a case of a direct burial, as his body was laid in a tomb, wrapped in linen with myrrh and aloes and the tomb sealed. [2]  The church in this country has long been involved in funerals, not only through the conducting of the liturgy of this final rite of passage, but also as the provider of burial space. Pope Gregory the Great (590AD) encouraged the use of churchyards so that worshippers could walk past graves and remember the dead in their prayers. And it was Cuthbert, the eighth century Archbishop of Canterbury (not the northern saint) who obtained permission from the Pope in 752 for the consecration of churchyards. [3]  As we will see, it was only in the nineteenth century that the church's two-fold role in funerals began to be challenged.

This evening's lecture explores how the Anglo-Catholic movement approached funerals. Context is essential, so first we need to look at wider developments during the nineteenth century concerning disposal of the dead. Secondly, as many of these changes coincide with the rise of Anglo-Catholicism, it's appropriate to identify the aspects they influenced; nowhere is this more evident than in the funerals of some of the well-known priests. Lastly, we turn to St Cuthbert's here in Earl's Court to examine how the clergy and the faithful have found their resting place.

Our starting point is the nineteenth century, a period that presented enormous progress in respect of technological and economic developments combined with an increase in the urban population which brought a whole range of issues such as sanitation, housing, health, welfare and also the disposal of the dead. Between the 1830s and the end of the century, there were a number of important initiatives concerning mortality. The first was the registration of deaths. Until this time the formal recording of all deaths was a function that had been carried out by women searchers who located the dead, speculated as to the cause of death and gave their findings to the parish clerks whose statistics were published as the Bills of Mortality. The Births and Deaths Registration Act 1836 created the office of the registrar and a system commenced whereby an informant had to attend the registrar's office where each death would be recorded in a consistent manner. All registrars used the same forms, the same permanent ink, the same type of safe to keep records and issued the same certificates.

The second major development was the opening of cemeteries to accommodate the dead. Up until this time the dead were buried in churchyards attached to churches. [4]  One commentator remarked that the Victorians rebelled against the ‘...attendant horrors of over-crowded burial grounds, drunken gravediggers, body-snatchers, the ever-present stench of corruption, and the sight of bones carelessly thrown up from yawning graves...' [5]

Private enterprise severed the Church of England's monopoly on burial provision as new burial grounds were opened by joint-stock companies. [6]  What's come to be known as the ‘Magnificent Seven' cemeteries were established in London, starting in 1833 with Kensal Green and gradually forming a cordon sanitaire comprising West Norwood, Highgate, Nunhead, Abney Park, Tower Hamlets and, local to this church, Brompton dating from 1840. [7]

The Metropolitan Interments Act 1850 eventually forbade burials in urban churchyards but also gave powers to the Board of Health to purchase private companies, although after Brompton this was quickly repealed. Two years later it was followed by the Burial Act that permitted local vestries to establish Burial Boards, sometimes comprising a number of parishes. Kensington purchased land at Hanwell, west of Ealing, where a cemetery was opened in 1855.

Until the late 1940s, the vast majority of deaths in this country occurred at home and the body was kept there until the time of the funeral. Mortuary accommodation was available in London following the Sanitary Act 1866, but this was for use by the Coroner for post-mortems and also for retaining the bodies of the poor. Regarding them as akin to the workhouse, families were often reluctant to use such facilities, despite that fact that people lived, ate and slept in the same room where a coffin was kept. [8]  In 1904 the Borough of Kensington built a chapel of rest in Avondale Park in the Piggeries area of Notting Hill, then a very poor area. It was a practical response to a problem, but the council lamented that it was so little used. [9]

In the nineteenth century the number of undertaking businesses expanded in response to the increased number of deaths. In this area PW Ballard on Richmond Road (now Old Brompton Road), [10]  JH Kenyon in Church Street in Kensington, and Charles G Hatt next to St Mary Abbott's church were three local firms. Even Harrod's had a funeral service, although it was subcontracted to a local undertaker. Thomas Vigers in Victoria advertised in Crockford's Clerical Directory as an ecclesiastical undertaker providing the necessary requirements for Anglo-Catholic funerals. [11]

Undertakers had two key function and the first was provision of coffins. They would call at the house to measure the deceased, then construct a coffin made from oak and elm and furnished with metal handles and a nameplate, according to the amount the client wanted to spend. Elm was in plentiful supply, waterproof and bendable so the shoulders could be shaped. For burial in a vault, catacomb or brick-lined grave the coffin would be lead-lined. Their second function was transport to the cemetery. Horse drawn hearses and following carriages were a familiar sight in the capital as they made their way to cemeteries. Some hearses, complete with black ostrich plumes, were accompanied by mutes and feathermen, but such accoutrements were only to be found at the funerals of the middle and upper classes. But animate power wasn't the only form of transport.

A major Victorian innovation was the railway and as soon as trains started to carry freight they also able to convey coffins quickly and cost-effectively over both short but usually long distances. [12]  People often died away from where they needed to be buried; wherever a station existed a coffin could be received or dispatched. As a common carrier, the railways were obliged to accept coffins, which they did with surprising frequency until the mid-twentieth century.

The usage of the railways for this purpose led to a novel development. In 1854, the 400-acre Brookwood Cemetery was opened near Woking by the London Necropolis Company whose intention was to provide a resting place for all the dead of the capital. To facilitate the movement of coffins to Surrey, a train service ran almost daily from the company's private station next to Waterloo and sadly stopped in April 1941 when the station was bombed. [13]  If you want to know more about the Necropolis Railway and also Brookwood Cemetery do ask our church administrator, John Clarke, who is the leading authority on these subjects.

