Changing Places of Worship in Ealing: Making Suburban Faith 

Guest blog by Dr Claire Dwyer, Department of Geography, University College London

On 17th May 2016 I gave a talk at Ealing Library about the research we’ve been conducting as part of our Making Suburban Faith Research Project. This research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is exploring the creative practices of suburban faith communities focusing particularly on architectures, material cultures, rituals, music and performance. My talk discussed the diverse and changing religious buildings in Ealing and particularly the changing use of religious buildings. The talk was scheduled as a launch event for our exhibition Architectures of Shared Space which was shown at Ealing Library between 9th May and 24th June. This exhibition showcases work done by students at Brentside School in Ealing in collaboration with architects Mangera Yvars to design a new multi-faith space of worship for Ealing. In this short blog I provide a few examples of some of our case studies before ending with some images from the exhibition.

St Thomas the Apostle, Boston Manor Road is a wonderful example of a purpose built new suburban church. It was built in 1933 by the architect Edward Maufe who used this ordinary suburban church as a template for his more famous landmark of Guildford Cathedral. St Thomas is built in the same style with a brick exterior and a simple white interior. The church also contains sculpture by leading contemporary figures including an external tracery by Edward Gil, a Madonna and child by Vernon Hill and stained glass by Moira Forsyth.  Alongside these modernist works of art are more vernacular artistic interventions such as the wonderful altarspiece in the children’s chapel which relocates the nativity to the suburbs of Hanwell! St Thomas the Apostle was funded by the sale of St Thomas’ Church in Portman Square and the original organ (recently beautifully restored) and reredos are retained in the new suburban church built to evangelise the suburbs.

We have recently written an academic paper  which compares the 1930s suburban architecture of St Thomas with another building built in the 1930s, the art deco cinema on Northfields Avenue, opposite the tube station, which is now the home of the Ealing Elim Pentecostal Church. Built just eighteen months before St Thomas in 1932 the ‘Spanish Cinema’ is typical of atmospheric cinemas of the period, with architect Cecil Masey producing a mock Spanish courtyard, a tented ceiling and elaborate plaster features on the interior and exterior. Closed as a cinema in 1985, and briefly a nightclub, this building is now a worship space and has been painstakingly restored by the current congregation of the Ealing Christian Centre. The reinvention of the building makes innovative use of some of the original features such as the large baptismal pool in the on-stage cavity which previously housed the Compton organ, which rose up from the floor by its hydraulic lift. 

St Thomas the Apostle, Interior viewSt Thomas the Apostle, exterior view

   Above: St Thomas the Apostle, Interior (Picture Laura Cuch), Exterior (David Gilbert)

The ECC is one of many examples of the reinvention of secular buildings as places of worship. Another example is in West Ealing where the warehouse and office buildings of a former bakery has been the home of the West London Islamic Centre since 1996. While the exterior of the building remains largely unchanged the islamification of space inside includes Moorish tiling commissioned by a local builder and a carpet throughout the prayer hall which marks orientation to Mecca. The mosque community is fundraising for a purpose built new mosque whose design incorporates ideas for a modern worship space with clean lines and open spaces.

A recurrent theme in our research has been the exchange of places of worship from one faith community to another. Many of those passing the Ealing Liberal Synagogue on Lynton Avenue may not realise that this is an original ‘tin tabernacle’ church, consecrated in 1901 as St Luke’s a mission church to neighbouring St Stephen’s Church. With declining numbers it closed in 1952 and reopened a year later as the Ealing Liberal Synagogue. Until recently little was changed in the church with the original wood clad sanctuary at the East end housing the ark for the Torah Scrolls. Stained glass windows replacing those of the original church, depict a Torah scroll, star of David, Menorah candle and Passover meal.  

Another good example in our locality of a reused church building is the Sri Kanaga Thurkkai Amman (SKTA) Hindu Temple in West Ealing which occupies a former Baptist Chapel which was built in 1865. The building was sold in 1991 as congregations declined and worshippers consolidated in other central Baptist churches. The SKTA trust was founded by a community made up primarily of Sri Lankan Tamils who had previous rented local halls for worship. This locally listed building has been gradually embellished on the outside to look more like a hindu temple while inside the temple are shrines and religious sculptures which have been shipped to London from Sri Lanka and some carved in situ. Outside the temple a small transparent structure houses the ceremonial cart used to convey the goddess statue outside the temple during the annual Terotsava Festival in August.

SKTA Temple, Interior view

SKTA Temple, Exterior view

            Above: Interior and exterior of the SKTA Temple (Photo Claire Dwyer)

Even the Ealing gurdwara is housed in a building originally built as a place of worship but another faith community. Most of those driving over the railway line on Drayton Bridge Road would assume that the building which houses the Ealing Sikh Centre is a former warehouse. Infact this highly functional religious building was actually purpose built for a Plymouth Brethren Group before it was passed on the Sikh community in the early 1990s. The building is marked by a border of orange flags and there is a statue of a Sikh warrior outside. 

We have written up some of research about these buildings in academic articles and there is also information on our website Making Suburban Faith. We asked the students at Brentside School to respond to our research by thinking creatively about how to design a shared space of worship in Ealing. We gave them a ‘real’ location – the site of the White Hart Pub on Greenford Avenue in Ealing. Their designs, which can also be seen on our website provided a highly creative response to the brief with ideas which included multiple floors linked by a transparent staircase inscribed with ‘love thy neighbour’ in different scripts and languages; interconnected arches inspired by both the church and the mosque; ‘three doors’ a shared building accessed through different archways and ‘Looking up’ a building which developed a spherical shared space for interaction.  

Student Model ‘Stacking Faith’ Architectures of Shared Space Exhibition

                              Above: Student Model ‘Stacking Faith’ Architectures of
                                           Shared Space Exhibition. (Photo Mangera Yvars)

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