Back to Britain, Part 6

Anglican Church Service, Royal Gardens at Kew

June 10-25, 2003 (Updated Dec. 3, 2003)



1. London revisited

6.  Royal Gardens at Kew

11. Tate Gallery at St. Ives

2. Dolphin Square Hotel

7.  Tate Britain, Riverwalk

12. Eden Project, Heligan

3. London Eye, Piccadilly

8.  Greenwich Naval Museum

13. Rainy day in Cornwall

4. V&A, Tower of London

9.  Roman baths at Bath

14. Land’s End, Penzance

5. Queen Troops the Colours

10. St. Ives’ Trewinnard Hotel

15. To Gatwick and home


Index to 46 Photos


By Lewis Nolan

Return To Nolan Travels Home Page


June 15, 2003, Sunday – In London


We were again greeted by a beautiful day with lots of sunshine, blue sky and a predicted high of 81 degrees. That’s rather warm by London standards. But open windows and a large fan in our flat at the Dolphin Square made our non-air conditioned quarters reasonably comfortable. Visitors a month or so later were not so lucky when record temperatures hit and passed the 100-degree mark in England and on the Continent. Thousands of elderly people died.

Betty by conservatory at Royal Gardens at Kew
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I put on pressed khakis, a blue blazer and a white golf shirt and walked a block to the Pimlico Saint Savior’s Anglican Church of England to attend the Sunday morning worship service. I was curious about how the Anglican faith conducts its business. Betty stayed back to read and poke around the Dolphin Square gardens.


I learned that this day was Trinity Sunday and that the Anglican Church operates in a monolithic manner. Every church in the denomination conducts pretty much the same  service on any given Sunday. The priests have latitude regarding the content of their pulpit messages but the general theme is set by the denomination’s Book of Common Worship. Today’s regime called for “Order1: Eucharistic Prayer B, Year A.”


The Pimlico church is about 150 years old. It is weathered on the outside and dark on the inside. It has a tall steeple, is made of stone blocks and is decorated with stained glass windows. Inside, the altar area is separated from the congregational pews by a decorative railing.  Inside and out, it looks like a small version of a traditional Roman Catholic Church. Of course, the Anglican Church grew out of the Roman Church. England had been a Catholic country from the Norman Conquest of 1066 until the 16th Century, when Henry VIII had a falling out with the Pope.


In 1527, Henry pursued a divorce from Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn. However, Pope Clement VII denied him an annulment. Two years later, the English Church separated from Rome, allowing Henry to marry Anne in 1533.


Becoming head of the Church of England represented one of Henry's major achievements. The takeover by the king of the country’s official religion had wide-ranging consequences. Henry’s power was greatly enlarged by the transfer to the crown of the wealth of the monasteries and by the imposition of new clerical taxes. Many staunch Catholics, including St. Thomas More, were killed because they refused to accept the new order. That conflict still echoes in Northern Ireland five centuries later. Ironically, Henry VIII grew tired of Anne, and in 1536 she was executed for adultery. 


Much of the liturgy, trappings and organizational hierarchies of the two denominations remain closely aligned. The principal difference is that the Church of England does not recognize the supremacy of the Pope. Its cleric-in-chief is the Archbishop of Canterbury.


As is increasingly common in the mainline Protestant churches in the United States, attendance at this Sunday morning service was thin. There were about 75 people present, perhaps one-fifth of the sanctuary’s capacity. Like our own Evergreen Presbyterian Church in midtown Memphis, most of those gathered to worship were elderly.


The church operates an adjacent kindergarten school, so is obviously reaching out to the neighborhood. I fit right in with blazer and golf shirt, sans necktie. I didn’t see any men wearing business suits or any women wearing “Sunday best.” The casual dress was in sharp contrast to suits and dressy dresses most Evergreeners wear at their Sunday morning service. However, the Anglican rites and style of worship is far more formal than that practiced in the mainline Presbyterian USA churches like Evergreen.


To the full voice of a big organ, the service got underway with the singing of “Introit Hymn NEH 343” and a procession of five Anglican priests. Four wore white robes; one was a black man who carried a large, golden cross that mounted on a long, wooden pole. Another priest vigorously swung an incense burner the size of a railroad lantern, filling the sanctuary with the sweetly pungent fragrance of a 1960s hippie hangout. The

senior priest, or vicar, wore a yellow robe. 


To my amazement, the vicar was accompanied by a young Labrador. The dog and priest were tethered a leash six or so feet long. The yellow Lab was obviously a familiar fixture at services; he worked both sides of the aisle like a practiced politician on election day. Smiling parishioners obliged him by petting his head and scratching behind his ears. The Vicar appeared to be 75-to-80 years old and obviously is beloved by his parishioners.