Being correctly attired for the funeral and also during the period of mourning was very important. Black was always worn, unless the deceased was a child when white made an appearance. Mourning clothing could be obtained from specialists, such as Jay's Mourning Warehouse in Regent Street. [14]  Records also show that gloves, scarves and hatbands were also supplied by the undertaker. A further innovation in the late nineteenth century was cremation. The surgeon to Queen Victoria, Sir Henry Thompson, founded the Cremation Society of England in 1874 with support from Sir John Millais, Anthony Trollope, George du Maurier and others. [15]  Five years later the Society purchased land at Woking and constructed a cremation furnace. Due, however, to concerns about the legality of cremation, the Society did not offer cremation until 1885, when early on 26 March 1885 Mrs Jeanette Pickersgill of Marylebone was the first person to be committed to the cleansing flame at Woking. But cremation was not popular.

Whilst it offered an opportunity to change funerary practices, the expense of transport to the crematorium, medical certification, and burial of the ashes all added to the cost of the funeral. At this time the Church of England took no official line on cremation, but in 1874 the Bishop of Lincoln denounced it as ‘...falling back from Christianity to Heathenism...' [16] Nevertheless, some clergy did support the cleansing flame; the Revd R Ussher's (of St Alban's) lecture was even distributed by the Church of England Working Men's Society. [17]  By 1900, however, cremation had made little progress; there were only 444 cremations in the UK. London's first crematorium opened at Golders Green in 1902.

Around the time cremation was being promoted, another surgeon, Sir Francis Seymour Haden, advocated the use of wicker or papier mache coffins interred in sandy porous soil. His ‘Earth to Earth' coffins would permit the body to deteriorate promptly to its constituent elements, whilst also enabling the swift re-use of graves. [18]  This anti-cremation, publicity-generating eco-warrior was really ahead of his time.

Haden's ideas for change shared parallels with another organisation, the Church of England Funeral and Mourning Reform Association, which was founded in 1875 by a Yorkshire incumbent, the Revd Frederick Lawrence. With both Archbishops as patrons, its agenda was the reduction of funeral costs through the use of easily perishable coffins and the discouraging of burial in vaults and brick graves, prompt interment and the use of Christian symbolism at burials. [19]  Fr Lawrence travelled the country delivering lectures and encouraging debate.

He and many others also distributed literature on the reform of funerals in the form of pamphlets, the nineteenth century version of blogging. [20]  Broadly, the material advanced a more simpler ceremony, using a coffin with a large wooden cross on the lid, laying out of the body by friends and walking to the cemetery using a wheel bier, such as this one, with the coffin covered by a pall. [21]  This illustration of a coffin comes from A Few Practical Suggestions for the Burial of the Dead in Christ; The Dying and the Dead. Such idealist reformers, however, ignored the fact that the vast majority of those who died were the urban poor who could only afford basic elm coffins, whilst walking funerals to the out-of town cemeteries were impractical.

All these changes were going on against a background of developments within the Established Church including the rise of the Oxford Movement.

Anglo-Catholicism needs little introduction and if anyone present requires background then please talk to Fr Paul after this lecture or visit the ACHS website. The movement is primarily associated with the adoption of liturgical practices used in the Roman Catholic church. But there was more to it than that. The clergy were as much concerned with the spiritual life of their congregations as they were with the physical needs, hence the legendary mission work in poor parishes.

So how did the Anglo-Catholics movement influence funerals? There were three aspects. First, prayers for the dead were encouraged through the founding in 1873 of the Guild Burial Society, later renamed as the Guild of All Souls. Three years later, its founder, Fr Arthur Tooth, the vicar of St James Hatcham in South East London, was imprisoned for 28 days under the 1874 Public Worship Regulations Act for using incense, having altar candles and wearing vestments.

The second development was the founding of church burial societies to manage funerals and even provide the place of burial. Founded in 1856, so probably the first, was the Westminster and Pimlico Church Burial Society (Conducted by the Guild of St Alban), a friendly society requiring each member to pay 6s 6d per annum to a total of £4 for the funeral.

Fr Alexander Mackonokie's church of St Alban the Martyr in Holborn also had a friendly society where parishioners could pay towards their funerals. It dates from 1866. The church even went as far as securing an acre for the burial of members within Brookwood Cemetery, complete with its own lych gate and central Calvary.

Our friends at the church of St Stephen's, Gloucester Road also acquired a portion of land in Brookwood for the burial of members. They too erected a lych gate and even a stone altar where Mass could be celebrated. The people of Fr Robert Dolling's church, St Saviour's, Poplar, had a burial society with interments taking place in the East London Cemetery. St John The Evangelist at Upper Norwood has a section in Crystal Palace District Cemetery. [22]  There are likely to be similar organisations in other parishes.

The third aspect was the provision of a mortuary where the coffin could be deposited in the interval between death and the funeral. As already mentioned, the only alternative was the home, so this was a welcome facility particularly in urban areas. At St Alban's in Holborn, the chapel of St Sepulchre was constructed for this purpose. [23]

The vicar's former parish of Our Most Holy Redeemer in Clerkenwell, which was built by John Dando Sedding in 1888 also explored the building of a mortuary, but it did not progress.

What happened in terms of the funeral? As with most aspects of life, so in death, much depended on wealth. Unless you had money to purchase a grave, most burials were for the poor in pauper graves. [24]  Burials were often communal with a public reading of the ‘Order for the Burial of the Dead' as found in the Book of Common Prayer being read by the chaplain at which a number of unrelated families would be present at the same time. If there was wealth, then the format tended to follow the five parts of the Roman rite: bringing the body to the church; vespers of the dead (which would replace Matins and Lauds), then a Requiem Mass; the Absolution, and finally, the burial. [25]  The priest would wear black vestments.

