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Lewis Lupton In Spitalfields

November 17, 2013
by the gentle author

In the spring of 1968, artist Lewis Frederick Lupton came to Spitalfields and submitted this illustrated report on his visit to the Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Newsletter.

Interior of Christ Church, Spitalfields, 1968 – without galleries or floor

On Ash Wednesday 1968, I set off at eleven for Spitalfields to see the Rev. Dennis Downham about his work among alcoholic vagrants. Walking up the road from the Underground Station, I saw a man very poorly dressed, his face a pearly white, obviously ill. Then came a tramp, as lean, dirty, unkempt, bearded and ragged as any I have seen. This was a district where there was real poverty.

The Rectory was a substantial Georgian house such as one sees in many a country village. The study overlooked a small garden and the east end of the church, where plane trees grew among old tombstones.

After lunch, we went out to see something of the parish. The first person we encountered was a fine-looking young American in search of his ancestors, who asked for the parish registers. After directing him to County Hall, we crossed over into a narrow street between tall old brick houses with carved and moulded eighteenth century doorways. Out of one of these popped a little Jewish man with a white beard, black hat and coat.

Round the corner in Hanbury St, the Rector unlocked (“You have to be careful about locks here”) the door of a building in which the church now worships ( “Christ Church itself needs a lot spending in restoration before it can be used again”). The building now employed once belonged to a Huguenot church, of which there were seven in the parish, and still has the coat of arms granted by Elizabeth I carved above the communion table.

Thousands of French Protestants found a refuge from persecution in this parish. The large attic windows belonging to the rooms where they kept their looms may still be seen in many streets and the street names bear record of the exiles – Fournier St, Calvin St etc

Crossing Commercial St, we came across a charming seventeenth century shop in a good state of preservation. Its fresh paint made it stand out like a jewel from the surrounding drabness.

A stone’s throw further on, photographs pasted in a window advertised the attractions of one of the many night clubs in the area.

Opposite a kosher chicken shop, one of a the staff – a Jewish man with a beard, black hat and white coat was throwing pieces of bread to the pigeons.

Round the corner, we plunged into an offshoot of the famous Petticoat Lane which forms the western boundary of Spitalfields.

Turning eastwards, we tramped along the broken pavements of a narrow lane running through the heart of the district. It seemed to contain the undiluted essence of the parish in its fullest flavour, a mixture of food shops, warehouses, prison-like blocks of flats, derelict houses and bomb-sites. “There are twenty-five thousand people living in my parish. It is the only borough in central London which has residential life of its own,” revealed the Rector.

Christ Church stands out like a temple of light in the surrounding squalor. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, its scale is much larger than life and the newly-gilded weathervane is as high as the Monument. “I climbed up the ladders to the top last year when steeplejacks were at work upon it,” commented the Rector.

Were it not for the brave work which has been begun in the cellars, the building would only be a proud symbol of the Faith, no more.

Down the steps, to the left of the porch, there is a reception area with an office and a clothes store.

One sleeping fellow had a tough expression. “False nose,” said the Rector, “he had his real one bitten off in a fight.” The central area is devoted to the work for which the crypt was opened. Except for a billiard table, it is like a hospital ward, mainly taken up with beds on which the patients rest and sleep.

Yet, a crypt is crypt and the lack of daylight is a handicap but, with air-conditioning  throughout, spotless cleanliness and a colour scheme of cream and turqoise blue, the cellars of Christ Church have been turned into a refuge which offers help and hope to  those of the homeless alcoholics who have a desire to be rescued from their predicament. – L.F.L.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Julie Tammo permalink
    November 17, 2013

    A perfect and moving story like so many that you make available for your readers. My husband and I (from Australia) will be staying in Limehouse for three weeks in April next year and are eagerly anticipating visits to the places (and the people) that you bring to life so vividly. Thank you.

  2. November 17, 2013

    Wonderfully evocative illustrations. How much has changed?

  3. David Carter permalink
    November 17, 2013

    I worked part time in a pub around the corner from Christ Church around after this time – the Black Eagle Tap, Brick Lane (I was only 18 at the time) – I lived with my mum and Dad in East Acton – got the Central Line to Liverpool Street. I have to cross Bishopsgate, Spital Field Market, the Ten Bells and Christ Church to get to the pub.

    On a really cold frosty Saturday/Sunday morning (’71 – I can’t remember now) – I passed Christ Church, the entrance leading to the crypt, and a man who I presumed to be the Vicar – tallish, thin man with shoulder length white hair, who was bent over one of the poor homeless souls, who looked as if he had passed in the night.

    The memory is still with me.

  4. November 17, 2013

    I don’t suppose the church & crypt still caters for the homeless in this fashion.

  5. Ros permalink
    November 17, 2013

    Loved these observant and evocative drawings which brought back memories of how things were. I’d never heard of the artist and couldn’t find out much on line. Was he from Yorkshire?

  6. Rosemary Hoffman permalink
    November 17, 2013

    Very evocative- I remember it as it was as I had lived nearby in the early 1960’s. The shop front in Artillery lane is well remembered

  7. November 23, 2013

    Lupton, primarily known only for his work on the history of the Geneva Bible, seems to have been written out of most art histories. One of his paintings is housed in Bradford’s Cartwright Hall art gallery, but I’m told is not currently on show. A singular delight, then, in seeing these quite unexpected sketches. Gentle Author continues, for our delectation, to pluck astonishing rabbits out of the hat.

  8. Julia Button permalink
    November 15, 2015

    I was delighted to find these sketches of my Dad’s online. Lewis Lupton (1909 – 1996) had a long and varied career. He trained at Sheffield Art School for 7 years, then worked for Askew Younge studios in London until the 2nd world war. During the war years he exhibited several oil paintings in the RA, and continued with commercial art including work on posters for the Minstry of Fuel and Power and Dig for Victory campaign.
    Later he illustrated several books for Scripture Union including Patricia St John’s children’s novels. The last 25 years of his life were devoted to writing and publishing his History of the Geneva Bible in 25 volumes.

  9. Alison Pitt (nee Smith) permalink
    August 6, 2016

    I was very interested to see the comments from Julia Button.
    Lewis Lupton was a dear friend of my Dad’s – Harold Smith, as Lewis came regularly to preach at the Soho Memorial Chapel at North Finchley. I have very happy memories of going to Chiswick with my parents, and remember vividly the beautiful ceiling Lewis had painted in his house – especially the inclusion of his beloved cat. We have a copy of every volume of the History of the Geneva Bible, as Lewis gave my Dad a copy whenever a new one was published – a wonderful testament to his faith and his skill.

  10. Julia Button permalink
    November 2, 2016

    I’ve just seen the comments from Alison Pitt – yes I remember him mentioning going to Finchley and his friend Harold Smith. So lovely to hear your memories.
    My brother still lives at the house in Chiswick – the painted ceiling is still there, although getting a bit faded with the passage of time.

  11. Ben Elford permalink
    May 30, 2017

    It was a pleasure to come across this posting. I collected the History of the Geneva Bible, buying one or two volumes from secondhand bookshops and the rest from Lewis Lupton as they were published. I had the privilege of meeting him in the early 1990s in Chiswick; I bought a painting from him (he was somewhat reluctant to sell it, I remember). I recall the gorgeous ceiling, of course, but wish I could remember more of the detail. Is there a photographic record anywhere? And am I right in thinking that it was once the subject of a BBC documentary?

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