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Community detectives will bring 19th century Canonbury crypt to life

PUBLISHED: 13:33 09 May 2019

The Holy Trinity Church in Cloudesley Square.

The Holy Trinity Church in Cloudesley Square.

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Volunteer historical detectives are needed to help uncover the forgotten lives of people buried beneath a former Canonbury church.

From the left: Rebecca Preston (Consultant Historian), Susan Skedd (Volunteer Co-ordinator), Carole Patey (Project Fundraiser). Picture: Susan SkeddFrom the left: Rebecca Preston (Consultant Historian), Susan Skedd (Volunteer Co-ordinator), Carole Patey (Project Fundraiser). Picture: Susan Skedd

The Diocese of London (DoL) is running the The Places Where We Live project, which aims to animate the history of the former Holy Trinity Cloudesely Square church through an eclectic line-up of free walks, talks, an art project with New River College Primary school and an exhibition at Islington Museum.

The project, which has been awarded £46,700 by The National Lottery Fund, will run for the next two years - and it compliments plans to restore Grade-II listed building for communal benefit.

Tales from the Crypt is one strand of the initiative, which will see a social historian and volunteers team up to research the lives of people buried at the landmark building between 1829 and 1854.

Dr Susan Skedd, volunteer project co-ordinator, told the Gazette: "Essentially, I love to connect people with the past in the immediate streets they live and work in, and it's the old cliché: make history come alive.

Plan of the parish of St Mary Islington. Edward and Benjamin Baker, 1973. Picture: Islington Local History CentrePlan of the parish of St Mary Islington. Edward and Benjamin Baker, 1973. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

"It's about shedding light some light on what life was like for those residents of Barnsbury some 300 years ago.

"We've only been running for a week and 20 people have already said they're interested, so there's an appetite."

But Susan is urging even more Islingtonians to get involved, as she needs as many detectives as possible to work through the archives and unearth forgotten stories.

She said it's too early to give readers a taster of who's buried in the crypt, as the project is still in its infancy.

But this is what makes the projects so appealing to be a part of, says Susan. As there are 168 individuals whose lives are waiting to be discovered.

Volunteers will also learn more about what the general area was like during the 19th century, gaining insight into how life in "genteel suburban Canobury" has changed over the centuries.

The project hoped to build a "vivid picture of the neighbourhood", detailing how the streets and shop fronts have transformed.

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Susan added: "I think it's important because those lives are, at the moment, hidden from view. We don't know much, so it's your chance really be a historical detective.

"People might want to research the history of their house or street, or maybe why countless infants are buried in the crypt."

She said people of all skill sets can get involved, as training will be provided.

"Ultimately, it connects us with our history," said Susan. "Which I think is incredibly rewarding."

Sir Charles Barry, an architect who help redesign the Houses of Parliament in the 19th century, was also the creative force behind the neo-gothic Holy Trinity church, constructed between 1826 and 1829.

But more than a century later, by the 1970s, the church congregation began to dwindle. The site was leased to the Celestial Church of Christ from 1980 to 2017.

The building began to deteriorate and it was declared unsafe for public use, so was closed to the public by the DoL.

But the diocese hopes to raise £6million to renovate the down-at-heel Cloudesley Centre by 2020 - and it has already secured backing from Historic England, the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and City Bridge Trust.

Kevin Rogers, head of parish property support at the London Diocesan Fund, who will manage the project, said: "We are thrilled to have received this support thanks to National Lottery players and are confident the project will bring together diverse local communities to understand and celebrate the heritage of this important building."

The project is collaborating with a wide range of groups, including: Islington Heritage, Cloudesley Residents' Assocaition, the Cloudesely trust, Barsnbury Parish and Voluntary Action Islington.

Anyone interested in volunteering as a researcher and or curator for the exhibition at Islington Museum should send an email with the subject Cloudesley Centre to cloudesleyvolunteers@gmail.com.

In addition, a drop-in taster session will be held at Finsbury Library, St John Street, from 2pm to 5pm today (Thu).

In addition to that, there will also be a sessions at St Andrew's Church, in St Ann's Cafe, Thornhill Square, from 10am to 1pm on Saturday next week.

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