Holy Cross church has a colourful history. The Church owes its name to the killing of a Victorian naval officer on the island of Santa Cruz in the Solomon Islands in 1875. Commodore James Goodenough, commander of HMS Pearl, was visiting the island but the islanders were distrustful of white visitors who trafficked young men to work on Australian plantations. The Pearl’s visit was friendly – the Royal Navy was trying to end the slave trade. But a fracas with a landing party led to the Commodore’s death after he was hit by a poisoned arrow.
When a close friend of Goodenough, the Reverend Algernon Stanley, was offered the position of vicar of the new parish of King’s Cross, he decided to name the proposed church Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) in memory of his friend. The bell from Commodore Goodenough’s ship still hangs in the church and calls people to prayer.
The new parish was needed because London was expanding. The King’s Cross area was poor and Anglican clergymen like Stanley who had been influenced by the Catholic revival in the Church of England were keen to take the Christian message to these new slum parishes. When funds were needed to build a church, local people bought single bricks for a penny.
A century later, King’s Cross was still a poor area, notorious for drug-taking and prostitution. In November 1982, the English Collective of Prostitutes staged a twelve day sit-in at Holy Cross as a protest against police harassment, attracting national media coverage. Fr Trevor Richardson – ‘Trev the Rev’– said that the sit-in could continue so long as it didn’t interfere with services. He also commented that too much attention was being paid to the women occupying the church and not enough to the evils of society that had given rise to their sit-in. This 2022 Bloomsbury Festival event tells the story:
Holy Cross today builds on its legacy of community involvement. As property values rise, meeting spaces become scarce. The development of the Holy Cross crypt, completed in 2021, gives local groups a new place to meet. A charity is using the crypt for English classes for asylum seekers. Fr Christopher is now Anglican Chaplain at nearby Goodenough College, whose students are working with local youth groups. A community choir is meeting regularly in the Church. So much to do but so many opportunities.
Holy Cross was designed by Joseph Peacock and consecrated in 1888. The church is grade ll listed by Historic England. Architecture writer Ian Nairn said (in Nairn’s London, 1966): ‘The outside is cheap and shrugged off, there are a hundred like it in London’s suburbs. Inside it is as honest and selfless as King’s Cross station…nothing unnecessary and nothing put on for form’s sake…’.:
- The braced king post roof is one of the ‘great glories’ of the interior, according to Historic England’s listing.
- The nave is exceptionally broad for its length and the aisles very wide. The elevated choir and sanctuary is enclosed by a wood screen which may be the work of Sir Charles Nicholson (1867-1949). Nicholson worked at Holy Cross around 1913.
- The moveable benches are late Victorian.
- A small stained glass window on the south wall, ‘Christ the Good Shepherd’, was designed and made by Martin Travers (1886-1948), a distinguished church artist in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Christ’s lamp copies the lamp in Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World’.
- The Walsingham Chapel at the back of the church is a reminder of Father Alfred Hope Patten who was inspired to restore the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham while a curate at Holy Cross from 1913-15.
- The inlaid marble Stations of the Cross are not unique – there are identical ones in the Chapel of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John’s Wood and perhaps in other places too. We would like to know more about their production.
- Finally and sadly, you will see cracks. There is settlement of the foundations at the north east corner of the Church causing structural cracking to the vestry and associated walls of the Church itself. The Church is on Historic England’s register of buildings at risk and the congregation is working with other local churches to secure funding so that these heritage buildings can once again be a real community asset. A start was made in 2021 when the Lottery’s Cultural Recovery Fund gave Holy Cross a grant to improve lighting and electrical wiring.
Support for the arts
Since 2019 Holy Cross has been closely involved with the Bloomsbury Festival – Cromer Street is within the Bloomsbury Conservation Area. The Church is a performance venue for the Festival each year. In 2019 the Bloomsbury Festival brought Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon installation to Holy Cross where it was seen by over three thousand people. In 2021 Holy Cross and Cromer Street were the centrepiece for the Festival opening event when the Arunima Kumar Dance Company performed in the Church before an enthusiastic audience.
The Church is also used for music – by the Ora Singers, for example, who held the 2021 final of their composer competition, with a judging panel led by Gareth Malone. And this year we have welcomed the West End Musical Choir who fill the Church with enthusiastic singers every Monday evening during term time.