By Bridget Grosvenor
St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, opened its doors for the first time on 2 July 1872. It was built to accommodate the flourishing congregation which had outgrown the church on Ainger Road that served the boys’ home on Regent’s Park Road. This year the community is preparing to celebrate the church’s 150th birthday.
The occasion will be marked in all sorts of ways. For example, there is Grow the Wonder, an ambitious fundraising project to help update the interior of the church so that it can be used as both a place of worship and a space where local groups can meet and the youth work be supported. There is also Chris Kitching’s excellent, recently published book, A Church and its People, about the history of St Mary’s. Thirdly, there is the kneeler project, set up to make ten beautiful kneelers to replace the rather saggy-looking ones made forty years ago.
The inspiration for this project came from Anna Pearson, a needlepoint designer and an active member of the congregation at St Mary’s, who has lived in Primrose Hill for the last 18 years. Anna has taught and designed needlepoint for over 45 years. Inspiration for her designs comes from beautiful things that she finds on her travels around the world.
Anna found a group of willing stitchers (myself included) and gave us canvas, wool and instructions for producing a kneeler. Some of us had plenty of experience and others very little, so weekly stitching sessions were organised where the stitchers could come to work together and get advice from Anna. We could then compare progress and get help with any problems before they became too serious. Each piece takes hours and hours of patient work, so it was helpful to meet regularly to keep the momentum going. What is brilliant about a joint endeavour like this is how it brings people together. As we sat around the table diligently stitching, stories were told and friends were made.
The designs for the St Mary’s kneelers are based on elements that Anna found in the church. The repeated circles on the top of the kneelers reflect the outlines of the metal grate which covers the old underfloor heating system. The shape of the floor tiles influenced the pattern around the sides of the kneelers. For those of the group who have been bitten by the needlepoint bug, Anna has designed a kit to make a needlepoint cushion using stitches and patterns from the kneelers.
Several of the canvases are now complete, ready to be made up into the finished article; they do look beautiful, and the replacement kneelers will renew the splendour of the chapel at St Mary’s. But something else important has been created in the stitching of them: new friends.