At All Hallow’s Church, Savernake Road,  on the south eastern corner of Hampstead Heath, Father David Houlding started the business of decorating his church on Wednesday. Today, Sunday December 23rd, is ‘Advent IV,’ the fourth Sunday in Advent, and so the Anglo-Catholic churches of north London have only Christmas Eve to get almost everything else ready.

This year Father David has six very tall Christmas trees in the church, sourced from Hawkwell Farm in Essex.

The tradition of filling this huge perpendicular space with evergreens is his own, begun twenty five years ago.

Some years there have been many more, for as he says,’ I want people to come through the door and be amazed, I want people to be totally astonished. We live in an age of visual images, and what the church looks like speaks of the Christmas message.’

The crib will be finished on Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day  a mass of flowers will be brought in.



Meanwhile parishioners each labour at their appointed tasks, polishing and making everything beautiful with boughs of evergreen.

See the church in its finished glory on Christmas Day :

The church of St. Silas is only half a mile away as the crow flies. Its immediate surroundings changed for ever when the little terraced houses which it stood amongst were replaced with blocks of flats and windswept piazzas in the 1960s, but it is thriving.

Father Graeme Rowlands is the parish priest to this church and its neighbour, Holy Trinity with St. Barnabas. This will be the thirty-sixth consecutive year that he has erected a Christmas crib. His parishioner Anne Cargill who is also the cantor here, was helping, but the only opportunity was on Friday evening, under pools of electric light. When I arrived at 6 o’clock, Father Graeme was absent, ‘ironing the sky,’ and Anne was pinning moire silk to beautify the prie-dieu which would stand in front.

The midnight blue ‘sky’ is hung up and a star-beam of white with lace inserts is arranged in a drop. It takes some time. Then the pietà that usually stands here is respectfully moved to one side.

The stable floor goes down.

Straw, pampas grass to mask the corners and the crib figures come out of their cupboard and are dressed. The Virgin has three lace veils and three lace cloths line the Christ Child’s wicker crib just as each altar in the church is covered by three altar cloths, to symbolise the Trinity. The Infant Christ will be laid in his crib as Christmas Day comes in and Midnight Mass draws to a close on Christmas Eve.

Three different crowns were tried to find one that would stay on.

This morning before 11 o’clock mass everything was looking perfect.

But this is still ‘Advent IV,’ so it was just the ordinary Sunday mass.

At 12 o’clock the procession returns to the vestry …

where everybody disrobes and then hurries out to sing the Angelus, talk and exchange Christmas cards. The feeling of excitement and anticipation is palpable.

The names chalked up by the prebytery door – Kaspar, Balthassar and Melchior  – are renewed each year to mark  Epiphany on January 6th.  At St. Silas statuettes of the Three Wise Men will come forth from their dusty church cupboard then to worship the Christ Child in his crib and present their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Meanwhile in the light airy interior of St. Mark’s Church in Primrose Hill the altar girls snuff out the candles after the 10.30 Eucharist today

In the Lady Chapel a more modest crib is spotlit with an anglepoise

and the task of doing the Christmas flowers begins.

[All images : copyright ]