I was equally amazed at the number of priests compared to the number of people in attendance, a ratio of about 1-to-15. It didn’t look like the parish generates much income.. The church program included a statement that only £329 had been donated the previous Sunday; another £950 had come in from “hall lettings.” That plus a modest amount of other reported income for the week from the church gift shop, parochial fees and a raffle amounted to about $2,000.


So where does the money to pay all that staff come from? Once we returned home, I put that question to a golfing pal who grew up in England before emigrating to America. He told me that the Church of England is immensely wealthy. It has been bequeathed a great many fortunes over the centuries and now owns some of the most expensive real estate in England, which combined with other investments generates a lot of cash income. Indeed, I read somewhere that Anglican Bishops expect to live like and be paid on a par with  their wealthiest members.


Betty in herb garden in Kew
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Once the priestly procession completed its slow walk to the altar, the Lab disappeared and the congregation turned its attention to worship. Following are the high points of the Trinity Sunday service:



Only a few parishioners took advantage of the cushions to kneel at the appropriate times of prayer. Maybe it was the age factor. There were several hundred hand-crocheted cushions hanging on hooks at the back of every long, wooden pew. I didn’t see any two with identical crochet or cross-stitch patterns although many incorporated various forms of the Cross. No telling how old the cushions are. The same goes for the pews; mine creaked whenever anybody moved.


It was a long service, taking about an hour and a half. I was glad I attended. Later, I reflected on how stupid Pope Clement VII had been to let an entire country – then one of the most powerful in the world – get away from the Roman Catholic Church. Rather than seek a way to accommodate Henry VIII, he played the 16th Century version of hard ball. He had the figurative ball it stuffed up his papal throne when the King sized all the Catholic property in England and threatened to deport or kill Catholics who wouldn’t convert to the new order.


Here is what Britannica has to say about Clement:

“The illegitimate son of Giuliano de' Medici, he was raised by his uncle Lorenzo de' Medici. In 1513 he was made archbishop of Florence and cardinal by his cousin Pope Leo X. He commissioned art from Raphael and Michelangelo. A weak and vacillating political figure mainly interested in advancing Medici interests, Clement allied with France in 1527, which led to Emperor Charles V's sack of Rome. Clement's indecisiveness complicated Henry VIII's request for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.”


Had Clement found a way to let Henry out of his sonless marriage – as do many priests today who quietly annul marriages that are not working – perhaps the Reformation might not have taken Western Europe by storm. And perhaps the countries that were formed out of onetime British colonies – chiefly the United States, Canada and Australia – would be largely Catholic today instead of Protestant.


This is deep stuff. I must consult my fellow members of the Men’s Bible Class back home, who will surely remind me that Martin Luther was a contemporary of Henry VIII and that the endemic corruption in the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages and afterward doomed it to upheaval anyway.


Here is what Britannica has to say about Martin Luther: “In 1517 he posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. In 1521 he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X, the target of many of his reproaches, and under a storm of criticism he took refuge in the Wartburg. There he translated the Bible into German, in order that the common people would thenceforth be able to read it; his superbly vigorous translation has long been regarded as the greatest landmark in the history of the German language. He later returned to Wittenberg, and in 1525 he married a former nun, Katherina von Bora, with whom he raised six children. Though his preaching was the principal spark that set off the Peasants' War (1524-26), his vehement denunciation of the peasants contributed to their defeat. His break with the papacy led to the founding of the Lutheran Church.”


One of my longtime hobbies is genealogy. My own family has been influenced by the great schism in the 16th Century that divided Christianity into Catholic and Protestant.


Readers of my book, “Nolan-Miller Family History” (for summary information see a companion website at may remember that the Nolans were Irish Catholics who emigrated to the U.S. in 1843. The Millers were Pilgrims who emigrated to America in 1640 and were among the founders of Springfield, Mass. My grandfather, Lewis Elmer Nolan was born a
Lewis by Dali sculpture at Kew
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Catholic. But after a dispute with a Wisconsin priest, his mother left the church and raised him and one other of her four children outside the church. That duality of religious upbringing led to a Catholic branch of the Nolans and a Protestant branch of the Nolans.


Protestant Lewis Elmer Nolan married Bertha Orpha Miller, a descendant of the Pilgrims and a member of the New England-based Congregational Church, in 1901. Their descendants are all Protestants of one denomination or another. My wife, son and I happen to be Presbyterians simply because an appealing church of that denomination was close to our former home in Memphis.