In church the coffin would be placed on trestles in the nave and surrounded by six candlesticks. A black or purple pall, often of elaborately embroidered fabric, would cover the coffin. St Cuthbert's pall is on show tonight and I'll return to it later. In some churches the trestles were replaced by a catafalque, a wooden structure in which the coffin was inserted and then covered with a pall.

The use of the catafalque and pall were very similar to the medieval arrangements where the body would be placed in a hearse, which was a metal frame, as depicted here, covered with a hearse cloth, just like a pall.

The catafalque was used to symbolise mortality even if it did not contain a coffin and in Anglo-Catholic church it often made an appearance for All Souls' Day and other occasions. At All Saints' in Margaret Street, this catafalque was constructed for a requiem following the death of King George V in 1936. Even a crown and sceptre were placed on the top of it.

The best way to assess the extent to which these customs were adopted is by looking at the funerals of some of the key figures in the Anglo-Catholic movement. In researching this paper, I've found a remarkable number that have had connections with this church. Much of this information comes from biographies and newspaper accounts.

Fr Charles Lowder, founder of the Society of the Holy Cross (1855), died in Austria on 9 September 1880 and his body was brought back to London by ship and then train where it was received at the former Holborn Viaduct station (now City Thameslink). At 3am on the morning of the funeral, Fr Tooth celebrated Holy Communion, and until 10am there were continuous celebrations culminating in a final ceremony with the coffin present. [26]  250 clergy attended the service with 100 vested in surplices. One newspaper commented: ‘The funeral of a clergyman of the Catholic Church has never before been solemnised with such grandeur.' Burial was in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Chislehurst. As was often the case, the clergy acted as bearers, including Fr Tooth. [27]

Prosecuted under the Public Worship Regulations Act, the first vicar (or ‘perpetual curate') of St Alban's in Holborn was Fr Alexander Heriot Mackonochie. When staying with the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, he went walking in the snowy Kinloch Hills and was found dead on 14 December 1887. As this image from The Animal World so romantically illustrates, his two faithful dogs remained with his body. He has a link with St Cuthbert's as he preached on Candle Mass Day in 1883, the occasion of the opening of the temporary iron church that preceded this building. [28]  Fr Mackonochie's coffin was transported from Scotland to London by train and then to Holborn. Mass followed in the church before his coffin was taken to Waterloo for the trip to Brookwood. Sadly, there are no images of the funeral.

Probably the most photographed funeral of any Anglo-Catholic cleric was Fr Arthur Stanton, the noted preacher and long-serving curate of St Alban's, Holborn. [29]  He died on 28 March 1913 in Upfield in Gloucestershire. His coffin was brought by train to Paddington and conveyed to St Alban's Church, where it was received by the clergy. The opening sentences of the Burial Service were cited as the procession passed up the nave, followed by a short office, including three collects for the dead and De Profundis (Psalm 130). A vigil was held throughout the night. The evening prior to the funeral commenced with Vespers of the Dead, whilst three masses preceded The Dirge at 10am followed by a Solemn Requiem.

At the conclusion of the Mass the coffin, covered by a pall, placed on a wheel bier was drawn by fellow clergy along High Holborn, then Kingsway, Aldwych and Waterloo Bridge before arriving at the London Necropolis station on Westminster Bridge Road. Photos show thousands lining the route. Fr Stanton was interred next to Fr Mackonochie in the St Alban's section at Brookwood. The Daily Sketch was one of many publications that printed an illustrated feature about the funeral. [30]  In George Russell's memoir of Fr Stanton he ends his account of the ceremony thus: ‘It was a wonderful funeral - perhaps the most wonderful ever accorded to an English priest.' [31] 

Fr Arthur Tooth died on 5 March 1931. The then vicar of  St Cuthbert's, Fr Croom, wrote in the parish magazine: ‘The
death of Fr Tooth has special significance for S. Cuthbert's, for by the kindness of the then Vicar, Fr Westall, he was allowed to use the pulpit on very frequent occasions after his release from prison, when the Church of England was barred to him. He was in fact an honorary member of the staff for a few years.' [32]  Fr Tooth's requiem was celebrated at St James's Church Beckenham by Father Croom, before burial in Beckenham Cemetery (formerly Crystal Palace District Cemetery).

As a friar, Brother Andrew, the co-founder of the Society of Divine Compassion, devoted his life to the poor of Plaistow in East London. His beloved St Philip's church suffered from bombing during WWII and he died in March 1946. Again, fellow clergy drew the pall-covered coffin on a wheel bier through the neighbourhood to East London Cemetery. [33]

The last one to mention is the founder of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Fr Alfred Hope Patten. He died after giving Benediction on 11 August 1958 and his funeral was hastily arranged so that it took place on the Feast of the
Assumption, which was four days later. He was layed-out and dressed in a red chasuble and his coffin transferred to the Shine. [34]  Bishops and clergy from all over England descended on this Norfolk town. On the Friday the coffin, with the Guardian's mantle, stole and biretta, was taken around the shine, then through the village to St Mary's church for a Solemn Requiem Mass followed by burial in the churchyard.

