How an Anglican Church Bootstrapped Virgin Records

LONDON, U.K. – The life story of Richard Branson hinges on many small events, his decision to go into publishing, into launching a record label, his decision to go into the airline business and many others, large and small.

One critical moment is often forgotten, about how he got an early, free office from the Church of England.

The innovative moved happened at the behest of  the Rev. Cuthbert Le Messurier Scott, a naval officer and priest, born in 1913 and Vicar of  St John’s, Hyde Park Crescent and St Michael and All Angels, Paddington from 1964-72.

Cuthbert is best known for the founding of Horseman’s Sunday, a day of London parish activism where one Sunday in September the Vicar of St. John’s, Hyde Park mounts on horseback outside his church and blesses a cavalcade of up to 100 horses and riders in a celebration of London’s equestrian community. The show began because the stables of f Hyde Park were threatened with closure, and Captain the Rev. Scott came to the rescue.

The Rev. Cuthbert Scott also came to the rescue when a young entrepreneur named Richard Branson came knocking in the late 60s to find a home for his magazine Student.

Branson describes it thus in his book, Losing My Virginity.

We scoured the neighborhood looking for somewhere to rent. The best deal, no rent at all, was offered by the Reverend Cuthbert Scott. He offered us the use of the crypt at Saint John’s Church, just off Bayswater Road, for no rent. I put an old slab of marble across two tombs to make my desk, and everyone found somewhere to sit. We even charmed the local post office engineer to connect our phone without having to wait the normal three months. After a while none of us noticed that we were working in the dim light of the crypt surrounded by marble effigies and tombs.”

The interesting thing is that came because he was not supposed to run a business out of his house, which was rented from the church.

We started in a basement in Connaught Square with Student magazine then moved to Albion Street. We then got kicked out by the church commissioners for running a business in a private house. The local vicar, the Reverend Cuthbert Scott, came to our rescue and offered us the crypt of the church at the end of the street. Ironic to be rescued by the vicar.

Some take a so called “pure£ version of the church, 0ne that is shut down during the week and opens up on Sunday for services and coffee hour. But the historic parish church of antiquity is a bit of an incubator and encourager of the local business community. Perhaps the most famous of these types of models is The Rev. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg who spurred on the redevelopent of the town through his churchly office.

The Rev. Scott and his wife Peggie did all sorts of tricks to energize their parish, including inviting George Martin to survey the acoustics, and launching a luxury magazine to promote it. It worked, not only energizing the parish itself, but the community around it.

Today, churches have many empty rooms, and many empty pews. What can you do with your empty church?

Questions to think on:

  • What are we willing to do, as a church, for our youth as they attempt to pursue their dreams?
  • What can we give up or loan from the church that might assist her people?
  • How is church leadership connected to the local community, especially the creative community?
  • Is your church active during the week, and not just with church meetings, but God’s people doing the work of their daily lives?
  • Is all of the real estate in the parish being used for the glory of God and the community?

Today, St. John’s is still a parish. They advertise themselves as the “most fun you can have on a Sunday morning.”