Nairn’s London #14
St Barnabas, Shacklewell Ln
THEN: It takes some finding, but is worth it. In Shacklewell Row, off Shacklewell Lane, and hidden behind the church hall. Even then the outside is just a big plain stock-brick building, like a warehouse. The inside is the best church of its date in London, sure in its domed and barrel-vaulted spaces, incredibly fresh in its detail, concrete and exposed yellow brick. England could so easily have stepped across to modern architecture from here, instead of relapsing into an eclectic fog. This is the kind of quintessential classical composition that Lutyens tried for and never had the integrity to achieve. Only the big, gaudy Adamesque screen jars: everything else is pure space, or rather, something better – pure space charged with feeling.
NOW: Still just as hard to find. And once found, hard to get inside too. It took four trips before I managed to visit; when I finally saw the space, I was more overcome with relief than awe. Nonetheless, St Barnabas has something. Wist described it as a church she could ‘imagine herself going to’ – in part due to the friendly vicar, but mostly because it has a character like few other churches. Warm and open, grand but not intimidating, a sanctuary just a short stroll away from the freneticism of Kingsland High St. Well worth a visit. Or four.