So, after this somewhat lengthy prelude, let's now turn to this part of Kensington and the funerals of the priests and congregation of St Cuthbert's church. First, a profile of the area - what was this part of Kensington like when work commenced on building the church in 1884? Kensington Borough comprised two subdistricts: Kensington Town and Brompton, with the church being within the latter. The overall population was 170,000 (68,200 males and 101,800 females), with the town area comprising 125,400 and 44,600 in Brompton. There were 2,638 deaths in 1884 with 39 per cent being under five years of age; a reflection of the time. [35]  The Medical Officer of Health report stated that Brompton comprised ‘...the rich and well-to-do...' but with ‘ increasing percentage of persons from the poorer classes.' in Kensington Town. [36]  Charles Booth's poverty maps describe the residents in Philbeach Gardens as ‘middle class, well-to-do' and around Trebovir and Longridge Roads and Nevern Square as ‘Upper Middle and Upper Classes. Wealthy'. [37]  There's
more red and yellow than black and blue.

St Cuthbert's was the last church to be constructed in the Kensington area. [38]  The architect was Hugh Roumieu Gough (1843-1904) and the building consecrated on 24 November 1887. [39]  As is well-known, the church attracted the attention of the Protestant book publisher John Kensit whose antics on Good Friday 1898 are well-recorded. [40]

What was the church's role regarding funerals? The West Kensington branch of the Guild of All Souls' was founded in 1895 and by December 1917 there were 65 members. [41]  At its AGM in November 1934, the Guild voted to present the church with a pall. [42]  The celebrated John Ninian Comper supplied the design with the embroidery carried out entirely by Miss Harvey of the Guild of St Margaret of Scotland; it was ready by November 1935. [43]  The Latin translation reads ‘Through the grave and gates of death to the joy of Resurrection'. It's on display tonight. The second facility was that as in many Anglo-Catholic parishes, Mass was celebrated for the Holy Souls during the month of November. [44] 

A project that sadly did not come to fruition was the building of a mortuary chapel. In May 1908 the Parish Magazine stated that ‘The Mortuary Chapel scheme meets with nothing but the utmost approval.' [45]  The architect J Harold Gibbons was commissioned to design the chapel and cloister which would be located on the south side of the church, where the garden is located. [46]  But progress was slow and in January 1910 the magazine noted that ‘Within the last few months three of four applications have been made at the Church for the body of their departed friend might be deposited in the
Church until the day of burial.. ..The Teale library and Philbeach Hall itself has been placed at the service of the mourners. Death at hotel or boarding-house means the removal of the body within twelve hours. So the Mortuary Chapel, whenever it comes, will be very welcome.' [47]  These are the architect's sketches showing the vaulted chapel and two-story cloister with recesses for meditation and study. It was never built, and increasingly the local funeral directors had their own chapels of rest where the coffin could be accommodated rather than leaving it in the home.

Although it has not been possible to ascertain a date, the church acquired this magnificent wooden catafalque which continues to be used for funerals and is also positioned in the nave during the Mass on All Souls' Day. It is covered with the Comper pall.

Let's now look at the funerals of the clergy and faithful of this parish.

One of the first clergy funerals was that of the assistant curate Fr William Teale who died on 8 June 1893, aged 50. With a track-record of serving in other Anglo-Catholic parishes such as St Chad's Haggerston and St Michael's Shoreditch, regrettably his time at Philbeach Gardens was only two years. As with all priests and in contrast to the laity, his coffin would have been placed in the church with the head nearest the altar. The idea is that in death the priest should occupy the usual position of facing the people. Although none of the sources mention this, it's highly likely that he would have been dressed in eucharistic vestments.

His funeral was in church on 14 June followed by buried in Brompton. [48]  This is his memorial which is located in the main circle towards the chapel. The screen on the left as you enter the church was erected in his memory, and there is a tablet in a clergy stall on the left of the chancel.

The second funeral to mention is not of an incumbent or member of the congregation, but of a priest with a close attachment to the Church. Fr Robert Radclyffe Dolling was vicar of St Agatha's, Landport in Portsmouth before taking up the post at St Saviour's Poplar. [49]  Although most newspapers say that he died in his vicarage on 15 May 1902, this was not the case as the correct location was his sister's residence, 88 Philbeach Gardens. [50]  Of the 52 year old cleric I quote, he was ‘..a stout man with a generous personality, he earned an unexpected tribute at his death from the nonconformist paper, which commented aptly that he had 'lived and died in slum parishes, with outcasts sleeping under his roof, with vagabonds dining at his table'. [51]  His coffin was brought across the road and placed on a bier covered with a purple pall where it rested overnight (19 May 1902) before a Mass was celebrated the next day. [His two sisters were present; Merbecke was the Mass setting and the hymn, ‘The Memory of the Dead' was sung.] The coffin was then then taken to Poplar where it again rested overnight before a Requiem was celebrated during which the Bishop of London placed on the coffin lid a cross made of lilies of the valley. Fr Dolling's coffin went to Waterloo and placed on the Necropolis train before interment took place in St Alban's ground in Brookwood Cemetery. [52]

Let's now turn to the first incumbent, Fr Henry Westall, vicar from 1883 until he died in office in 1924. Following his death in the Clergy House on 21 December 1924, he was cremated at Golders Green three days later. It is therefore his ashes, not his body, that rest very near to where I am standing tonight. In 1924 cremation was still uncommon, despite the first cremation have taken place some forty years prior. [53]  In that year only 0.54 per cent of deaths were followed by cremation and certainly amongst Anglican clergy it was unusual. Even when on 5 December 1945 Archbishop Cosmo Lang collapsed on his way to Kew Gardens station, he was cremated (at Charing in Kent) and his ashes buried in Canterbury Cathedral, cremation was only at 7.8 per cent. [54]

