An English-speaking community
at the heart of the French Riviera

St. Michael’s Church, Beaulieu-sur-mer

 1894-Present

Drove to Beaulieu. Alas! my last charming drive in this paradise of nature, which I grieve to leave, as I get more attached to it every year.

Queen Victoria’s entry in her diary for 1 May 1899 is expressive of the feelings of so many of her subjects, who returned year after year to spend their English winters in a balmier clime and amidst an abundance of flowers. The tablets in St. Michael’s Church bear eloquent witness to their colonisation of this coast. The earliest Anglo-Saxon settlers of the 1870s, like George and Sarah Baird in 1878, had found little more here than a small fishing village surrounded by olive groves; but the opening up of the coast road, and the arrival of the railway in the previous decade, had cleared the way for other visitors, who stayed at the only hotel, Le Beaulieu, before buying land from local smallholders and starting to building imposing villas in a place which was still without electricity or even a water supply.

Baird[1] The Bairds were swiftly followed by other families: one was that of Henry (later Sir Henry) Samuelson M.P. (1845-1937), whom ill health had obliged to resign his seat and seek in 1885 the bracing air of Beaulieu, which enabled him to live another fifty years and die aged over ninety; another was the pioneering railway engineer and steel magnate James Livesey (1831-1925), inventor among other things of the switch-point and of the newspaper folding machine: he also lived beyond ninety. They established themselves for the winters in villas designed for them by the Niçois architect A. Messiah and erected by the local Saint-Jean builder Toussaint Giuge. Around this nucleus new hotels clustered – the Hôtel des Anglais and Bond’s, founded by the Bairds’ former butler John Bond – which accommodated families bold enough to face the thirty-three hour train journey, and who in their turn looked for new building plots on the olive-clad slopes, where Samuelson and Livesey had built their appropriately named residences La Montagne and Casa del Monte.

Typical of this influx was the British Prime Minister, the Marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903), who on taking office in 1885 found it convenient, as well as good for his uncertain health, to be near Queen Victoria on her regular visits to Cimiez. Staying first at the Hôtel Beaulieu, he gradually accumulated five hectares of land on the Colline des Serres, commissioned the trusty Toussaint Giuge to build him a villa and gardens there, and moved into La Bastide in 1892 with his wife and large family. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that during his three administrations lasting eleven years between 1885-1902 British foreign and domestic policy was for considerable periods directed from Beaulieu.

By the time in 1891 that Beaulieu became a separate, although tiny, commune of only 93 hectares and less than 500 souls, the British colony, whether seasonal or resident, was a dominant presence, which grew in size and influence up to the outbreak of the Great War. Although various tea-rooms and an English pharmacy had been provided for their physical comfort, they were obliged to travel as far as Nice or Monte Carlo for spiritual welfare: the question therefore arose of providing Anglican services in Beaulieu. The Bishop of Gibraltar, Dr. Charles Sandford (1828-1903), whose diocese included the Riviera and who lived at Cannes, was keen to expand the work of his see, and in the quarter century of his bishopric he built and consecrated over thirty churches; he was also concerned to shelter his flock from the new pernicious influence of the gambling houses of Monte Carlo, against which he had railed in a letter of 1876:

“Unless public authority interpose to arrest this growing evil, these bright, picturesque and genial shores of the Mediterranean will be condemned as unfit places of sojourn for English families.”

For a time the Anglican Berlugans were placed under the ægis of the chaplain of Nice, who travelled to minister to them, first in the Hôtel Beaulieu, then in the Hôtel des Anglais, and later in a temporary building on the site of the modern Square Marinoni. But in 1889 Samuelson raised the prospect of a permanent church with the Prime Minister, whose reply is preserved in the archives of St. Michael’s:

