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London vicar’s advert for lodger begins ‘bizarre’ chain of coincidences

17 June 2022

JOHN SALMON/GEOGRAPH/COMMONS

St Thomas’s, Kensal Rise, London

St Thomas’s, Kensal Rise, London

A CHAIN of events relating to the vicarage in Kensal Town has resulted in an “utterly bizarre” discovery for the Vicar, the Revd Sam McNally-Cross, and his household.

The old St Thomas’s, Kensal Town, west London, was destroyed in a bombing raid in the Second World War, and replaced when sufficient funds had been raised. It was consecrated in 1957. A large vicarage was later attached to the new church building, on part of the footprint of the old church.

The parish, at the heart of the Notting Hill Carnival, is one of the most deprived in the country. Since his arrival in 2017, Fr McNally-Cross has rented out rooms to people either new to London and at an early stage of their career, or those, such as nurses or teachers, doing a worthwhile job for a low rate of pay. The rent is modest, and goes entirely to the parish.

“My philosophy is that I am provided with generous housing, the parish is hugely impoverished, and London is a hard city to live in,” he says. “The parish benefits and [the lodgers] get somewhere to live so that they can enjoy this wonderful city.” He is currently trying to make the garden sustainable, and three quails have joined the household, too.

The response to an advert he put out for a vacant room, when a lodger of several years was preparing to move on, drew 48 applications, from which they shortlisted seven. He avoids mentioning in an advert that the house is a vicarage — “I get some strange individuals if I do.” Simon was a late applicant, but they liked the sound of him, and added him to the list. He was the second they interviewed, and they decided to offer him the room.

The coincidences began with the random discovery that friends of friends knew Simon, who “turned out to be the boss of my friend’s housemate”. Fr McNally-Cross and the household invited him round before he moved in, and surprised him by filling the house with people he knew. But the bizarre discovery came the following week, after Simon had visited his parents and told them where he was moving to.

His father had never mentioned anything to his son about where he himself had been brought up, but said that he knew the area. He then recognised the name of the road, and further identified the house as the vicarage where he had been brought up, and where he had lived until 1974, when he was 18.

His father, Simon’s grandfather, turned out have been Fr Lewis, a priest of St Thomas’s, and the one under whose supervision the new church had been built. “There have been seven priests, only one of whom had a family here,” Fr McNally-Cross said. “His name appears on lots of things. I found Simon’s father’s baptism record, and the record of the first baptism his grandfather did here, back in 1954.

“He was the second-longest-serving priest in the parish. It was a very small daughter church, and ran through priests very quickly, but he was here for 20 years.”

Simon is now living in what has been identified as his grandfather’s room, in the knowledge that his great-grandfather also lived at the vicarage for a spell while being cared for by the family. “The chances are utterly bizarre, and really quite spooky,” Fr McNally-Cross said. “It’s a lovely cyclical thing.”

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