Daily Prompt: The Red Church is now priceless

Red Church, Bethnal Green

First of all this is not my photo, but stolen from the Internet. There are many of them so I hope the original owner of the photo will forgive me, otherwise I will remove it. This is the Red Church (actually St. James the Great, but because of the brick colour always known as The Red Church) in Bethnal Green, London E.2. where my parents were married and little me was christened. It is or was a Church of England, and even had a group of nuns living there. I attended regularly the Sunday classes lead by a nun. I am sure mum was glad to have me out of the house for an hour on Sunday afternoon. It was so-called high church, because they had a bit more than the other churches: incense swinging during the service and visiting the stations of the cross at Easter.

This station of the cross thing was for us kids. There were a few religious photos of the crucifiction and its way hanging in the church and at Easter we kids, accompanied by a nun, would walk from one to another and she would explain all about Easter. I remember it was six evenings up to Easter and each time we got a star stamped on a card. When it was all finished we had a card with six stars. Oh yes we kids were proud of them: a little bit of religion into the life of East End cockney kids did no harm, after all.

On the left of the photo you can see a street. The photo was taken in later days, but to my time it was a conglomeration of old houses, slums to be exact, and our house was somewhere amongst them. It was only a five minute walk to the church. There was also a pub on the corner opposite the church. Mum always had a slight touch for religion, although she explained in her youthful days there were no discos or clubs and the church or even Facebook and the church was the social part of life. She was confirmed at the church and also christened there.

This church was a landmark and when I visited Bethnal Green it was part of the scenery. One day mum and dad moved and things changed in Bethnal Green. Buildings were demolished to make way for high rise appartments. The church remained, although it was no longer a church. It had been “deconsecrated”, whatever that is, and it was altered into a block of flats, although still keeping its shape. That is why the windows on the photo have curtains. Stained glass windows never had curtains, but when appartments were made, people tended to hang curtains on their windows.

Bethnal Green Road

This is now my photo. Not of the Red Church, although on the left you can see a corner of the fench around the church. It was situated on the Bethnal Green main road, with its shops and pubs. During the day there would be market stalls on the edge of the pavements where mum would buy her fruit and veg.

So now we have a church converted into living space. Today my friend in England sent me a photo of a newspaper cutting showing that one of the appartments was being sold Red church flat. It is nothing special but the price is £600,000. The remark on the web site tells that one of the Kray twins were married there. So was my mum and dad, but they were not famous gangsters and murderers, as the Kray Twins were, so I suppose that does not warrant a mention.

I was glad to leave Bethnal Green with its smell of bricks in the air when it rained, with the toilet in the back yard and no hot water from the taps or bath. Mum and dad were also glad when eventually the houses were demolished some time at the beginning of the seventies – they were built in 1884. The church was always there, but someone must have had a good eye for profit. So anyone want to buy an appartment in one of the central places in London? It is priceless and you can tell your friends that even a gangster was married there when it was a church. Luckily there was not an attached graveyard, at least I never saw one, but who knows.

Daily Prompt: The Red Church is now priceless

12 thoughts on “Daily Prompt: The Red Church is now priceless

  1. Our churches are too small for conversion, but they have converted many old mills either to small malls or business space and a few, into senior housing. Some of them are surprisingly attractive. They really knew how to build in those years. The 1880s were a big decade here, too. That’s when they built our town hall and library and most of the mills that are still standing. It must have been a big time for world economy. The library and town hall haven’t changed much. They still have no heat or insulation, but I think they have added bathrooms.

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    • I was astonished when I heard that the church was now an appartment block. The english like to keep their churches and pubs. I knew the church with its altar and benches and very high roof, as well as the stained glass windows. Outside in the ground was a crucifix and the guy that was caretaker for the church was always busy in the garden mowing the grass. Suddenly people were living there with all mod cons and for a high price. There are often conversions here of ware houses into homes. The rents are always quite high.

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  2. Have you watched the British TV show (that only ran 3 seasons 😦 ) called Whitechapel? It’s very mysterious and good. BUT the Kray twins feature as one of the mysteries in the series. I recommend it.

    Also, your post made me think of this in the San Luis Valley. The Valley was settled by people from Spain many of whom were converted Spanish Jews in the 16th century. Very strange. Their Catholic customs were mixed with all kinds of Jewish rites and the oldest church has a very old Menorah as part of its liturgical tools or whatever they’re called. Anyway, just on the edge of the oldest town in Colorado (San Luis) is this place. It’s not old: the sculptures were done fairly recently and the white church, though built like a 16th century mission, is new. But it is very beautiful.


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    • I missed the Whitechapel series. Mr. Swiss is now checking if he can get it (we have our methods) For me it would be interesting, being in the area where I grew up and knowing much of the historical background. And yes, Mr. Swiss has found it, so i will be watching it soon.

      Interesting the link to San Luis. I thought those stations of the cross was unknown, but is a well known fact if you are into religion. I thought it was just something the nuns did to keep us interested.

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      • I watched it on Amazon Prime. Let me know how you like it!

        Yeah, those stations are fundamental to Catholic and Episcopalian religions. I met them the first time when I was a kid in Nebraska and “our” forest was actually part of a monastery of the Columban fathers. About 1/2 mile in was a long and beautiful road with arching golden trees (in fall) and all along it were the stations of the cross. I thought it was mysterious and wonderful. Now I think it’s wonderful that it is outdoors. There was even a man-made “stone” grotto to represent Christ’s tomb. Of course we climbed around on it. The statues of the two Marys didn’t mind at all…

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        • If it is filmed in original places, which it probably is, it will be very interesting for me.

          There were various pictures, perhaps even paintings on the wall of the church and the nun would explain one every week. I must have been about 7 years old at the time. I also remember that Mary was quite important, but that was because it was more in the direction of Anglo catholic than Anglican.

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          • You’ll like it. It’s filmed in original places AND there are maps and LOTS of history. I really loved it. The premise is bizarre and the characters are really engaging.

            I sometimes go to my friend’s church (St. Stephen the Martyr) that was built here in Monte Vista by British settlers who wanted their kids to go to a real English church. It’s not High Church as was chapel at the Episcopal school I attended. I feel a little uncomfortable because I don’t really believe the main tenet of Christianity which is that Christ is THE ONE. There are only about 10 members in the church, they’re all very nice to me, I like the church because it reminds me of Martin’s church at Gfenn, I like the people and so far no one has been weird about my not taking communion, reciting the Apostle’s Creed, or praying. My friend loves it when I go with them and she knows I will not be converted. It’s nice to once in a while walk six blocks and enter something that looks and feels like Europe. ❤

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          • I have visited so many churches in my life. For a while I went to the mission which was very much in the Methodist direction. It was a medical mission and they also had quite a good doctors practice. I was then 12 and slowly giving up on religion. My paternal grand mother and my aunt were in the clutches of the baptists with faith healing and all that rubbish. I even went with her once to a baptism. My high school was half Jewish and they had their own thing, but that was very interesing. By the time I arrived in Switzerland I was atheist. My boss was Pakistani, a moslem, so that was another interesting 2 years, Mr. Swiss is supposed to be Swiss reform church and today religion can be interesting, but is not for me. Of course there is a lot more to explain in detail.

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