“20 Arlington St. SW. March 1 | 1889. Dear Sir, I have to acknowledge your letter of the 27th ult. I am hardly at present sufficiently acquainted with Beaulieu to express an opinion on the question you raise. But my impression is that there are not at present English residents enough in the place to sustain a Church. The distance from Nice is not very great, even by carriage; and I should imagine that the class of English householders who are likely to live there would  prefer to go to Nice for their Church service. But, as I said, I speak with very imperfect knowledge of the subject; but my interest in the matter is entirely prospective. Believe me, Yours faithfully, Salisbury. H.B. Samuelson Esq.”

sir_samuelson[1] Despite the Prime Minister’s reservations, by 1892 leading figures in the colony, such as Baird, Samuelson and Livesey, had resolved that the time had come to equip the growing village with a church of its own. The moving spirits were Samuelson himself and the Rev. John Otter Stephens (1832-1925), late of Brasenose College, Oxford, rector of Blankney in Lincolnshire and the future first seasonal chaplain of Beaulieu. Stephens had something of a reputation as a Victorian founder, having set up two hospitals in Wiltshire and Lincolnshire, and being about to found and endow in 1903 the church at Tooting Graveney, of which he was to be the first incumbent. The awkward problem of finding a site was solved when Livesey gave some land on the road leading up to the Vallon de la Muerta, overlooking Beaulieu. Over £1500 was raised from a group comprising Baird, Samuelson and Livesey, two local residents Mr. Wolffram and Col. Harry McCalmont M.P. (1861-1902), as well as Salisbury himself and his niece by marriage, Miss Mildred Beresford-Hope.

Thanks to these contributions, building could begin on this site in April 1893. Although the new chaplain Stephens chose a rising English architect, Temple Moore (1856-1920), he nonetheless opted for a design in keeping with local seventeenth-century Italianate churches, incorrectly described by contemporaries as the “Lombard style.” In fact the style was more Baroque than Lombard romanesque, comprising a portico, campanile, ionic nave, aisles and absidal chancel: this design is unusual for George Gilbert Scott’s pupil Moore, who in over eighty churches either built, extended or restored by him consistently chose Gothic. The first stage of building, carried out once again by the ever-present Toussaint Giuge under the supervision of A. Messiah, involved only nave and chancel, which cost £1078 and were completed by the end of the year.

On the Feast of the Epiphany of 1894, the battling Bishop of Gibraltar, Dr. Sandford, came to Beaulieu to dedicate St. Michael’s, whose construction had been financed entirely from the subscriptions of its congregation. But the generosity of the faithful was far from exhausted. Within a year of its consecration the church had been embellished with a fine marble altar, the gift of the Prime Minister’s niece; with items of plate; with a seventeenth-century marble font; with an antique carved wooden credence table, litany desk, lectern and reading desk, mostly of seventeenth-century date in keeping with the architecture. Within two years it had received a magnificent Spanish panel painting of the Crucifixion, a Renaissance wooden altar desk, and a fine fifteenth-century painted statue of the church’s patron saint defeating the dragon, of which a replica was soon to be placed outside on the façade.

And by 1897 these treasures had been supplemented further. Above the altar was placed a very striking painting of the Ascension commissioned from the contemporary Florentine artist Bellandi. The chancel had been enclosed by a carved oak screen, found by the chaplain in a London bric à brac dealer’s shop, “defiled,” according to a newspaper report, “by no less than seven coats of a villainous paint.” Once stripped of paint and restored it was found to be “a veritable triumph of artistic wood carving,” representing flowers, birds, cherubs heads and the Agnus Dei, and it has been thought to derive from the designs of the seventeenth-century French artist Jean Bérain. As to the nave, it had been adorned with a splendid seventeenth-century Italian carved oak pulpit, picked out in gilt, decorated with carved flowers and fruit and with panels bearing statuettes of the four Evangelists. All these rich furnishings, given by members of the congregation since the first dedication of the church, were consecrated by the Bishop of Gibraltar at a ceremony held on Easter Day 1897.

