In the Media

The Times Saturday 20 May 2023  Extract from article promoting Bill Wyman's Chelsea: From Medieval Village to Cultural Capital

The rock star Bill Wyman, 86,  looks back on his 'bizarre life' as he strolls around Chelsea, his sixties stamping ground, present home and the subject of his new book.

'Here is the memorial to Sir Thomas More' says the local history expert who is taking a walking tour of Chelsea, that has been attracting famous people since the 1600's, he is standing beside More's statue outside Chelsea Old Church, where Henry VIII's chancellor worshipped before achieving the Tudor equivalent of a rock star death: a beheading at Tower Hill.

"Thomas More is one of my heroes, even though I am a protestant. He stood by his beliefs, didn't agree to Henry VIII's divorce and it cost him his life."......

After lunch he will go for a walk "With my stick , down to the church. I'll sit in there for ten minutes or so because it is one of the most beautiful churches in Britain, filled with the tombs of all the people  who the streets are named after. .......

Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton step in to help save church organ

Staff writer Tue 22 Oct 2019

Veteran rockers Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton have stepped in to help a local church's £650,000 organ appeal.

Chelsea Old Church in London had been trying for the last four years to raise enough funds to purchase a brand new organ after they were advised that their current 70-year-old one was beyond repair. The church told the Scottish Daily Mail: "The old organ reached the end of its working life. Built as part of the post-war reconstruction, it used second-hand materials and now obsolete technology. "The church was advised that a new organ represented a much better long term investment than renewing the current one."

The newspaper reports that Jagger and Clapton live nearby and along with other locals, made generous donations towards the appeal. The new hand crafted organ was manufactured by Devon-based organ makers William Drake Ltd and has already been installed at the church.A celebratory service was held on 13 October and a series of concerts have been planned to mark the occasion. Parishioner and fundraising committee member Rob McGibbon told the Scottish Daily Mail that it was a "wonderful bonus" to have received donations from Jagger and Clapton. He now hopes that the two celebrated rock stars will consider playing a gig together accompanied by the organ.He said: "It has been a huge effort by the local community to raise the money, but to get the support of Mick and Eric was a wonderful bonus. "We reached out to them and they both responded immediately and generously. They clearly have a deep affection for the church. "The next step is to get them to do a gig together at the church accompanied by the organ." Courtesy Christian Today


Hilary Mantel's letter to Thomas More: 'We have to lie about you a little in order to like you '

The Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall author turns her forensic eye on Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, in a brand new story inspired by Holbein's portrait. My dear More… but here’s the first problem. How do I address you? Sir Thomas? St Thomas? Lord Chancellor? I can’t just call you Thomas. Half the men in England are called that. Anyway, I don’t feel that kind of easy warmth, though one of your modern biographers says that most people who work with you end up liking you. Liking you, disliking you............


Pippa Middleton, 33, and fiance James were at church in Chelsea on Sunday

Mail Online 9 May 2017

7 JULY 2016 BY DYLAN BRETHOUR   LDN & LIFESTYLE                               


5 black chains for 5 improbably valuable books. In a world of second-hand bookstores and Amazon, it’s difficult to imagine just how costly books once were. Before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the mid-15th century texts were, of course, copied by hand. Various cultures experimented with material like wax, clay, bamboo, and even bone to record written material. Papermaking appears to have come out of China, traditionally the invention of a Han Dynasty eunuch named Cai Lun. Paper made text cheaper, and thanks to the contributions from Gutenberg and Cai, books became more affordable. However, the early printing press was still labour-intensive and, in a largely illiterate society, books were a privilege for the rich. Opening libraries to the public meant exposing valuable books to theft. A chained library was a logical response to the problem posed by light-fingered readers.

The larger and more expensive a book was, the more likely it was to be chained. The books were positioned so that their spines faced away from visitors, making the text easier to read. However odd it might seem today, chaining books was a practical way to make information accessible. For several hundred years chained libraries were common all across the continent. The practice of chaining came to an end in the 18th century as books dropped in price. The few remaining chained libraries are scattered across Europe. Today, England’s largest collections of chained books are in Hereford Cathedral and Wimborn Minster. London also has its own little known library, tucked away in an ancient Chelsea church.

The first thing you should know about the chained library in Chelsea Old Church is that it’s tiny. There’s no point in pretending otherwise. “Library” seems an overgenerous term to describe the 5, slightly battered, grey tomes housed in the church. That being said, the church is worth visiting as much for the building as the books. Chelsea Old Church is one of those characteristically London buildings that seem to exist outside of time. There’s no discernible decade or even century to the interior. Instead, it has an atmosphere that’s unique to very old, and slightly bonkers bits of architecture. It feels like a time jumble, jammed full of plaques, grave-markers, statues, and other assorted oddities.

