I make no secret of the fact that I’m a little obsessed with the Lighthouse Church on Markhouse Road. Stranded miles away from the nearest bit of coast line, this magnificent building looks like it ran aground in terrible storm and decided to stay. My love affair with the Lighthouse has always been one sided, I have written about it, taken photographs of it and admired its lantern topped tower from afar. But that all changed at the weekend, I got invited inside and wandered through some of its most cobwebby corners.
This story starts with a calender created by local artist Emma Scutt. She Painted the Lighthouse to include in her Walthamstow calendar and my other half bought me the original painting as a surprise present. Emma started talking with the team at the Lighthouse and arranged for us to have a private tour of the building and a trip up the tower. I remember when she messaged me and asked if I would be interested in going on the tour with her, I nearly exploded with excitement. We had to wait until the 14th of June for our tour so I had to keep my excitement under check. When the day arrived, I took the very short walk from home and met Emma outside the church. I waited years to go inside this local landmark, and I wasn’t disappointed by our tour.
We were met at the door by Eunice who handed us over to our tour guide Charles. He explained that the building had changed significantly since it was built in 1893. Originally the church was one large space with a balcony providing further seating above the ground floor. The layout was changed and the balcony filled in to create a solid floor, downstairs was carved up into smaller meeting rooms and the sanctuary was moved up to the top floor. It was in the sanctuary, on the former balcony, that our tour started. I was generally taken back by how simple, but beautiful this chapel space is. The dark wood pews are original and face a stained glass window which is on permanent loan to the church. Interestingly, the stained glass window is on an internal wall, so it is illuminated by an electric light behind the leaded glass. The architecture gives the history of this upper level away, mouldings on the walls and ceilings showing that this was once one huge space.
Charles showed us around some of the smaller rooms on the upper level and then asked “Would you like to go up the tower”. Both Emma and I nodded enthusiastically so Charles led us to the door that would lead us up through the old tower to the glass lantern at the top. The tower is navigated by a series of ladders, each leading to trap doors that open up in to small dusty rooms. Each room in turn gets narrower as the tower tappers toward the the lantern. Its air to say that both of us were a little nervous of the ancient wooden ladders, but we stuck it and climbed ever closer to the summit of the Lighthouse tower.
Climbing past small windows and vents that give fleeting glances of Markhouse Road, gripping on to ancient timbers covered in nearly two hundred years of dust. We followed Charles up the tower and through history, we passed a former lantern and the now discarded motor that in former years made the light at top rotate. Finally we reached the top of the windmill like structure and took it in turn to pop in to the glass lantern and take in the view. The Olympic Park, City, Marshes, Alexandra Palace and the wide expanse of Walthamstow can be seen. Charles told us that on a clear day Shooter Hill and the London eye are also visible, but they were hiding behind the London haze during our tower climb. Concious that we were monopolising the time of the Lighthouse Team, we slowly made out way back down the creaking ladders, picking up coating of ancient dust as we went. Passing back through the trap doors and timbers, descending back to ground level under the watchful gaze of our tour guide.
It was an incredible honour to get such a personalised tour of this incredible local landmark, to see what lurks behind its thick walls and inside its brick tower. So thanks to Eunice, Emma and Charles for giving me the chance to see it. After our tour, Eunice told us that she is really keen to get more people using the building and get the wider community involved in it. The Lighthouse is more than a landmark and more than a church, it is a community asset. So what do you reckon? how could we get involved and make more of this fantastic and unusual space?