The Glass Church is an astonishing, sublime masterpiece. But in the very beginning, in the place where the mill brook flowed into the open sand dunes of St Aubin’s Bay, there was just an empty field. It was on 17 February 1840 that this was purchased by the Rectors of St Lawrence and St Peter for the fine total of 62 pounds, 8 shillings and sixpence. They had purchased a vergée of land for the express purpose of “building a chapel of ease, to celebrate divine worship following the rites of the Anglican church”.
The fledgling church is mentioned, just in passing as a landmark, in guidebooks from the 1840s. So in the Victorian age before the glass, before the masterpiece, there was just a nondescript chapel with a mixed school attached, to serve the burgeoning community of Millbrook. So let us begin the story of St Matthew’s Church as the headmaster’s logbook opens in the distant Jersey summer of 1894.
Photo Source: The IslandWiki
It was an age of transition. In 1894, the British Empire was at its zenith, but the world was changing fast. This was the year that Gladstone relinquished the keys to Downing Street for the last time. Thomas Spencer decided to join his friend Michael Marks in a new retail venture. Meanwhile, a vigorous Nottingham entrepreneur named Jesse Boot, at the height of his powers, opened a swathe of his eponymous chemists’ stores across the Midlands. Death duties were passed into law on the mainland, the first of the New Liberal social reforms that would eventually transform the old Victorian order.
Steam locomotives, the marvel of the modern world, now snaked across the coasts of old Jersey, Where Victoria Avenue abruptly ended and petered out into the sandy scrubland, Millbrook railway station stood at the heart of the bay, a stone’s throw from the church and the school.
The St Matthew’s school logbook, painstakingly completed by the incumbent head teacher for 26 years, is a treasure trove of insight into the hard times of a scrappy, struggling school, clinging to the skirts of its mother church, striving to educate generations in this harsh land where the sand dunes met the potato fields.
From the forthcoming guidebook to St Matthew’s Glass Church (2015)