As the church was embellished, so the English presence in Beaulieu grew, with the arrival of figures like Dr. Henry Johnston-Lavis, professor of medicine at Naples University, vulcanologist and archæologist, who came to Beaulieu in 1895, built the Villa Lavis, and was soon put in charge of the new Queen Victoria Hospital at Mont Boron, founded by Salisbury and Samuelson. A prominent member of the congregation, Sir Blundell Maple M.P. (1845-1903), owner of Maple & Co. stores, financed the building of the massive Hôtel Bristol, which opened in 1899, and was to be the most fashionable resort of Edwardian Beaulieu. The churchwardens played an leading rôle in the nearby Bristol Tennis Club, founded in the same year under the presidency of Sir James Livesey, with Samuelson as vice-president, Johnston-Lavis as secretary, and the Chaplain of St. Michael’s as treasurer; this Club still flourishes today. And the Anglican community, in true ecumenical spirit, made a major financial contribution to the construction from 1897 of the new Catholic church in Beaulieu by the abbé Gilletta.

Congregations grew steadily larger, and when a service was held in St. Michael’s on the death of Queen Victoria it was only too apparent that the building was already too small. It was decided to complete the church as originally planned by Temple Moore, adding the aisles and the tower, so that the building could accommodate up to 300 worshippers. The work began in May 1903, thanks to funds given by Sir Henry Samuelson, Sir Blundell Maple, by the American newspaper magnate resident in Beaulieu, James Gordon Bennett, and by the ailing Lord Salisbury, who was not to live to see his church completed. The work was carried out within the year, and a consecration service was planned for December by the new Chaplain, Canon Oldfield, to be performed by the Bishop of Gibraltar, Dr. Sandford, who had officiated ten years before. However the ailing health of the Bishop and his eventual death caused a postponement and a change of plans.

The Archbishop of York, Dr. W.D. Maclagan (1826-1910), happened to be wintering on the coast at Bordighera. Permission was granted for him to perform the ceremony, which finally took place on 17 December 1903, with the assistance of local clergy from Anglican and Episcopalian churches in Nice and Monte Carlo. The event was recorded both in the local Anglo-American Gazette of 21 December 1903, and in Bennett’s own newspaper, the New York Herald, of 18 December 1903. Despite the misfortune of the Bishop’s sudden death, they reported, the gods seemed to smile on the occasion:

“Even the weather, which has been vile lately – one tropical rainstorm following another in well-nigh unbroken succession – assumed a more inviting aspect as though out of sympathy with the event, for the sun smiled cheerfully during the ceremony, filling the interior of the handsome little church with a mellow golden light.”

Throughout the morning visitors arrived by carriage, train and automobile, and some were invited to a lunch given in honour of the Archbishop by Samuelson at his villa La Montagne. A large congregation witnessed the consecration of the building, the font, the pulpit, the lectern and litany desk; the music was provided by the choir of the American Church in Nice, whose organist also inaugurated the newly installed two-manual organ, built by Norman & Beard, the gift of the churchwarden Sir Henry Samuelson. Following the service the English colony was invited to a large reception given at Bond’s hotel by Mrs. J.O. Stephens, wife of that first Chaplain of St. Michael’s,

“to whose energy and ardour and whole-souled perseverance [the church] owes its very existence.”

An later obituary notice pays testimony to the qualities of the founder of this Chaplaincy:

“Canon Stephens’ success was due to his own personal energy, his unfailing courtesy, his marked sense of humour, his stern code of honour, his charity to all men, his artistic temperament, and his very considerable scholarship.”

Despite the deaths of the founding generation of Salisbury, Sandford, McCalmont and Maple, the next three decades, with the interlude of the Great War, can be regarded as the heyday of St. Michael’s, which was a focal point of the life of the many British residents and visitors both in Beaulieu and later on the Cap Ferrat. Just before the War the church was fortunate to have a chaplain of artistic bent, Canon the Hon. B. Pleydell-Bouverie (1845-1926), who announced his hobbies as watercolour sketching and wood and marble carving, and who in the three winter seasons of his incumbency (1911-13) painted the rose-window in the West wall and executed the four plaster panels in the apse representing the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. As newspaper photographs of 1904 confirm, the interior appearance of the church, apart from two later gifts of chairs for the chancel, and the erection of memorial tablets, is substantially as it was in Edwardian times.