But to enable the vicar or for that matter anyone else to be buried in or under St Cuthbert's church, cremation had to take place. Under the Metropolitan Interments Act 1850, the burial of a body in a coffin could not take place within the metropolitan area which included Kensington, as defined in the appendix to the legislation. But was the burial of ashes permitted, bearing in mind that the legislation took place before the advent of cremation? The answer proved to be in the positive as debated in the 1894 case of R (the Crown) verses Kerr which concerned the burial of ashes in the floor of St Saviour's Church in Pimlico. The Chancellor of the Diocese of London, Dr Thomas Hutchinson Tristram, ruled that this was permissible. [55]  Westminster Abbey had debated for some years about how to accommodate the great and the good in the nation's shrine, and in October 1905 received their first casket of ashes, in this case containing the first actor to the knighted, Sir Henry Irving. [56]  So there was precedent. The observant here tonight will probably be asking how the Archbishops of Westminster and others are buried in Westminster Cathedral; it's a long story, but call it a ‘legal fudge'. [57]

To return to Fr Westall, the Faculty to bury his ashes is preserved in the London Metropolitan Archive and contains much information. First, he did not specify any direction concerning his funeral and it was his executor who arranged cremation and then petitioned Arthur Winnington-Ingram, Bishop of London (from 1901 to 1939) to bury the ashes in the church. The Faculty dated 8 September 1925 was issued by the Chancellor (The Worshipful Francis Hay Lancelot CMBOB DCL). Secondly, it stated that ‘This resolution suggests interment beneath the altar but such interment is open to structural and other objections'. [58]  Thus the Faculty required, and I quote, ‘..a sealed urn to be placed beneath the step leading from the nave to chancel in a cavity to be subsequently sealed and with an inscription on the step immediately on the site of the deposit. The inscription to read ‘Henry Westall, Priest & Founder RIP.'

The burial of Fr Westall's ashes took place during the church's Dedication Festival in 1925 as this account from the Parish magazine details:

"On Tuesday morning a Solemn Requiem [was celebrated] for the benefactors of this church, especially Fr Westall. A catafalque containing his ashes was erected in the Nave. It was covered by the GAS [Guild of All Souls] Pall on the top of which was placed a white linen stole. It was the same stole in which he said the first mass celebrated in the Church. The Mass was sung by Fr Croom, assisted by Frs Langton and Elsdon, Rector of St John's Clerkenwell. The cantors were Mr Sadler and his son, who have been intimately connected with the music of the church from the beginning."

"At the end of the Mass the Absolutions were sung round the catafalque. At the conclusion of it the De Profundis was sung, during which the casket was placed in its resting place under his choir stall by Fr Hatt, who was for many years a priest here, and by Fr Bloxam, vicar of S Saviour's Hoxton, who was one of the old servers of the Church, and after his ordination was often a preacher in Lent. When the service was over many of the congregation went to take a last view of the remains of their beloved father and friend, sprinkling the resting place, as they passed, with holy water." [59]

There's a tablet set high up into the wall in the crypt that reads:

"Nich unto this spot. Three feet due west from the back of this stone lie the remains of Henry Westall Priest. Born 2nd August 1838 Died 21st December 1924 Founder and First Vicar 2nd February 1883 to 21st December 1924"

A tablet was also placed on the upper part of Fr Westall's seat. [60]  Please do have a look at it. The design was announced on the church notice board, but was taken down after the following was written on it: ‘There would be a better chance of subs, if this were on a level with peoples eyes on other board - most of those who built up this church could not read Latin'. [61]  It was duly pointed out that most memorials in this church were also in Latin.

The second vicar was Fr Frederick Goldsworthy Croom (1869-1936). He was described as ‘...a catholic priest through and through' having attended St James's Hatcham, from where he knew Fr Tooth. Fr Croom was appointed to St Cuthbert's in 1925 and during his time was president of the Guild of All Souls. He died suddenly in Canterbury on 10 May 1936, and his coffin is likely to have been brought up to London by train. Conveyed to St Cuthbert's, it was placed on a bier in the church and covered with the black pall. A service was held at 8pm and a niece, Miss Francesca Palmer, played her ‘cello before the service and then throughout the night. Members of the congregation kept watch and ensured no candles went out.

On the day of the funeral (14 May 1936), there were four morning Mass/Requiems followed by a Pontifical High Mass of Requiem and Absolution at 11am. Returning for the second time to preside at the funeral of an incumbent of this Church, Bishop Winnington-Ingram was joined by four other bishops.

After leaving the church, the procession made its way to Brompton Cemetery where the Revd Stephen Langton of Holy Redeemer in Clerkenwell said the words of committal. Earth from the grounds of St Cuthbert's church was carried in procession and scattered over the grave by the pall bearers, who were all priests. [62]  This photo shows the procession on Warwick Road; you can see the white-painted banding of the flats on the corner of Trebovir Road. There's also a film cameraman on the right.

This is his memorial in the cemetery, which can be found set back on the left of the main drive. [63]

The third incumbent was Fr Charles Lewis Gage-Brown, a noted linguist and vicar during the war years. Regrettably, it has not been possible to find a photograph of him. He retired in 1961 and died in London on 31 March 1972, aged 79 years. A requiem was held in church at 11am on 7 April and cremation followed. His ashes were buried the following month (20 May 1972) in the church garden on the south side of the building. [64]  There are memorials to both Frs Croom and Gage-Brown in the clergy stall by the organ console.

