Shrewsbury, Belmont, London
After alighting from the airport-bound train from York at Manchester Piccadilly, I eventually continued to the station in Shrewsbury in County Shropshire. (The connecting train I’d planned was cancelled, delaying arrival.) I’d been in touch with the Tourist Office and scheduled a walking tour, but I would miss it. While at the connecting station I struck up a chat with a couple from Wales – they would be changing at Shrewsbury as the border was 7 miles to the west. When the TFW train arrived it was 2 cars, and was packed. Shrewsbury is known for its Tudor-faced houses and historic center. Situated on the hill in an oxbow on the River Severn, it would have been highly defensible. In addition to the RC cathedral I wanted to photograph, I was also looking forward to visiting its two other landmark churches.
The weather was perfect – I really didn’t need the jacket I’d picked up in York, as the early autumn day was bright, sunny and still warm. From the train station I walked up a hill, pushing the stacked bags. Once I crested at a slate-paved pedestrian strip, I rolled down a few blocks before making a left onto Butcher Row, an ancient cobbled street (which the roller wheels hated!) Down to the end, back, I finally figured out that the Bull Inn restaurant was the entry to their lodgings. Vixen, the woman tending the bar and reception desk decided to upgrade me to Room 3 (en suite bath, versus a private bath in the hall.) There was a sleigh bed, which my 6-foot frame would hate, and the window coverings were near sheer – good thing I planned an early rising.
Back into my Jameson’s windbreaker, I headed out and up to the Parish Church of St Alkmond, which dated back to pre-Conquest times. It was located on a crest, close to the hotel, and was bright and airy – nice organ and enameled window. In fact, windows on either side use cast iron to frame the glass, a late eighteenth century innovation.
Walking down the hill on Belmont, I spotted the tower of Shrewsbury Cathedral through the townhouses lining the street, behind a gated parking lot. At the foot of Belmont, I followed the old town walls to come to the Cathedral Church of Our Lady Help of Christians and St Peter Alcantara.
Across the road and below the stone walls was a huge expanse of green lawns and trees. Neo-Gothic, it was designed by the son of Augustus Pugin, and constructed in the mid 1850’s. Reading Wikipedia, I learned that the lack of a spire is due to a layer of sand near the foundations.
A pair of docents were in the process of preparing to close the church, so I was a tad rushed to accommodate their schedule. Notable was the stained-glass, which portrayed many saints and historic scenes. My favorites were those depicting a sailing ship. Over the entry to the sanctuary is a classic rood cross depicting the crucifixion. The reredos has four gilded carvings of scenes from Mary’s life. To the side, the Blessed Sacrament altar has a painted triptych looking much like icons. The bishop had been in residence for 12 years, and had begun undoing some of the post-Vatican II changes, including getting the altar from Ely.
Cobbled stones were everywhere, triggering achy feet. I got to the ruins of Old St Chad’s, considered to be the first church.
Closed, I continued across the park and enjoyed the varied fronts of many brick and stone buildings. Into the park known as The Quarry, I crossed a single-lane bridge and had some nice views of water.
The new St Chad’s Church beckoned. Georgian in style, a domed-capped multi-story tower rises over the circular nave. White columns ring through the ground floor pews supporting a gallery and organ. Below what looked like another enamel paint window, a gold and blue altarpiece fills behind the table.
Leaving, I started looking for a grocery store to get bananas, as well as to find the third of the Church of England churches which had joined to form a benefice: St Mary’s. I passed St Nicholas, which had been repurposed as a bar and boutique hotel (next visit?) before coming upon the old red-stone church. Deconsecrated, it is being conserved and is known for the old stained-glass windows. Arriving after the 4pm closing, I walked about, noting a billboard for the Shrewsbury Comic Trail, highlighting stopping points of interest.
Further wander took me past shops, galleries and pubs. I never got close to the castle, so another reason to return. Back at the Inn, I was told their kitchen was closed, so I headed out towards St Alkmond’s, as I’d seen a small Italian restaurant’s sideboard. Stepping down and into La Lanterna, they were able to seat me at a two-top. Sipping a glass of house pinot grigio wine, I started with Olives mista. Switching to a Chianti, lasagna (beef ragu, bechamel, and parmesan). At the next table, a young pair, Brianna and Oliver, were dining, away from the British Air Force base nearby. We had a grand conversation, and I decided to cap the evening with the cheese plate and a snort of Monkey Shoulder whisky.
Hereford and Belmont
Wednesday (and Columbus Day in the US) had me up ahead of the alarm and out by 8:30. Fifteen minutes later, at the train station, I had a half hour wait for the train; when a platform change was announced, I met Ken and Lisa, a couple heading into London who’d keep me talking until we reached Hereford. There was a half hour before I was to catch a bus, and I walked to the bus depot, spotting a barber across the road. They kindly allowed me to leave my luggage there for the morning.
