History of Our Lady Help of Christians Parish

These are the notes of a talk given on the weekend of 17th September to our parish congregation.

This building has been a place of Christian worship for 156 years.

And a Catholic place of worship and gathering for 53 years.

But as Cardinal Basil Hume said in 1979 at the consecration of this church building in front of more than 700 people including the Vicar General and the Mayor of Camden.

‘This church has been a house of prayer for a long time. The Church is not just these walls, the Church is YOU, without YOU Church does not exist and we are all part of the history of this church.

For those who are new to the parish and for those who have been here much longer than me ( I’m a newbie I’ve only been coming to OLHC for 23 years!) I have tried to piece together out history.

The first Catholic place of worship in Kentish Town was built in  1847 –  a temporary church,  St Alexis in Gospel Terrace (now 110 to 118 Highgate Rd) by Fr Hardinge Ivers, a somewhat controversial character determined to set the Catholic community on the map.   He was a great believer in church  bells and processions.   He fell out with many people including eventually the Cardinal!

1850 Restoration of the RC Hierarchy

1858 Cardinal Wiseman provides funds for a church in Fortes Road. The basement was ready for a  temporary church in 1859.

And so things went on with many masses on Sunday.    ‘Double Decker Masses’  (masses on 2 levels of the building at the same time) and a congregation overflowing into the street.

Many activities… dances, youth club, brownies, guides and parish groups including Legion of Mary and SVP.

The Catholic parish  thrived at Fortess road for 100 years, but we grew out of the building.

Fr Bernard Ferry arranged a church swap with the Methodists who had built this church. It was known as the Methodist Cathedral!  Consecrated 1979

About the Methodists in KT

John Wesley 1703-91 used to visit his lawyer in Holmes Road so he knew Kentish Town  when it was a rural retreat.

Wesleyan Chapel was located on Highgate road, now Wesleyan Terrace.

Small mission  hall was built in what is now Maud Wilkes Close.    But as  their congregation was expanding in 1867 they moved to this purpose built church – very  large and formal for methodists. They also opened a school in Falkland Road which is now our parish hall.

Fred Harkin, a parishioner who died recently pointed out to me the gargoyles level with the organ –  John Wesley and Charles Wesley.

Alas the church in Fortess Rd, once Our Lady Help of Christians and then the Methodist Chapel no longer exists.    It was pulled down and became a block of flats, but  the presbytery blding still exists.

Interesting Architectural Features of our Church

Built of Kentish Rag stone.

Slender cast iron columns holding up the gallery

Red and Blue abstract window by Carmel Cauchi, a Maltese artist, dedicated to Jim Breheny.

Stain glass window from the old church in the back of the gallery.

Grade 2 listed.

Interesting people associated with OLHC

  • Fr Bernard Ferry driving force for this church
  • Fr George Stack, was bishop of Cardiff now retired.
  • Fr Pat Browne, much loved PP, known for his wonderful voice
  • Fr Stuart and Fr Michael O’Boy
  • Fr Tom Forde, now retired
  • Fr John Deehan, who kept things going during Covid..
  • Cardinal Vincent Nichols visit in 2020 to celebrate 50 years

Most important foreign visitor has to be Mother Teresa in 1993, which attracted a lot of local interest.

We need to maintain our church both the people in it and the buildings