Rector Gordon Warren appointed first chaplain to the Dunkirk Little Ships

The Rev Gordon Warren bids farewell to Limehouse Church after 16 years

The Rev Gordon Warren bids farewell to Limehouse Church after 16 years - Credit: Archant

Gordon Warren is all at sea now he’s retiring after 16 years as Rector of Limehouse.

Outside Hawkesmoor's Limehouse church

Outside Hawkesmoor's Limehouse church - Credit: Archant

The son of a wartime naval lieutenant is taking up the honorary post of first chaplain to the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

A last look at the church he called 'home' for 16 years

A last look at the church he called 'home' for 16 years - Credit: Archant

He leaves this week for Ramgate when the Sailors’ Church in the Royal Harbour officially becomes the permanent museum for the little ships used in the 1940 Dunkirk evacuations.

Gordon arrived in London’s East End in 1998 from the leafy Sunbury-on-Thames with doubts at first.

“I had friends knocking on the door advising me not to move to Limehouse,” he admits.

“They were worried about bringing my wife to the East End with its bad reputation, including an ex-cop who had been stationed at Limehouse and advised me not to go.”

He had been shortlisted for the Anglican St George’s church in Paris, but had little idea about what to do at job interviews. So he applied for St Anne’s Limehouse, which also needed a vicar, just for the experience.

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“I was gobsmacked when I was offered the post,” he said.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing at the helm of the East End’s own “sailors’ church” since 1998, having the rough and tumble his Sunbury friends warned him about.

“A man tried to stab me 10 years ago,” he recalled. “I was also once chased in my dressing gown down the street in the middle of the night by a minicab driver with starting handle after I had asked him not to make so much noise when he sounded his car horn for a passenger at 3am.”

There was one “scary moment” walking through churchyard soon after he arrived when he was aware of footsteps approaching behind.

“Two big men came either side of me towered above looking down,” the 5ft 10ins vicar remembers. “One of the men said, ’Ere father, you’re alright—we’re looking after you’. What an East End welcome that was!”

Gordon was born in South Wales in the Second World War when his mother was evacuated. His father, now aged 92, was stationed at Milford Haven on Naval convoy duty on Corvettes, starting as an Ordinary Seamen and ending the war as First Lieutenant.

The seafaring tradition remains in the family with his married daughter a serving Royal Navy lieutenant. His first grandchild, just 18 months old, was christened appropriately Noah—born on the wettest day of the year in April, 2012, when the heavens just opened.

“The East End is a wonderful, vibrant part of London,” Gordon tells you. “It has so many different groups, but all get on and accept each other.

“I have an amazing congregation of every socio-economic class, from GPs to the Trolley Man walking the streets with all his possessions in a supermarket trolley, people of all colours—it’s like a box of Liquorice Allsorts.”

On his watch was the launch of the Docklands Sifonia in 2009 which rehearses and performs at the church.

“We got the orchestra started because of a lack of culture in the area,” he explained. “The district was bereft of good music and kids never heard any of it. The orchestra’s Spencer Down described it as ‘a cultural dessert’.”

The 18th century Hawkesmoor heritage church in Three Colt Street is perfect for performances such as the Benjamin Britten 100th anniversary concert on November 22, with children’s author and illustrator James Mayhew creating on-stage drawings to go with the music.

Gordon also “launched” the floating church in Canary Wharf, St Peter’s in West India Quay, a converted Dutch Barge brought from The Netherlands in 2003 that now attracts Sunday evening congregations of 90 worshippers.

The 67-year-old vicar is not totally severing his adopted East End connections, but is coming back regularly as governor of Cyril Jackson school in Limehouse and as chaplain to the Gold & Silver Wyre Drawers livery company in the City which gives £200,000 to charity every year.

His last duty at St Anne’s would have been today’s 11am Remembrance, but he was asked to take the service instead aboard HMS Belfast, the battleship museum moored by Tower Bridge.

St Anne’s itself had underpinning 20 years ago to the tower which had no proper foundations. Contractors went down 200ft with support rods till they found hard soil.

But the Rector has received a letter from Crossrail saying they are tunnelling next year from Canary Wharf to Whitechapel and will be burrowing under the church foundations—at precisely 200ft!

“I’ll leave the next rector to worry about it,” Gordon smiled. He’s off to Kent to minister to the Little Ships of Dunkirk.