The bus took me out through the town of Belmont, where I was dropped along the A465 motorway. Up Ruckhall Lane, I came upon the Church of St Michael and All Angels / Belmont Abbey which had been a pro-cathedral for the Diocese of Newport and Menevia (Wales) from 1859 until 1920. Built mid nineteenth century, it is neo-Gothic with a cruciform footprint. Unlocked and unattended, I spent a precious 14 minutes getting 37 photos, many of which I had to use the flash. I was careful to respect the barrier ropes, much as I wanted to get some better pictures.
Back outside, I walked in the graveyard and returned to the motorway to catch the bus to Hereford. I had a choice: return to my favorite English cathedral (Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Ethelbert the King in Hereford) or to head into London early and perhaps get a jump start on my visits there. I went with the latter, and collected my gear from Fella’s barber shop and headed to the train station. There, I ran into Ken and Lisa again, as they’d had a quick visit in town, and were now heading to London to see friends who would be sailing on the same ship as me in less than a week. I was able to sit with them and we continued chatting the full three hours.
From London Paddington, my hotel, the Ascot Hyde Park, was just a few blocks. After dropping my gear in Room 200, I set out for Putney via the Underground. I was returning to the Liberal Catholic Pro-cathedral of All Saints.
I’d been there in 2019, but lost the Canon camera which had the pictures, and I had chosen not to return when I revisited and retook some 15 cathedrals on the north side of the Thames. Again it was closed, so I took front-on pictures of the dark doors of the sand-colored brick-faced church.
While I was in Douglas, I received an email from a blog I follow: London Churches in Photographs. Andrew has been photographing and blogging for ten plus years, and I’ve used his site as a resource for finding cathedrals that I don’t find elsewhere on the internet. In the email, he included a cathedral I’d not known about in the 2019 visit. When I was done in Putney, I decided to visit Hanwell, a suburb within Greater London. Putting more funds on my Oyster card, back to the Underground and then a bus, I alighted on a dark street and walked to the front of the Cathedral of St Mary, the Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East.
A small single-story church, the front door was locked. However, there were lights in the back, and while I was getting my photos, two women came into the courtyard. Asking if they were cleaners, they replied that they were parishioners, and were setting up in the church hall. When I asked if I might enter the nave for pictures, they went to check with the priest and he came and escorted me. Lights were turned on; the iconostasis was opened and I took a few shots. Thanking them, I retraced my steps on the Elizabeth line and headed towards the hotel. (As Andrew had not been inside, I did share my shots with him when I thanked him for the information.)
From Paddington station, I went into Gusto restaurant, which neighbored the hotel (and was moderately priced.) A simple meal of Insalata di rucola (arugula and parmesan), Penne con salsicela picante with a glass of montepulciano. Minor unpacking before repacking, and down for the count.
Stevenage and onward
After checking out and putting my luggage into storage, I crossed to the train station and took the Underground to King’s Cross station, where I rode a stop to Stevenage. Crossing over the road on a skyway, I came down steps into a bus park, and five minutes later was heading out the A602. Stepping off the bus, I was dropped along the motorway. Not seeing any pedestrian paths, I scrutinized Maps and, following Fellowes Way and Woodland Way, wandered through a tract of attached housing. Eventually I found Stephalbury Park, and followed the edge which bordered on the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre property, aiming for its entrance. A pair of dog walkers provided some direction, and soon I was standing at a tall gated entrance, with a “squawk box” intercom. Identifying myself, stating I had arranged an appointment to visit, it turned out that my contact person Randa was out and had left no records.
Fortunately, I was admitted and chaperoned into the Cathedral Church of St George which is the first Coptic cathedral in the UK. Built 2006, with a cruciform footprint with a north-south orientation, the exterior red brick walls are adorned with the crosslet cross. The nave vault, sheet metal on the exterior, has crosses stenciled in the boxed formed from the ribbing in the ceiling. With little ornamentation other than on the iconostasis wall, my visit was limited to 7 minutes. Still, I truly appreciated being allowed inside and getting to take photos.
With my escort, I was walked around the outside through the graveyard and then to the gate, with directions to a closer bus stop for a ride back to the Stevenage train station. Off the bus, I was almost immediately on the train back to King’s Cross. I caught the Metro Circle line, which would preclude the change I’d made earlier. Exiting at Paddington, I had a good wander past canal barges and hospital construction to find my way around and back to the hotel. Swapping £10 for my bags, I returned to the station. With about an hour wait, and little open seating, I grabbed a seeded crusty baguette with tuna salad and cucumbers at Ritazza and sat at the table eating, journaling, and checking email. With a small bottle of water, I even managed to get the morning vitamins down.
Having been to the two small city cathedrals the prior evening, I was able to catch the earlier train to Exeter Saint David. In an unbooked seat on the aisle, I conversed with my seating companion, a woman from Canterbury on her way to Exeter, perhaps half the journey. On arriving, my Premier Inn lodgings were right across the car park