This large and heroic wooden effigy of St Michael slaying the dragon has stood against a Nave column on its pedestal facing the West door of St Michael’s Camden since the dark days during the outbreak of War.
The September 1939 parish magazine states that the church’s memorial to Fr Davis was to be a large statue of St Michael, given by Mrs Davis in memory of her husband. It was to be dedicated on the Eve of the Festival of St Michael at the first Evensong of the Patronal Festival at 8pm. It added “The statue is a very beautiful one and is being made by the Faith Craft-Works. It will stand in front of the second pillar on the right hand side of the Nave.”
The statue was probably designed by William Wheeler, although William Lawson and Ian Howgate are also possible candidates and its execution is clearly very highly accomplished.
Sadly, having defied Hitler, St Michael’s effigy recently suffered at the hands of a vandal who destroyed the sword and it was for the purpose of carving a replacement based on photographs that we were called in.
Once at our workshop which is situated next door to another St Michael’s church, but in the Welsh Marches, it was plain to us that the statue should only be returned in its original former glory. This would involve much more than the carving of a sword and a quick clean and thankfully this approach was agreed to by church the committee headed by Fr Michael.
The removal of dirt and brown scumble revealed not just paint but large areas of silver leaf, faux leaf and real gold leaf which all needed careful and paistaking cleaning and reapplying. The wings and armour are entirely finished in gold and silver leaf.
Gilder Rainey Dillon at the Workshop
A Carved and Gilt Wing
One can only guess why this glorious work had been subdued, but witnessing the many runs in the overpaint it appears to have been a very rushed job indeed. With the very real threat of an impending invasion, perhaps the churchwardens were hoping that it might be overlooked or at least undervalued by the Nazi agressors. The statue would certainly have been difficult to take down and hide in a hurry.
Or less dramatically it may simply have been a matter of say, 1950’s taste or of religious correctness as happened in previous centuries.
Thankfully our work was certainly very well received by the congregation presently at St Michael’s, Camden Town.
Discoed, November 2019