The fourth vicar was Fr Gerald Irvine from 1961 to 1969 ‘...who accorded the highest priority to colourful worship and to prayer.' as The Daily Telegraph stated. [65]  He died in January 2011 and he is commemorated by a plaque in the church of St Matthew, Westminster, where he was vicar after St Cuthbert's. I'm delighted to say that the fifth vicar and sixth vicars, Frs Vine and Bagott are still with us.

So, what about the funerals of parishioners and members of the congregation? From the early years of the twentieth century, the Parish Magazine published an ‘RIP' list of the departed. Close examination indicates that some names were from the ‘Years Mind', particularly as the date is only included, not the year. This explains why the lists were quite lengthy. For example, in November 1916 there were 29 names, while in March 1925 it was 35. [66]  The list does not include the place of burial. For some parishioners there were some very hagiographic tributes, but few contain any descriptions of the funeral. Furthermore, from examining the few registers of services held in the London Metropolitan Archive, only a small number of funerals were actually held in St Cuthbert's. Searching The Times under St Cuthbert's and/or Philbeach Gardens reveals that many lived locally, so parishioners who were not always congregants, did not necessarily have a service in this church, and were taken to a variety of cemeteries and later, crematoria. This situation is not unusual for central London residents. Brompton Cemetery, as seen here in the 1980s, along with Kensal Green and Kensington's Hanwell Cemetery were frequently utilised destinations. The opening of the borough's new cemetery at Gunnersbury in 1938 warranted mention in the parish magazine (along with a financial appeal for a chapel just for members of the Church of England). [67]  From 1902, Golders Green seemed to be the favoured crematorium, until 1939 when two local facilities opened: Mortlake and the West London Crematorium at Kensal Green. [68]

Whilst researching one funeral came to light from 1882, which was before St Cuthbert's had been constructed and so while Fr Westall was still curate in the adjacent parish. It shows that funereal traditions were already established. Sir Henry Cole, the director of the South Kensington Museum, lived at 96 Philbeach Gardens and died there on 18 April 1882. [69]  His funeral service was in St Matthias Church and the coffin was covered by a purple pall which travelled in an open hearse to Brompton Cemetery. [70]  Hugh Roumieu Gough, our church architect, was buried at Hammersmith Cemetery on Wednesday 9 November 1904, but somewhat surprisingly there was not service here prior to interment. [71]  The funeral of Mary Gamble in June 1913 took place in church before the coffin was taken to the Necropolis Station for the journey to Brookwood. One of the few funerals where a full account survives is for Dr R.M. Hutchinson Low MB OBE who died in 1935. His coffin was received into church one evening and this was followed by Vespers of the Dead. A Requiem with absolution was held the next morning before burial at Brompton. [72]

The designation of the church's garden for the burial of ashes is significant as it endorses the acceptance of cremation. The Church of England had debated cremation in the late 1930s and endorsed it by 1944. [73]  It would, however, be 1963 when the Pope permitted the cremation of Roman Catholics. [74]  The first burial of ashes was in 1954 when those of Brig-General Alexander Ramsay Harman were laid to rest. [75]  In the Parish Magazine the vicar's support for cremation and encouragement of the use of the church's garden was evident:

"The ashes of the last General Harman were buried in the church garden after a requiem. It will be possible in future for this to happen for any departed member of the congregation after cremation. Cremation is being more and more used. Some people do not like the idea of it, though there is no theological objection. No matter how the body dissolves after death, it presents no difficulty to God to raise it up again at the last day. The practice is forbidden in the Roman and Orthodox churches, partly from conservation and partly became atheists have made a point of cremation to offend religious susceptibilities. Those churches have dug in their toes in consequence. It is a tidy way of disposing of the dead, and prevents the spread of cemeteries with their dreary monuments and the rather morbid pilgrimages that people make to them. I do not care about the scattering of ashes, but they can be buried with reverence in a garden adjoining a church. The spot where the ashes have been placed will not be marked in any way. Though perhaps we may have some kind of general memento of those whose ashes have been placed there." [76]

A total of 25 burials of ashes in the garden have taken place to date.

Today at St Cuthbert's, a number of the obsequial traditions introduced in the formative years continue. The coffin is often received on the evening prior to the funeral and black eucharistic vestments including the cope are worn by the vicar. The catafalque covered with the Comper pall and surrounded by six candlesticks is used at funerals; it also appears again empty for the feast of All Souls. These traditions are also maintained by other Anglo-Catholic churches. But some aspects have changed. The horse drawn hearse, the wheel bier and the train have been replaced by motor vehicles; coffins tend to be constructed from MDF, although wicker and cardboard are occasionally used just as Sir Francis Seymour Haden suggested in the 1880s. The proportion of those cremated now stands at 78 per cent. Coffins rest in the funeral directors' chapel of rest in the interval between death and the funeral. On one occasion recently, however, a coffin rested in the Lady Chapel as the family were organising the funeral themselves and needed somewhere to keep the coffin.

Appropriate solemnity and dignity continue to be afforded to the burial of the dead, be they priests or the faithful. To all those whose final ceremonies have taken place in St Cuthbert's, may they rest in peace and rise in glory.


Isabel Syed, hon archivist to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham; John Clarke; Staff at Kensington Local Studies Library; Fr Paul Bagott; Christopher Uncles & Robert Stephenson.

Photographs from the St Cuthbert's Church archive, The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and the author's collection.


