It is quite surprising to encounter interesting things in old Anglo-Catholic literature like this chapter on the Eastward position from 1912. In it, we find many of the arguments used in the 1960’s (and before and afterwards) for reordering churches to make celebration facing the people possible. I have often defended the eastward position by referring to scholars like Monsignor Klaus Gamber, Louis Bouyer and the present Pope. Liturgical archaeology more strongly defends the eastern position than the idea of making the celebration more visible for pastoral reasons by facing the people.
Some conservative low-church Anglican clergy still use what is called north-end celebration. Here is a photo a reader sent me of one of the clergy of his ACA diocese somewhere in the USA.
Dressed in cassock, surplice, tippet and Canterbury cap, he is positioned at the side of what appears to be a solidly built wooden table (a through mortice and tenon joint is seen on the visible leg). The table is up against the wall of the room he is using for his church.
North-side celebration (sometimes called north-end celebration) is an application of the English legalist spirit to introduce the Eucharist facing the people, because the communicants (there were few of them in those days) had sat on the other side of the table, which was positioned in the middle of the choir in the lengthways axis of the church.
The Altar’s North Side and its comments are worth reading.
Since about the seventeenth century, the practice of moving the communion table from its place where the old altar stood and placing it in the choir of the church for a Communion Service fell into desuetude (as was even ordered by Archbishop Laud). The Prayer Book continued to direct the priest to stand at the north side (which had by now become the end). As the eastward position was an issue in the nineteenth century with the Ritualists, we can assume that the rule was north-end celebration until the eastward position became more or less accepted in the early twentieth century.
Here are some images of pre-Tractarian churches:
There are many more fine examples in England, and probably also in America. These two churches have their communion tables where the altar stood (assuming they were re-ordered pre-Reformation buildings, though I suspect that both are Georgian).
I have seen north-end celebration as late as the mid 1970’s at the parish church of St Thomas, Kendal, where I was baptised in October 1959. It is a strongly Evangelical parish, and the last time I visited this church, it had an altar table facing the people. In the 1970’s, the altar (wooden with solid panels in the front and sides) was still up against the east wall and had a plain brass cross and no candlesticks. On each end was a little reading desk, like a missal stand. The vicar would be at the north end, and the assistant curate of the parish knelt at the south end, as there was a kneeler for this purpose.
There are few churches in England still in their pre-Tractarian arrangement, but some remain like Hailes in Gloucestershire. That church has been re-ordered in a more Catholic direction, but older photos and plans show the table in position between the choir stalls, indicating the true meaning of north-side celebration for the sake of facing the people.