As we saw in part 1 of this piece , Arcachon’s Place Fleming was the focal point of Englishman Reverend Radcliff’s influence on the ...

Arcachon’s Place Fleming, part 2: Saint Thomas church and the Promenade des Anglais

As we saw in part 1 of this piece, Arcachon’s Place Fleming was the focal point of Englishman Reverend Radcliff’s influence on the town of Arcachon, but it also formed the backdrop to a royal birthday…
But first of all, back to Saint Thomas church, described by the British novelist George Gissing as “the prettiest Anglican church in France”. Sadly, the chapel fell into disrepair towards the middle of the 20th century, its expatriate congregation having dwindled to virtual nothingness. In 1974, the chapel was acquired and renovated by the Église Réformée de France, ironically enough the very movement who had originally welcomed the Anglican congregation to their temple 100 years earlier. The first service under the new denomination was held there on March 9th 1975.

Gissing would still be pleased if he saw the edifice today. Some of the original stained glass windows remain and, as well as being used as a place of worship, the church’s fine acoustics are enjoyed by concert-goers, with many dates making good use of the Kuhn pipe organ which was generously donated by the Swiss parish of Vézenas near Geneva. The instrument (pictured here) is especially well-suited to 18th-century music, particularly works by Bach.
Meanwhile, the former Reformed Church temple in the town centre was demolished in 1977. A small scenic garden, comprising a sculpture by Arcachon artist Claude Bouscau (1909-1985), can now be seen where the church used to be, on the road formerly known as Rue du Temple (now Rue... Claude Bouscau).

The bell and bell-turret were recovered and transferred to the “new” church. When the gates are open, the bell can be observed at close quarters. It is quite loud, as I found out when I decided to give the bell a good bang… on a Sunday morning while a service was being held. I instantly wished I hadn’t – it did feel like the sound could be heard throughout the whole of Arcachon.

Just yards away from Radcliff’s beloved church, a little further along the fittingly-named Promenade des Anglais which runs along one side of Place Fleming, a little bit of royal history was made in November 1891. Edward VII, the current Queen of England’s great-grandfather, was still ten years away from becoming King.

As heir apparent, he held the title of Prince of Wales for longer than any of his predecessors and enjoyed a relative life of leisure as his mother, Queen Victoria, had more or less excluded him from political power. He enjoyed much quality time in France, in Paris and Arcachon, and chose to celebrate his 50th birthday at Villa Rosa-La Melusine.

Whether or not the Prince of Wales woke up the following morning with a sore head is undocumented, but if he did he most probably headed out (or sent someone) to another little piece of Britain in Arcachon, the nearby “pharmacie anglo-française de la Forêt”, where a British chemist supplied a wide range of “French, British and American specialities as well as all types of French and foreign mineral waters”.

The shop later became a library and is now a private home (as pictured above). It is also unclear whether Edward took part in one of  Reverend Radcliff’s popular horseback paper chases. This is unlikely though as the traditional starting point to these "rallyes papier" was the bandstand on the square... which was only installed two years later, in 1893, as a gift from the director of the nearby Grand Hotel.

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