[1] Pine VR (1969) ‘Comparative Funeral Practices' Practical Anthropology No16 pp49-62
[2] For example, see St Mark Ch15 vv42-47
[3] (accessed 16 September 2019)
[4] Walker GA (1839) Gatherings from Graveyards London: Longman
[5] Curl JS (1972) The Victorian Celebration of Death Newton Abbot: Newton & Charles p22
[6] For an analysis of the development of the nineteenth century private cemetery company see Rugg J (1992) The Rise of the Cemetery Company in Britain 1820-52 Unpublished PhD thesis University of Sterling.
[7] Meller H and Parsons B (2006) London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide and Gazetteer fourth edition Stroud: Sutton Publishing p6
[8] See Fisher P (2009) ‘Houses for the Dead: The Provision of Mortuaries in London 1866-1889' The London Journal Vol 34 No 1 March pp1-15
[9] Borough of Kensington Report of Public Health Committee 29 March 1904
[10] See (Accessed 13 July 2019)
[11] See also Hussey J (1906) ‘The Sacredness of our Calling' The Undertakers' Journal January p22
[12] Parsons B (2019) ‘‘Place on Rail' The Transport of the Dead by Train in the UK' Backtrack Vol 33 No5 pp292-296
[13] Clarke J (2006) The Brookwood Necropolis Railway Fourth Edition Usk: The Oakwood Press
[14] Kelly's Directory 1917 shows Jay's at Regent Street
[15] Parsons B (2005) Committed to the Cleansing Flame: The Development of Cremation in Nineteenth Century England Reading: Spire Books
[16] Quoted in Parsons (2005) p39
[17] Ussher R (1891) ‘Lecture of Cremation' London: The Cremation Society of England (Pusey House Library pamphlet 11639)
[18] ‘Parsons B (2010) ‘Lay ‘er in the Earth: Sir Francis Seymour Haden: Pioneer of Woodland Burial' Funeral Service Journal November pp80-91
[19] See Parsons (2005) p121. For copies of the eighth and ninth reports see Pusey House Library pamphlets 8366 and 8367. For other texts on funeral reform see Hammond J (1875) Funeral Reform London: Longhurst; Phillips GH (1875) A Few Words on Funeral Reform Birmingham: Moody Bros; Sewell WH (1883) Practical Papers on Funeral Reform, Mourning Dress and Obituary Memorials (reprinted from the Literary Churchman)
[20] For example, see Vernon IR (1868) Christians Burials: Some thoughts about churchyards and funerals Folkstone: John English; ‘RB' (undated) A Few Practical Suggestions for the Burial of the Dead in Christ; The Dying and the Dead (undated) The Parish Tracts; Sanitary leaflets 1,3,5,6&7 issued by the London Necropolis Company. All pamphlets are held in Pusey House Library.
[21] Such coffins were used for funerals in St Alban's Church Teddington. See FW Paine (Kingston) funeral records 16 September 1925 Entry no 359. The records also contain a sketch of the coffin.
[22] Bateman HW (1937) A Short History of the Church of St John the Evangelist Upper Norwood 1871-1937 London: AR Mowbray pp32-33
[23] Parsons B (2014) From Brooke Street to Brookwood. Nineteenth Century Funeral Reform and S Alban the Martyr Holborn Burial Society London: Anglo-Catholic History Society. At least one religious order undertook the laying out of the dead. See Potter G (1955) Father Potter of Peckham London: Hodder and Stoughton p35
[24] Strange J-M (2005) Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
[25] See Fortescue A (1918) The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described London: Burns and Oates p416
[26] It appears that there was a hiatus on the scheduled day of the funeral as by 10am the coffin had not arrived. Telegrams were then sent postponing the funeral, but by 11am the coffin had arrived. The coffin was wood with an inner panel of glass so the body could be seen. The coffin was not screwed down but closed using a lock and key. The coffin was taken to St Saviour's Clergy House where a few friends viewed the deceased to check identity. The coffin was then carried into the church. See The Gloucestershire Chronicle 25 September 1880.
[27] For an account of his death and funeral see Ellsworth LE (1982) Charles Lowder and the Ritualist Movement London: Darton, Longman and Todd pp166-168
[28] St Cuthbert's Church with St Matthias Philbeach Gardens, Earl's Court. Church Guide (2019) p5
[29] Parsons B (2013) ‘Incense in Kingsway: The Funeral of Fr Arthur Stanton' Funeral Director Monthly Vol 96 No 3 pp57-59
[30] ‘Incense in Kingsway' The Daily Sketch 2 April 1913
[31] Russell GWE (1917) Arthur Stanton: A Memoir London: Longmans, Green and Co p314
[32] ‘Father Tooth' (1931) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine April No 381 page 7. See also ‘Death of Father Tooth' Norwood News 13 March 1931 and ‘Late Father Tooth. An appreciation by Mr JA Stubbs' Norwood News 20 March 1931.
[33] Palmer B (1994) Men of Habit. The Franciscan Ideal in Action Norwich: The Canterbury Press pp2-34, and Saxby S (2006) Father Andrew SDC. A Summary of his life. Privately printed.
[34] ‘Death and Burial of Father Patten' (1958) Our Lady's Mirror. See also Yelton M (2007) Alfred Hope Patten: His Life and Times in Pictures London: Anglo-Catholic History Society. Another inner-city priest long associated with improving the housing of the poor was Fr Basil Jellicoe of St Mary's Somerstown, who died largely from overwork aged 36 years in August 1935. Buried in the churchyard of St Peter's Chailey, there were simultaneous Requiem Masses at Somerstown, St Peter's Brighton and St Martin-in-the-Fields. See Ingram K (1936) Basil Jellicoe London: The Centenary Press p179