During the Great War much of the Anglo-American colony deserted the Riviera, and some of them, like Johnston-Lavis or J. Gordon Bennett, died before peace was restored. The passing of the Belle Époque did not however signal the decline of Beaulieu, which duly rose from its ashes after the Armistice: throughout the Twenties and Thirties the colony was large enough for the chaplains, Canon E.F.W. Eliot (1864-1943) and Canon H. d’Albertanson to need to put on two morning services each Sunday. The Church records show, for instance, that during the winter season of 1924 the congregation regularly exceeded 220. The musical traditions of Beaulieu were sustained by a succession of devoted organists such as Miss Buncher, at whose feet the local English infants learned their three Rs.

The hub of social activity was the circle of Arthur, Duke of Connaught (1850-1942), youngest son of Queen Victoria, who had visited the area with his mother and during his brother’s reign, but who, after the death of his wife, chose to spend his winters near Beaulieu. He bought the villa Les Bruyères on Cap Ferrat, and came there every year between 1920-1939, during which time he was a regular worshipper at St. Michael’s. He always arrived by train from London in time for the 11 November, where, after the Anglican service, he took part in the Armistice Day procession, in which the English colony joined with native inhabitants of Beaulieu in an act of commemoration at the War Memorial.

The Duke was instrumental in proposing that the Anglican Chaplaincy, formerly under the patronage of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, but now under that of the Gibraltar Diocesan Trust, should become a residential rather than a seasonal appointment, and that consequently accommodation for the Chaplain should be provided. A modest endowment of some £125 per year had been provided for the Chaplaincy in 1923 by a capital gift from Sir Henry Samuelson, but this was insufficient to buy a house for the Chaplain. Following an initiative from the Duke and from Col. E.H. Rivett-Carnac, late of the Indian Army, £1000 was raised towards the house in 1923-24 and a similar sum in 1924-25, the remaining £1000 being given by Samuelson, by far the most generous of the benefactors of St. Michael’s. With this money the Villa Batava was acquired in Boulevard Marinoni on behalf of the Gibraltar Diocesan Trust, and it served as the Chaplain’s house for over thirty years under its new name, Villa Saint-Michel.

During this period the churchwardens were drawn from prominent members of the colony. Sir Henry Samuelson had held this office since the building of the church in 1894, and continued until his death in 1937, having moved after the war from La Montagne to Salisbury’s former villa La Bastide. Col. F.T. Tristram, much decorated in the Great War, served as churchwarden until leaving Beaulieu in the 1930s after his wife’s death. Dr. Marcus de Lavis-Trafford (1880-1960), son of the former churchwarden Prof. Henry Johnston-Lavis, followed in his father’s footsteps in this role as well as in those of local archæologist and physician at the Queen Victoria hospital, to which he added that of doctor to the Duke of Connaught. He is remembered not only for his distinguished academic career but as a pioneer of winter sports in the French Alps, who listed among his pastimes mountaineering and chamois-stalking. He remained a pillar of St. Michael’s until his death in 1960; whilst his former secretary, Miss Norah Lawler, continued as churchwarden and secretary of the church council until her own death in her ninetieth year in 1985, bringing to an end over sixty years service to St. Michael’s.

During the Second World War many of the British either left or were interned: the by now elderly Chaplain, Canon d’Albertanson, found himself responsible for much of the Riviera region, setting out regularly from Beaulieu at five o’clock in the morning to visit his flock in Nice, Vence, Monte Carlo, or even Cannes, where the chaplaincies continued to attract sizeable congregations throughout the war. Towards the end of the war, on 5 August 1944, a stray bomb from an unidentified passing aeroplane fell through the ceiling of the sanctuary and did much damage without actually exploding. The church archives include photographs of the gaping hole in the roof, showing the altar miraculously undamaged; the apse has been successfully restored.

