I’ve spent many hours in Hampstead Cemetery, but there’s always something new to be found…

Today I discovered the tomb of Reverend Charles James Fuller, founder and Vicar of St. Mary’s Church, Primrose Hill.

Curiously, information about Rev Fuller has not been as forthcoming as one might expect. However, I have discovered that he appeared to be something of a rebel, “a Tractarian who led worship in the High Church style, with decidedly Catholic approaches to teaching”.

St Mary’s, where Rev Fuller was vicar, has its origins in Christian social action. In 1865 two Hampstead businessmen apparently “moved by the sight of starving children on street corners” opened a home for destitute boys, in Regents Park Road, where Fuller was Chaplain.

“St. Mary’s became alive with the conviction that the Catholic faith must play its full part in every aspect of daily life, not limited to the narrow confines on Sunday worship only.”

Services in their iron church in Ainger Road proved so popular, it outgrew its premises! In 1867 Eton College gave St. Mary’s a site for larger church, with a patronage of 7 trustees including provost of Eton and Vicar of Hampstead. A new brick church next to Primrose Hill itself was built, and opened for worship in 1872.

However, check out these notes on the Catholic leaning worship at St. Mary’s from History of Middlesex County (1899) “Despite enthusiastic crowds, consecration of a permanent church was refused by John Jackson, Bishop of London, on grounds of ritualism.”Rev Fuller was threatened with legal action under the Public Worship Regulation Act, which led him to “tone down his more elaborate ceremonial”.

Further protestations in 1877 led to “the suppression of sung celebrations and most ornaments, but ritualism was restored after consecration by Jackson’s successor 1885.”

It was with the recruitment of Frederick Temple as Bishop of London that the high approach to liturgy was resumed.

Ironic that during Fuller’s time the vivacious ceremony had to be downplayed – St. Mary’s later found fame as the church where Ralph Vaughan Williams, Martin Shaw, and then Vicar, Percy Dearmer compiled and first performed The English Hymnal.

Sources: The History of the County of Middlesex Vol. 9, and, Percy Dearmer Revisited by Jared C. Cramer.

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