Despite being surrounded by the posh houses of Chelsea, the church itself is built of simple red brick. There’s a single rectangular tower overlooking the Thames and a very pretty garden full of flowers. Overlooking the water is a black and gold statue of Thomas Moore. If Sir Thomas, a committed enemy of Protestantism, looks mildly disgruntled it may be because the church is Anglican. This was not always the case, if only because the church pre-dates Protestantism altogether. There was first a church built on these grounds in 1157. Over the centuries, buildings have been added, removed, and occasionally blown up. Thomas Moore once had a private chapel on the grounds, which explains his unexpected presence here today.

If the exterior of Chelsea Old Church is sedate, the inside is the liturgical equivalent of a comfortably overstuffed cottage. There are pew cushions embroidered with aristocratic titles and lines of bad poetry (“Out of thy thoughts/God shall not pass/His image stamped/on every grass”). For some reason the side alter has a cloth decorated with chickens. The walls are crowded with plaques, from the new to the very, very old: the remaining evidence of dead soldiers, loyal wives, and public-spirited businessmen. I read a plaque erected to 4 sailors “who were drowned opposite this church through the swamping of their boat in a squall of wind, June 20th 1839.” At the front of the church, there’s a cluster of engraved metal markers. One, the size a cigarette package, reads; “Henry Gorges Esq., Onely childe of Richard Lord Horges, who dyed YE 27th of Aprill 1674 in YE Nyneteenth Yeare of his age.”

Among all of this chaotic history, the chained library is locked safely away in a wooden cabinet. While it’s true that there are only 5 books, each of them is several hundred years old. They were a gift from Lord of the Manor, Sir Hans Sloan (1661-1753), who succeeded Isaac Newton as President of the Royal Society. Sir Hans appears to have had a taste for books of immense size. The largest of the 5 is the 1717 Vinegar Bible, so-called because “The Parable of the Vineyard” in the Gospel of Luke was unfortunately misprinted as “The Parable of Vinegar.” There are the 1st and 3rd volumes of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs from 1684, a Book of Common Prayers from 1723, and a 1683 volume of the Homilies, which is “to be read in Churches by Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they then may be understood by the people.” All of the volumes are foreboding and grey, kept under lock and key with fat chains gathered at the side. The plaque helpfully notes that, “Scholars who wish to view the books should apply in writing to the Vicar.”

There are now only a handful of chained libraries left across Europe, a vanishing reminder that for most of human history the written word was expensive. Chelsea Old Church is a small, strange window into what that world might have looked like. Go, and if you happen to be a scholar, don’t forget to contact the Vicar before your visit.


Book of Common Prayer is a winner in Chelsea by Hattie Williams

Posted: 22 Apr 2016 @ 12:04

THE Prayer Book has played a “key role” in boosting Sunday attendance at his church over the past decade, a London vicar believes.

The Vicar of the Thames-side Chelsea Old Church, in Cheyne Walk, Canon David Reindorp, said on Tuesday that his congregation had increased by more than 20 per cent since he arrived in 2006, partly owing to the continued use of the Book of Common Prayer.

"Our worshippers do not describe themselves as zealots of the Prayer Book, but that is what they prefer,” said Canon Reindorp, who is also the Area Dean of Chelsea. “I have worked in a council estate, villages, suburbs, and now I am here; if you’re toughing it out on an estate, you would probably do things differently.”

The Prayer Book is used for all Sunday and weekday services at Chelsea Old Church, including holy communion, matins, and evensong. The church is noted for its choral tradition. It also holds a children’s service at 10 a.m. on Sundays; last week, 66 children and 219 adults attended.

Average Sunday attendance has risen from 250 to 300 in ten years, and an estimated 25,000 are welcomed into the church each year. “People are saying that the Prayer Book doesn’t appeal to people. It clearly does,” Canon Reindorp said. “Modern versions don’t always hit the spot.”

Rising numbers might also be due to the charm of the church’s history, particularly for couples preparing for marriage, he said. “We did 37 weddings last year, all of which were Prayer Book. But it is also a very old church: the inside is medieval; so people know what they’re getting. Where faith is authentic, people respond.”

The building, as it stood before the war, consisted of the chancel, dating probably from the 13th century, with chapels to the north and south (circa 1325). It is where King Henry VIII married Jane Seymour, and where his children and Lady Jane Gray worshipped regularly. The Church Times 23/4/2016


Soppy Christians are their own worst enemy   Edward Lucas   Until worshippers show more conviction and ditch the flippancy, their faith won’t flourish      January 14 2016

Where ever we go on Sunday mornings, we have to arrive early to get a seat. At the 10am children’s service at Chelsea Old Church the language of the prayers is archaic, but that does not bother the scores of youngsters, from tots to teenagers, as they sing hymns, read and act out a Bible story in full costume, answer questions in return for Mars bars, take the collection and read prayers. Dogs bark joyfully. But somehow nobody finds it hard to sit still when the professionally run choir is singing: last week’s anthem was Elgar’s Ave Verum.