After the War the English presence in Beaulieu began to change: with the decline of the winter season and the rise of summer tourism, the number of long-term residents gradually diminished, and with them the size of the congregations in St. Michael’s. Many of the great hotels and villas of the turn of the century were demolished, as was finally the Queen Victoria Hospital in the 1970s. In January 1958 the Rev. Brian Matthews was appointed Chaplain of Monte Carlo with Beaulieu, and since he was resident in Monte Carlo, the Villa Saint-Michel became redundant and was sold soon afterwards: this villa was incorporated into the local primary school, but was destroyed in 2003 when the school was rebuilt.

Mr. Matthews continued to hold regular services in the church, assisted during the summer months by a series of temporary chaplains from England. The church owed much to the devoted care of Miss King-Warry, Miss Norah Lawlor, Mrs. Mary Ball, Mr. & Mrs. Stuart Kerridge, Mrs. Elizabeth d’Andrimont and the Hon. Mrs. Dirkse Van Schalkwyk, the last of whom, with Mr. John Simpson, kept up musical traditions. As some of the former stalwarts of St. Michael’s passed away, tablets were erected to their memory, notably to the former churchwarden Col. Rivett-Carnac and his wife, and to Dr. Marcus de Lavis-Trafford. In 1976 Mr. Matthews was appointed Archdeacon of the Riviera and a Canon of Malta. He continued to do duty at Beaulieu, and on his retirement from the Archdeaconry in 1983, he came to live in Beaulieu: St. Michael’s was therefore fortunate once again to have a resident chaplain. A service was held at Epiphany 1994, in the presence of the Bishop of Gibraltar, and the curé, maire and conseil municipal of Beaulieu, to commemorate the centenary of the church’s dedication.

On the retirement and  death of Canon Matthews in 1997, the front garden was restored in thanks for his 39 years of service at St. Michael’s. The churchwarden, Cdr. Derek Goldsmith, was active in raising funds for the church, and Holy Trinity Nice purchased a flat for the new chaplain, Canon Geoffrey Grant and his wife Janet. During his chaplaincy the church was shepherded into the new millennium with a change from the Book of Common Prayer to Rite B, with the introduction of a termly newsletter, St. Michael’s Messenger, various bazaars, art-exhibitions and concerts, and finally a web-site. The fine acoustics of the church have ensured its continuing use for chamber-music and choral concerts for the whole population of Beaulieu.

Although the English population of Beaulieu is smaller than a century ago, the church continues to attract a faithful and growing congregation; it maintains close links with its sister church, the Catholic Eglise du Sacré Cœur; St. Michael’s was also used for a time by the Eglise Réformée de France, who met there for worship monthly; currently the Danish Lutherans of the area with their pastor occupy the church once a month, help decorate it for Christmas, and share in its expenses. At Michaelmas 2003 the centenary of the consecration of the extended church will be celebrated in a grand Festival des Centenaires, a series of concerts, lectures and ecumenical services commemorating St. Michael’s, and the centenaries of the Sacré Cœur, and of the death of the Marquess of Salisbury. The Eucharist of Dedication will be celebrated, as in 1903, by the Archbishop of York, and will be attended by descendants of both the Marquess of Salisbury and of the first Chaplain, Rev. J.O. Stephens.

Architecture:

Exterior:

Four-columned portico; statue of St. Michael and the dragon in the niche above; rose-window; broken pediment; baroque square campanile topped by octagonal cupola; circular windows in the nave, arched windows in the aisles; apse without windows; pitched roof with green-glazed tiles. Set in small well-maintained garden. Nave: barrel-vault, ionic pilasters with a deep entablature; north and south aisles; organ gallery at the west end. Apse: framed by ionic fluted detached columns; painted capitals, entablature and dado; dome painted blue with gold stars; white altarpiece with gold ornament, surmounted by three statues; door to sacristy in north wall under triangular pediment. The apse and first bay of the nave were redecorated in 2003.