[35] https: / / (Accessed 7 July 2019). In 1883 there were 23 fewer. Deaths under five years = 1,034. Deaths under one year = 689. Aged sixty and upwards, 607 deaths. 1,756 excess of births over deaths. The highest cause of death was ‘Constitutional disease' = 587. Next highest was respiratory diseases = 524. The only public institution was the parish infirmary and workhouse. There were 273 deaths in 1884. Some deaths occurred outside the district (178) including St George's (44 deaths).
[36] https: / / / report/b19824269 /3#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=12&z=-0.6993%2C0.3826%2C2.2563%2C1.225 (accessed 7 July 2019)
[37] (accessed 1 October 2019)
[38] For a general history of the building, see Findlay D (1991) ‘All Glorious Within: An appreciation of St. Cuthbert's Philbeach Gardens' Victorian Society Annual pp4-21. Other churches in the Kensington areas include: Christ Church Victoria Road 1850-1; St Cuthbert's 1884; St Jude's Courtfield Gardens 1870; St Matthias Warwick Road 1869-1892 (Demolished 1958); St Patrick's Kenway Road 1873 (not built); St Philip's Earl's Court Road 1857-8; St Stephen's Gloucester Road 1866-7.
[39] HR Gough (FRIBA 1879) died at 35 Shaftesbury Road, Ravenscourt Park on 6 November 1904, aged 61 years. He designed the parish church of St Paul Hammersmith, the pro-cathedral in Brisbane, Catford church, the cemetery chapel at Colombo and was responsible for many church restorations.
[40] See Wellings M (2018) Exploring the Protestant Underworld: John Kensit, the Protestant Truth Society and Anglo-Catholicism London: Anglo-Catholic History Society
[41] ‘Guild of All Souls' (1917) St Cuthbert's Kensington December p5
[42] ‘Guild of All Souls' (1934) St Cuthbert's Magazine December pp6-7
[43] ‘Gifts' (1935) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine April p5
[44] For example, see ‘The Holy Souls' (1929) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine November p5, and ‘Requiems in November' (1926) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine November p3
[45] ‘The Mortuary Chapel' (1908) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine May 1908 p10
[46] ‘Mortuary and Cloister, St Cuthbert's W Kensington SW' The Building News 9 July 1909 p47. J Harold Gibbons (1878-1958) designed: St. Francis of Assisi, Gladstone Park (1933), The Ascension, Preston (1957), St. Mary's, Kenton (1936), St. Barnabas, Northolt (1954) and St. Jerome, Dawley (1933)
[47] ‘The Mortuary Chapel' (1909) St Cuthbert's Kensington Parish Magazine January p11
[48] Brompton Cemetery grave No 157502
[49] See Louden T (2014) Father Robert Dolling London: Anglo-Catholic History Society
[50] See Kensington News 23 May 1902 & The Eastbourne Gazette 21 May 1902. Most newspapers indicate that he died at St Saviour's Vicarage in Poplar, but his death was registered in Kensington.
[51] See The British Weekly 22 May 1902. See also Dictionary of National Biography (accessed 7 July 2019), and also The Illustrated London News 24 May 1902
[52] For a full account of the funeral see 'Funeral of Father Dolling' London Evening Standard 22 May 1902
[53] See Knight F (2018) ‘Cremation and Christianity: English Anglican and Roman Catholic attitudes to cremation' Mortality Vol 23 No 4 pp301-319
[54] Beaken R (2012) Cosmo Lang. Archbishop in War and Crisis London: IB Taurus p233-234
[55] Parsons B (2005) p139
[56] ‘The Passing of Sir Henry Irving' (1905) The Undertakers' Journal November p176
[57] White SRG (Forthcoming)
[58] London Metropolitan Archive. P84/CUT/005
[59] ‘Dedication Festival' (1925) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine December No 224 p2[
[60] ‘Father Westall' (1926) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine February No 336 p7
[61] ‘Father Westall's Memorial' (1925) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine November p5
[62] ‘Death of a Great Churchman' Kensington News and West London Times 13 May 1936
[63] Fr Croom was buried with Kathleen Williams (died 1914), and Eliz Longley Edwards (died 1906). The memorial was supplied by FL Cook Percy Road Hammersmith.
[64] See ‘Preb CL Gage-Brown The Times 3 April 1972 for a tribute by ‘MBL'
[65] (Accessed 12 September 2019)
[66] ‘RIP' (1925) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine March p12
[67] ‘The New Kensington Cemetery' (1938) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine May pp8-9, and Parsons B (2016) ‘A Tale of Two Cemeteries - Securing burial space in London during the interwar period' ICCM Journal Vol 84 No 3 pp54-65
[68] Parsons B (2015) ‘The Cleansing Fire. Cremation and Kensal Green' The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery Magazine Vol 78 July pp9-15, and Parsons (2018) ‘The History of Mortlake Crematorium' The Acton Historian No16 May pp12-19
[69] The Times 21 April 1882
[70] London Evening Standard 8 November 1904 and The Times 24 April 1882
[71] London Evening Standard 8 November 1904[
[72] ‘RIP Major RM Hutchinson Low MB OBE' (1935) St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine November p4
[73] Jupp PC (2006) From Dust to Ashes. Cremation and the British Way of Death Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan pp135-141
[74] The cremation of Roman Catholics was forbidden by the Church until December 1963 when Pope Paul VI issued Sacrosanctum Concilium.
[75] ‘Alexander Ramsay Harman' St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine May 1954 p7, and June 1954 p3. See also The Times 15 April 1954 p10
[76] St Cuthbert's Parish Magazine June 1954 pp3-4