I got the feeling that religion is more important (proportionately) in the lives of a great many Americans than it is to the English. Their churches are much older. But ours are better attended and supported. Or at least those back home in the buckle of the Bible Belt  seem to be.


After a tasty lunch of sliced ham from the Dolphin Square’s deli served on Irish brown bread bought at Harrod’s, Betty and I rode the tube and train to the distant suburb of Kew and its magnificent gardens. The ride took nearly an hour. We had nice views of London’s sprawl and surrounding countryside once the Metro got above ground. We were riding on all-day, off-peak tube passes, which we had purchased for £9. That was the best deal since our 10-ticket “carnet” was only good in Central London.


We found Kew’s 300 acres of gardens and huge conservatories to be much more impressive this time around. Maybe it was so appealing to us now because a great many plants are in full bloom in mid-June. We were here 17 years ago in late July and wondered what all the talk was about. Or maybe the grounds are being kept better. Or maybe as we’ve matured we have gained more appreciation of what it takes in terms of effort and resources to make a truly beautiful garden show its best.


The gardens are simply exquisite, carefully manicured and a feast for the eyes. The Fodor’s Citypack guide ranks them the No. 1 attraction in London. Fodor describes them as “the mother of all botanical gardens,” with wild thickets, flower beds, lakes, ponds and paths. There are seven magnificent greenhouses and more than 60,000 species of plants. One of the towering, glass pavilions is more than 100 years old. It was once the largest glass building in the world.


 The massive beds of roses were a special treat for us, as were the neat, vegetable gardens planned and maintained by botany/garden management students. Every year, 17 fortunate students from around the world are carefully selected for a year of advanced studies at Kew. How’s that for a resume builder? Competition for the few spots is keen.


We also enjoyed the newest addition, the Princess of Wales Conservatory. It is a modernist structure that recreates a tropical jungle in lavish detail – complete with piped in birdcalls and sprays of mist. It was built as a memorial to the late Diana Spencer, former wife of Prince Charles and mother of his two children. The conservatory contains 10 different climatic zones, with plants ranging from tiny orchids to the giant waterlily. Of special interest to many visitors is a fascinating display of carnivorous plants.


The Royal Gardens at Kew got their start in 1759 when the mother of King George III (he was on the receiving end of the Declaration of Independence of 1776 and ensuing American Revolution) planted nine acres around one of the royal family’s several palaces. The Pagoda, Orangery, Ruined Arch and three temples were soon added. Later, George III expanded them to their present size and Sir Joseph Banks (head gardener who had traveled with Captain Cook) planted the gardens with specimens gathered by Britain’s Navy around the world. The Royal Family gave the gardens to the nation in 1841.


The British dearly love gardens and Kew is No. 1 in popularity. On most days, thousands of Londoners (nearly all of whom live in flats or condos with no yard) come to Kew to walk the well-tended paths, to sun, to nap on blankets spread out over the soft grass under shade trees and to picnic. There were people of all ages and nationalities enjoying the gardens –
Lewis by townhomes near Royal Gardens
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mirroring the multicultural face of London. Of course, Americans also love their gardens and public parks. But unlike at home, the big parks and gardens we’ve visited in England have no ball fields, places to fish or equipment rentals. The beauty of flowers and grass in large open spaces seems to be enough to satisfy the English. We Americans want that, too, plus some action.


While considered part of Greater London, the town of Kew seems to be a very upscale suburb for the wealthy. Homes with tiny front yards used as parking space sell for $1 million and they aren’t “biggie size.” We didn’t see one that had over 3,000 square feet. Expensive Jags, Mercedes and the like were parked in the stubby driveways on the ritzy street between the train station and main entrance to the Royal Gardens.


We did a lot of walking at Kew, with timeout for a nice lunch inside the Orangery. I was tired when we got back to the hotel, where a well-meaning concierge gave us some bad information about business hours at Sea Fresh Restaurant. We had been told it had been rated one of the top fish-and-chips places in London.


Although foot-weary, we walked a good mile from the Dolphin Square toward Victoria Station only to find that Sea Fresh is closed on Sundays. On the trudge back, we decided to try for a table at Grumbles, where we’d had an excellent meal earlier in the week. We were delighted to see that Jeff and Angie Martinez had taken our advice and were eating there. An adjacent table was available and we had a fine time eating and talking with our new friends. We swapped our adventures de jour while Betty dined on chicken and me on lamb.


Once back at the hotel, we watched a live telecast of the U.S. Open golf tournament underway in a Chicago suburb. The lateness of the broadcast was due to the six-hour time difference between London and the American Midwest.


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