Furnishings:

Nave: two-manual organ by Norman & Beard (1903), given by Sir Henry Samuelson in memory of his mother and sister; fifteenth-century Italian painted wooden statue of St. Michael overcoming the dragon, gift of Sir Henry Samuelson (1895); rose-window painted and presented by Canon Pleydell Bouverie (1911-13); seventeenth-century litany desk and lectern presented by the congregation (1894); seventeenth-century Italian carved oak pulpit, picked out in gilt, decorated with flowers and fruit and statuettes of the four evangelists, gift of Elsie and Barbara Tate in memory of Capt. H. Pennell Tate of the Royal Marines (1897). Aisles: seventeenth-century marble font in north aisle, purchased by subscription (1894).

Chancel: seventeenth-century French carved oak chancel screen, presented by subscribers in memory of Miss Mildred Beresford-Hope, niece of the Marquess of Salisbury (1897); marble altar, gift of Miss Beresford-Hope (1894); credence table, gift of Rev. J.O. Stephens (1894); seventeenth-century reading desk purchased by susbscription (1894); Renaissance altar desk, gift of Rev. W.F. Latrobe-Bateman (1845-1926), Vicar of St. John, Norwood (1895); chancel chairs presented by Sir Henry Samuelson and by Rev. E.F.W and Lady Katherine Eliot; Spanish panel painting of the Crucifixion, gift of the Hon. Fitzroy Stewart (1895); above the altar painting of the Ascension by Prof. Bellandi of Florence, gift of Mrs. Fanning (later Mrs. Harry McCalmont) in memory of her husband (1897); painted plaster panels of four archangels executed and presented by Canon Pleydell Bouverie; seventeenth-century brass alms dish, given by Mrs. J.O. Stephens (1894); altar cross, brass candlesticks and vases given by Mrs. Stanley Dent in memory of her husband (1894).

Memorials: the church contains tablets in memory of George and Sarah Baird, who in 1878 were among the first English settlers in Beaulieu; to William FitzHugh Whitehouse, † 1909; to Sir Henry and Lady Samuelson, † 1937 & 1930; to John Bond, founder of Bond’s Hotel, † 1933; to Col. & Mrs. Rivett-Carnac; and to Dr. Marc de Lavis-Trafford, † 1960. In the porch is a plaque commemorating the centenary of St. Michael’s in 1994.

Seasonal Chaplains: 1891-1902 : Rev. J.O. Stephens 1901: Canon C.B. Trotter 1903: Canon C. Oldfield 1906: Rev. W.D. Fanshawe 1911-13: Canon the Hon. B. Pleydell Bouverie. Resident Chaplains: 1921-34: Rev. E.F.W. Eliot 1934-52: Canon H. d’Albertanson 1952-55: Rev. W.H.W. How 1955-57: Rev. G.R. Waldron 1958-97: Canon Brian Matthews, OBE 1967-69: Rev. Tom Rider 1997-2000: Canon Geoffrey Grant. 2000-10: Canon Roger Greenacre 2010-13: Rev. Peter Bustin: 2015 – Present: Rev. Anthony Ingham Sources : St. Michael’s church archives. Papers of Rev. J.O. Stephens in possession of his grand-daughter, Lady Aldington. New York Herald, Paris, 18 December 1903. The Anglo-American Gazette, 21 December 1903. H.J.C. Knight, The Diocese of Gibraltar, a sketch of its history, work and tasks, London 1917. E.F.W. Eliot, St. Michael’s Church, Beaulieu, 50th anniversary leaflet, 9 December 1934.

  1. Pleydell Bouverie, ms. notes on the history of St. Michael’s in possession of Canon Matthews.
  2. Howarth, When the Riviera was ours, London 1977.
  3. Cane, Anglais et Russes à Villefranche-sur-mer, Beaulieu, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, 1988.

Prof. Richard Cooper

Brasenose College, Oxford.