diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 05, 2016

While visiting Central Square in Hampstead Garden Suburb, if given the chance, you should take a look inside St Jude's. You should also admire the exterior too, because it's pretty damned impressive. A massive brick building, with sharp uplifting gables, its rippled grey spire rises high above an open bell tower.

You might think the design dark and austere, and the dog mess bin placed near the west door doesn't help. But the interior is another matter, not quite what the architect had in mind but most imposing all the same. The commission for St Jude-on-the-Hill went to Edwin Lutyens, an acclaimed architect whose later work would include Queen Mary's Dolls House and the Cenotaph. In Hampstead he created a traditional church in modern style, late-Edwardianly speaking, with barrel-vaulted roof and lofty brick arches. There's a lot of space but it's also quite dark, or would be were it not for carefully positioned spotlights. The most impressive features are the murals, these mostly by Walter Starmer, across several walls and most of the underside of the roof. Many depict Bible scenes, in almost medieval detail, while the Stations of the Cross are similarly depicted around the perimeter. What with these and the whiff of incense as you walk in you might mistake this for Catholic, but St Jude's is in fact the local parish church, just on a much larger scale than normal.

The high altar and sanctuary are particularly impressive, for which read Roman, with a mixed line-up of candles and a lush Last Supper on the screen behind. Two chapels lead off to either side, with an exhibition in the Lady Chapel by (and about) the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust, and a selection of great women (1910 vintage) painted into a saucer on the ceiling. The whole place has a CS Lewis feel, and indeed he came twice to preach a sermon. Look out for the plaque which reveals that the spire was actually a birthday present, and the memorial to horses killed in the First World War, and the stained glass window depicting St Jude himself. The nave isn't exactly choc-a-block with chairs and kneelers, suggesting that the weekly congregation is rather smaller than when the church was built. But there's much life within, evidenced by the annual music and literary festival held here at the height of summer, which this year means the chance to hear Anthony Flaum and Joan Bakewell. St Jude's is still very much the heart of Henrietta Barnett's garden community a hundred years on.

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