Later, for the sung Prayer Book Matins, it gets even more crowded. But my wife Cristina Odone is Roman Catholic, so we often head to the Latin Mass at the Brompton Oratory. Incense wafts out of the doors, while outside the church the crowds mingle with the congregation from the next-door powerhouse of evangelical Christianity, Holy Trinity Brompton, home of the Alpha Course.

None of this gives you the feeling of what statistics suggest is a dying religion in a post-Christian country. For all their liturgical and doctrinal differences, what all these congregations have in common is a belief that Christianity matters. It matters because it is true, and because it helps you live your life fully, as your Maker intended.

Conviction matters much more than the differences between the various strands of Christianity, which outsiders often find bewildering. In fact they reflect the diversity of the human condition: they are a plus, not a minus. For some believers the sense of mystery is paramount; others particularly prize aesthetics, or tradition. Some want structure; some want informality. The Bible may be taken wholly literally, or largely metaphorically. The real problem is that so much of the Christian church in Britain has lost its conviction — and thus its power to convince.

To be fair, the modern age is tough on Christianity. The cult of pseudo-rationality puts its claims under a wrongly focused microscope; how can you actually believe this stuff, the Dawkinsites ask, not realising that their own moral and even scientific beliefs are based on hefty doses of supposition and wishful thinking. In an age where deference is seen as a sign of weakness (albeit selectively: don’t joke about Islam) mockery abounds of anything that sounds serious, complicated or important: when I contributed to a book about Anglicanism, I was told Christianity is “cannibalism acted out to please the Sky Fairy”.

Meanwhile other gods (notably Mammon and Bacchus) have simple, powerful offerings. Loving your neighbour is hard. Doing business with him, or getting drunk with him, is easier.

And there are own goals too. The hypocrisy and cruelty involved in endemic child abuse in some churches, and the equally appalling cover-ups, have eviscerated Christianity’s moral authority in the eyes of many — though they in fact illustrate that humans are sinful and that the voice of the powerless must be heard above that of the powerful. Both are central messages of Christian teaching.

The issue of sexual morality is dividing the Anglican communion this very week, as my cousin Justin Welby hosts its squabbling bishops in Canterbury. It is interesting to note that Jesus had almost nothing to say on this subject, except to denounce divorce — which even the most hardline African and American Bible-thumpers now regard as worthy of forgiveness.

But these problems pale beside the central one: a lack of conviction. It does not matter what you emphasise in your preaching, or practise in your worship, but if you go about it with the embarrassed jokiness that has become the house style of many Christian churches, you are not going to get people out of bed on a Sunday morning. The worst advertisement for Christianity in this country, I sometimes feel, is Radio 4’s Thought for the Day: platitudinous conclusions drawn from lame anecdotes.

In a largely secular society, many people look at these problems and yawn. It is nice to have churches for weddings and funerals but why care if they are empty the rest of the time? Some do more than yawn. A new novel by Quentin Letts, The Speaker’s Wife, is based on a sneaky (and not implausible) scheme by secularist politicians to turn empty churches over to property developers to ease the housing shortage. Secularists want to chuck the bishops out the House of Lords, and religion off the airwaves and out of schools.

I think that pushing Christianity out of public life is a mistake, even for those who feel no attachment to the religion. One reason is civilisational: if you want to understand this country’s history, literature and culture, it helps to have a rough idea of what people have believed and practised over the past centuries.

More importantly, removing Christianity eases the path not for modernity, but for the nihilistic medievalism of the jihadists. Even dilute Christian identity helps to counter the charge that modern society is shallow, corrupt and hedonistic. People want meaning in their lives, and will flock to those who offer it. The past 50 years show that the creation of a moral vacuum in society has not been a success.

I worry about that more for my country than for my church. We can survive persecution, or we would not be here now. The lack of conviction, though, and the apathy that it stokes, is a far bigger problem. The worst enemy of Britain’s Christians is not the secularists, but themselves.

Courtesy Times Newspapers


Duchess of Cambridge recycles black lace gown as she and William attend friend's wedding

A THRIFTY Duchess of Cambridge appeared to have recycled an outfit as she braved the cold to attend a friend's wedding over the weekend.

Kate and her husband Prince William were guests at the ceremony, which took place at Chelsea Old Church - situated on the same road where the Duchess previously lived at the former Middleton family home in west London.

The mother-to-be looked elegant in a floor-length black lace gown, as she wrapped up warm with a red tartan scarf, hiding her blossoming baby bump. 

Kate's frock looked to be the same as the dress she wore to attend the star-studded Royal Variety Performance last month.

Smartly-dressed William kept close to his wife, who is five-months pregnant with their second chid,  as she led the way in front.

The Duchess accessorised her long-sleeved dress with a simple black clutch bag and her brunette tousled locks down below her shoulders.  

Courtesy Daily Express