Between Persia and Paris

Sunday morning found me in Surbiton, Kingston-upon-Thames. St Raphael’s Church used to be considered Surrey’s only Italian Romanesque church, until, despite its postal address, it was brought within the boundaries of Greater London. Designed by the eminent architect Charles Parker, the building was commissioned in 1846 by Alexander Raphael, and completed two years later.

Raphael was born in Madras in 1775. His father was Edward Raphael, an Armenian Uniat Catholic merchant of Persian origin. The family had settled in India in 1745; in 1788, Edward was one of the co founders of the Carnatic Bank. Following the death of his wife Mary, Edward decided to take some of his children to England to complete their education. They set sail on the Prince William Henry; but before they reached England, Edward too had died, and his children were orphans.

By 1834, Alexander had been elected Sheriff of London, the first Roman Catholic to hold the post since the Reformation. (The Roman Catholic Relief Act had been passed in 1829.) Tradition says that in the mid 1840s, during a serious illness, Alexander made a vow to Our Lady that if he recovered he would build a church. Having recovered, he kept his word; however, the story goes that he refused to pay his physician, Dr Roots, on the grounds that the source of his recovery was non-medical. He was 75 when he died on 17th November, 1850. Despite Alexander’s attempts to delay the blessing of the church, for fear that completion would herald his death, Dr (later Cardinal) Wiseman obtained access to the church for the purpose in the months before Alexander Raphael’s demise.

In due course, the estate passed to his nephew Edward who, in accordance with Alexander’s wishes, opened the church to the public as the first Catholic place of worship in Kingston since the Reformation.

Emperor Napoleon III’s widow, the Empress Eugenie, lived at the sixty bedroomed Coombe Cottage (now apartments) in Coombe Lane West during 1881, and used St Raphael’s for worship while her new home in Farnborough was being prepared.

In 1968, the church came under threat of sale and probable demolition. Following a long campaign in the local and national press, the plans were abandoned in 1969. The church, regarded as one of the finest examples of Victorian Italianate architecture in the country, was given Grade II listing.

The church was dedicated and the altar consecrated in September 2012.

Philip Mansel writes in “A History of the French in London: liberty, equality, opportunity” (2013):

“In June 1800 Orleans and his brothers rented Highshot House in Twickenham (now destroyed), thus beginning their family’s long love affair with this London suburb, which lasted until the death there of Orleans’s descendant ex king Manuel of Portugal in 1932….in London Louis Philippe became half British and wholly counter revolutionary…Until after the Hundred Days he would send copies of his letters to Louis XVIII to the British foreign secretary…

…At Navarino in 1827 the French and British navies cooperated for the first time since the reign of Louis XIV…

…While “All the world” was said to be in Paris, in 1815-17 Orleans rented a house later known as Orleans House, in “dear old Twick”, to show his disapproval of Louis XVIII’s ultra royalist ministry in Paris. Since he had recovered his fortune in France, it was grander than Highshot House, with a garden on the Thames. His wife, Marie Amélie of Naples, found that London’s lack of monuments made it more like a large village than one of the first cities in Europe, but praised what she called the tranquillity of Twickenham, “far from the world and its intrigues”…

…Naturally Louis Philippe and his family chose England as their refuge after the revolution of 1848 in France. As “Comte de Neuilly”, he asked the Queen for the hospitality he had once enjoyed as Duc d’Orleans…

…He died on 26 August (1850)…

…Thereafter the widowed Queen Marie Amélie continued to live at Claremont (outside Esher)…

…The rest of her family and their households settled nearby in Richmond and Twickenham. They became the court suburb of the Orleans, as Chislehurst would be of the Bonapartes…

…In 1852 (the Duc d’Aumale) bought Orleans House…He gave fetes there to benefit the French Societe de Bienfaisance of London, and until his death in 1897 was president of the Twickenham Rowing Club…

…Marriages and funerals, for which hundreds specially crossed the Channel, helped the Orleans to remind France of their existence. The duchesse d’Orleans’s sons…were married…in St Raphael’s church, Kingston, in 1863 and 1864 respectively…(The Comte de Paris and his wife) settled in…York House, Richmond (now Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the only Orleans residence in the borough which has not been demolished)…On 24 August 1864 – the day before the feast of St Louis – the Comte and Comtesse de Paris made a grand entry into their new residence: the vicar read an address of welcome. There were flags, music, cheering schoolchildren, games, illuminations and fireworks.

The funeral of Marie Amélie on 3 April 1866 was far better attended than that of Louis Philippe in 1850…

…The Orleans returned to France when the laws of exile were repealed by Thiers’s government in 1871. Incredibly, they were passing through the corridor connecting Dover station and the Lord Warden Hotel, on 20 March, at exactly the moment that the ex-Emperor Napoleon III arrived there from his prison in Germany. The Empress Eugenie curtsied. The men passed by without a word, merely raising their hats. One exiled French court was going to London; another was leaving it.”.

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