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HomeCulture WarThe cancelling of St Augustine’s

The cancelling of St Augustine’s

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ST Augustine’s Church, a Grade I listed building in Kilburn known as the Cathedral of North London, is about to be almost entirely obscured from view on its south-west side by a six-storey council-built housing estate. This disappearance is deftly illustrated on page 10 of Westminster Council’s own publication.

The Victorians had a keen sense of the plight of the poor, and built their finest churches in impoverished areas. Thus was the Church of St Augustine built in Kilburn 150 years ago. It was described by Pevsner and Cherry as ‘one of the noblest interpretations of medieval Gothic anywhere in England’.

The aim of the architect, J L Pearson, was not just to create a beautiful or admirable building, but one that sent you on to your knees. On entering the church it would be difficult not to be struck by the sublimity and connection to God of Pearson’s architecture.

Westminster planning department received 72 well-expressed objections and no letters in support of their housing scheme. Despite this, and despite pleas to keep the building to two storeys, planning permission was granted and Westminster City Council forge ahead with their six storeys.

This follows on the heels of many large housing developments opposite and in the vicinity of the church. The area has been largely transformed into some kind of a futuristic nightmare. I leave aside the social problems of high-density housing of people of vastly different cultures. I leave aside the problems of flooded basements in this low-lying area during periods of exceptionally heavy rainfall. (According to Thames Water, the problem may well be exacerbated by the vast influx of dwellings, all with waste water to dispose of.) I leave aside the likely detrimental effects of vibration and dust of building work next to a great historical church. I leave aside other losses of amenity which will be suffered by St Augustine’s. Leaving all of this aside, why do I care so much?

Like many poor areas of the country, Kilburn is largely colonised by those originating from abroad. The English and Irish now form a minority here. I look around me and see no community with which I have any connection. I am a stranger in my own land. The views of buildings are one of the few connections I have to my own culture, and to God, in a world where Christianity and English people and their history are under attack.

People have a relationship with their landscape and the key features of it. This gives them a sense of place, belonging and identity. When I turn northwards up Kilburn Park Road and see the spires of St Augustine’s, I know I am home. We are not global citizens of nowhere, living in a borderless utopia. Culture, place, roots, ancestry are vital. Witness the huge and growing popularity of DNA testing, and of ancestry.com where one can research one’s family history. In the popular TV series Who Do You Think You Are? celebrities can be found weeping at the graves of ancestors they never knew.

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After planning permission for the housing scheme was granted, I searched around for a person in Westminster Council to whom I could write, entreat, simply ask questions beyond what was presented by the glossy publicity material. The council, however, seemed to have become a faceless machine. There were no actual people with whom one might speak. My letters to councillors and even to the project architect went unanswered. I found just one telephone number for the whole of Westminster City Council. Yessen answered the phone. He knew nothing of the housing scheme in question, and was unable to refer me to anyone who did. We had a strange circular conversation where I kept saying that I needed to ask a question further to what was published on the website. He kept referring me to the website. Eventually he thought that sending me a text with a link to the website would solve the problem.

In Wakefield, the mother of a boy involved in minor damage to a copy of the Koran was obliged to cover her head and plead for her son’s life in some kind of Sharia court. The obliteration of the view of St Augustine’s is a less visible subjugation than this. It is more unseen, more hidden behind political platitudes such as ‘Westminster for all’ and ‘valuing diversity’. However, it is no less a profound attack on English people, not to mention people of other origins with a connection to the Christian church and Western culture.

Left-wing ideology dominates the political landscape. Anything right of Marxism is generally deemed ‘far right’. Marx did not favour allegiance to the church. Could this partly explain the disappearing view of St Augustine’s? The council publication, Your Westminster, reads as piece of slick, left-wing publicity, speaking about how Westminster is affordable, safe, cleaner, greener, more anti-racist, open, transparent, diverse, inclusive and fairer (mentioned a number of times) with some Black History Month thrown in for good measure. The word community is used a lot, presumably because it sounds lovely, but the editors are unable, when asked, to define what communities they are talking about. If they mean people living in the same area with some sense of social cohesion, I have tried to explain that this is not a thing here in Kilburn. Cultures are too diverse.

Place, culture, relationship to landscape are fundamental to human beings. The view of St Augustine’s from its south-west side will be removed, and with it, so much that it represents for English people.

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Sarah Walker
Sarah Walker
Sarah Walker is an artist living as part of a small English minority in South Kilburn, one of the more densely colonised areas of London. She visits Surrey regularly on family business.

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