The early history of our parish is closely intertwined with the life and witness of Fr. John Going and the parish of St Paul, Lorrimore Square. Much of this article, relates to the period before St Agnes was established as a separate parish. The main source for the article is Fr. Marcus Donovan's booklet "A history of St Paul's, Lorrimore Square and St Agnes', Kennington."

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The Church of St Paul, Lorrimore Square was consecrated on Christmas Eve 1856 by the Lord Bishop of London. In 1860 Fr. John Going became the incumbent and immediately set about fund-raising, establishing schools and introducing more ornate ritual to the Church. Fr Going was clearly a remarkable man, he was one of a generation of priests who were fired by the Catholic revival in the Church of England and was able to put into practice, at parochial level, the ideals of the early Tractarian movement and, as Fr. Donovan says, "he bridged the gap between the somewhat academic Tractarian epoch and the modern Anglo-Catholic practice".

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St Paul's continued to develop rapidly throughout the 1860's. In 1868 there were 150 confirmation candidates and about 1,000 people attended Sunday Evensong regularly. By 1869 "High Mass" at 11am had displaced Matins as the main Sunday service and St Paul's was truly a thriving Catholic parish. However, the work of a busy parish took its toll on Fr. Going and by 1874 his health was suffering. With wise foresight he arranged for the southern portion of his parish to be cut off and placed under the charge of a vigorous young priest, Thomas Birkett Dover who had already made his mark as a curate at St John the Divine, Vassal Road.

Fr. Dover began the task of building-up a new parish. A temporary church was opened in the form of a shed previously used by the Vitriol works that had stood on the site. Mr Gilbert Scott was employed to convert and beautify the shed and to draw-up plans for a large new church to accommodate Catholic worship and ceremony. Lord Halifax (then the Hon C.L. Wood) laid the first stone and the Bishop of Bombay dedicated the building. 

The present stone altar top was used for the first mass in the temporary church on July 8th 1874. The preacher on that occasion was Dr Temple West, Vicar of the parish of St Mary Magdalene's, Paddington. The sacristan was W.H. Bleaden who himself was later ordained and became the second Vicar of that famous parish. Dr William Maclagan, Vicar of St Mary, Newington (later Archbishop of York) preached at the evening service and was taken to task the next day by the "Pall Mall Gazette" for assisting at a church "where he wore a white stole and where a hymn was sung in which the name of Mary occurred." St Agnes had made its mark on day one of its existence!

Fr. Dover brought many leading churchmen to his new parish. Bishop King of Lincoln was a frequent visitor and preacher. Canon Brooke, Vicar of St John the Divine, Kennington, was a lifelong friend of Fr. Dover and was a generous benefactor to St Agnes'. Fr. Dover was able to raise money from many of his own friends and family for work on the new Church of St Agnes.

On 8th July 1875 the foundation stone of the permanent church was laid by Mr JA Shaw Stewart, one of the trustees of the Parish. The other trustees at the time were Bishop (then Canon) King, Canon Liddon (of St Paul's Cathedral), Canon Brooke and the most prominent Anglo-Catholic layman of the time, Lord Halifax.St Agnes Kennington Park - the sanctuary

In 1876 the Church schools were built and the foundation stone of the Vicarage was laid by Canon Gregory who was later to become the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral.

On January 20th 1877 the Bishop of London, Dr Jackson, in whose Diocese the Church then was, came to consecrate the new Church. He had been subject to a great deal of pressure to refuse to consecrate the building and demanded that a representation of Our Lady wearing a crown be removed from the great east window. Riots were expected at the consecration, the violent disturbances at Hatcham involving the famous Fr. Tooth were fresh in everyone's mind and so the doors were barricaded during the service and 50 police constables were nearby in case of trouble.

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The architect was George Gilbert Scott and St Agnes' was regarded as his masterpiece. Internally the Church was 140 feet long, 63 feet wide and 65 feet high. It could seat 1,000 persons. Most of the internal decoration and all of the glass was by Charles Eamer Kempe.

The Church immediately began to attract visitors. The Dean of Westminster, Dr Stanley, was in the congregation on the first Sunday after the opening. The Church was of Cathedral proportions (the height of the roof exceeded that of eleven Cathedrals!) and was greatly admired.

From the outset, St Agnes was conceived by Fr. Going as a possible refuge for his own parishioners in the event of Catholic worship being suppressed at St Paul's, Lorrimore Square. These were difficult times. Priests had gone to prison for wearing vestments and riots had taken place at St James', Hatcham where there were frequent protests against the Catholic teaching and practice. Fr. Going knew that his work at St Paul's could be undone when he left there. Most Bishops (then, as now!) were not in sympathy with the ideals of the Catholic movement working through the people in the pews.

The immediate concern was alleviated when in 1878 Fr. Going was able to exchange his living with Fr. WP Cay-Adams the Vicar of Hawkchurch, Dorset. However, in November 1880 Fr. Cay-Adams was taken ill and died. He was buried at Hawkchurch by Fr. Going.

A meeting of the congregation of St Paul's was called and a carefully written request was sent to the Bishop of Rochester. The Bishop of Rochester was the patron of the living of S Paul's and was therefore in a position to choose the next Vicar. They requested that he send a Vicar who would sympathise with the type of (Catholic) teaching that had existed at St Paul's for over
20 years.

The Bishop of Rochester was particularly hostile to Catholics within the Church of England and he decided that he must speak directly to the people of St Paul's and so, on Advent Sunday 1880, Bishop Thorald preached at Evensong. He took the opportunity to announce the name of the new Vicar and said "whatever is illegal in the ritual of this church will have to be discontinued." At that time and in that place those words had a potent meaning. Several prosecutions of Clergy had resulted in prison sentences under the thoroughly unpopular Public Worship Regulation Act. The congregation audibly groaned in disapproval of what the Bishop was saying but he still went on to assert his authority and to make it very clear that he would use his power as Ordinary and Patron to suppress the ritual. The Bishop was escorted quickly form the Church after the blessing to the security of the Vicarage. The Bishop's carriage was sent for but by now part of the angry congregation had assembled outside to express their displeasure. The Bishop demanded to see the Churchwardens but they refused to leave the Church where they were doing their best to calm the many angry Parishioners. The crowd outside became violent and stones were thrown at the Bishop's carriage as he drove away.Artist's impression

The following Friday a letter was received from the old Vicar of St Paul's, Fr. Going. In the letter he begged the people of St Paul's to make no further trouble but to go in one body to St Agnes'. On Sunday December 5th 1880, the Second of Advent, the whole congregation of St Paul's were at St Agnes'. There were no services at St Paul's because the Churchwardens refused to be responsible for any riot that might take place, at 11am a mob from Deptford arrived but finding nothing going on they dispersed. The following Sunday only five people attended the first service taken by the new Vicar of St Paul's. The Bishop had succeeded in suppressing ritual at St Paul's but at considerable cost. These events further strengthened the position of St Agnes' as a focus for Catholic worship.

to be continued.....