St George’s Church

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St George’s Church, 1824

 

St George’s Church was built in 1824 to accommodate the local population explosion, which was too much for the Camberwell parish church of St Giles. But a century and a half on, with local housing reducing as the park developed, the building became impractical for the local congregation. It closed, became derelict, and was eventually converted to housing in 1994.

Begun in 1822, and completed 2 years later at a cost of £20,000, St George’s was one of many ‘Waterloo Churches’ built to celebrate the Duke of Wellington’s 1815 victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. The architect, Francis Bedford, used similar ‘Greek Revival’ designs for St John’s Waterloo, Holy Trinity Church in Borough, and St Lukes, W. Norwood. The stone mason for the original work was John Day, who had a yard at Camberwell Green, and also built and owned the baths in Addington Square.

Porticos of 3 very similar looking buildings

Three Bedford Churches – St John’s, Waterloo, St George’s and St Luke’s, W. Norwood (Jon Pickup)

In its early years, St.George’s stood virtually isolated – a towering landmark in otherwise largely open countryside.
 
A pastoral scene with canal and bridge in the foreground and casual bystanders

St George’s with Wells Way swing bridge and tower mill

The adjacent canal had been constructed 10 years earlier, but the area was still mostly fields and market gardens. However, it was built to last, accommodating 1734 people, and was able to cope with the rapidly developing streets around it. It became a centre for the Trinity College Cambridge mission to inner city London, at the end of the 19th century, and was Grade II listed in 1954.

Such was the local population expansion that the graveyard filled up by 1856. It was therefore turned into a small garden, opened in 1887. However, as the local population reduced in the mid-20th century with the development of the park, the building became something of a white elephant, and eventually the congregation had to move services out in 1970. Despite attempts to maintain it, no use could be found until, in 1977, it was sold to the Celestial Church of Christ, who also couldn’t afford to maintain it. That same year, vandals broke into the crypt, desecrating coffins, graffiti-ing walls, mutilating corpses – apparently driving a stake through the chest of one corpse and playing football with a 100yr old skull! There was even talk of smallpox danger from the disturbed corpses and skeletons in the crypt.

Headline - 'Theives smash child's coffin'

Cutting from South London Press, October 1982

 

The church was badly damaged by fire in 1980, and left roofless and vandalised for most of the 1980s. Demolition looked likely, but various alternative uses were proposed, including an arts centre/recording studio and an indoor sports centre. Then, in 1993 it was decided to turn the shell into housing association flats. What was left of the remains in the crypt were re-buried in Nunhead Cemetery, on 11th October 1993 (see Postscript below). After a successful 18 month, £2m conversion, it re-opened in 1994 as 30 ‘Mediterranean-style’ one-bedroom flats, run by St George’s Housing Co-operative.

Bronze Christ figure with bowed head

War memorial statue in front of St George’s Church

The expressive bronze Christ statue in the front railings is a 1919 war memorial. It’s by Arild Rosenkrantz, Danish painter/illustrator/stained glass artist – one of his very few sculptures. It was stolen in Aug 1991, only to turn up undamaged a fortnight later in a Brixton scrap-yard, following a newspaper appeal by the curate. It was Listed by English Heritage in 2017 – see blog here.

 
Puzzle!
Very indistinct 19th Century sign painted on stone

Painted sign

Can anyone decypher this sign on the side of St George’s?!

It seems to be offering a Reward, possibly for information about persons damaging something. It may have been painted over and then painted a second time, so two sets of text seem to be visible. A lightening conductor runs through the centre, and the left side is very faded, possibly from water. Very fine signwriting, though!

Have a look for yourself, from Jubilee Plaza by the underpass.

 

Find out more:     fingerSmall

Postscript

White horizontal grave slab with black text. An ornate cross at the head and wreath at the foot

We were lucky enough to be sent, from Austalia in 2021, this image of a memorial in Nunhead Cemetery. It marks the re-burial site of the human remains which were removed from St George’s crypt in 1993 when the conversion to flats was carried out (see comments from Dave Phillips and Dony below).

Together with this image, we received a copy of the list of bodies buried there, from the Necropolis Company who carried out the work. This lists the names of around 120 people who could be identified, presumably from inscriptions found in the crypt. Their dates of burial were mostly from the early- to mid-19th century (apart from some later family members), and would mostly be the well-to-do, who could afford a vault in the crypt. Please contact us if you think a person of interest may be on the list.

34 thoughts on “St George’s Church

  1. I went to services at this church in the early to mid 1970s. it brings back lovely memories to see it again. I was born in Evelina Mansions in 1963 but moved away to Devon in late 1978. I often wondered if the the church was still there, and I’m so glad to see it is.

  2. I just found out that my paternal great grandparents were married at this church in December 1896. My grandfather and grandmother moved from London to Canada in the early 1950s after the war, having grown up in Dartford, Kent. My grandfather never mentioned a Camberwell connection so we were unaware.

    I moved from Canada to the UK in 2007 (my brother and mother in 2004 and 2006 respectively) and my brother always had a fondness for the area. We always lived in West London but my brother’s purchase of a flat in Peckham and my move to live with my fiance in Camberwell have brought us all nearby. Perhaps it was always meant to be!

    Does anyone have an idea of where Holmby Street was? It’s no longer on any maps but was an SE5 postcode. It’s where my great grandparents were living at the time of their marriage.

    1. Hi. Yes Holmby St – when I used to live there it was a set of 6 floors of flats. It was demolished in 1964/6, the whole area was made into the concrete jungle of today. If you look at Google at the junction of Albany rd and Walworth rd, on the Albany rd side you will see a square play area. Holmby st was 10 mtrs to left of image. Hope this is ok. Good health! ps hope this was useful. George Pieri

      1. Hi George,

        Thanks so much for your reply. It’s very helpful and I’m so grateful someone knew where it once existed!

        All the best,
        Hermione

  3. My husband’s Great, Great, Great Grandparents, William and Mary Rolls were interred in the vault of St Georges, Camberwell. I read that what was left of their remains were re interred in Nunhead Cemetery. Does anyone know where I could find records of this event?

    1. Hi Jeanie
      Only just seen your post as I was thinking of that project that I done regarding smallpox and today’s pandemic I was the project manager that was in charge of the refurbishment of the church into flats and I can remember that we removed your husbands Great Great Great grandparents William Rolls and was reinterred at Nunhead cemetery the records should be available at their office I believe it was 1992 and performed by a specialist company on behalf of the home office. Before this was undertaken we placed articles in local newspapers asking for relatives to introduce themselves for any specific wishes to be carried out by ourselves hope this has helped you and your husband. Dave

      1. Hi Dave it’s Dony. I worked for you on that site and a lot of other sites. Great to see your name come up on here, I hope you are keeping well my friend. I remember the William Rolls crypt very well as you gave me the job of bricking up the crypt doors. I remember that most of the crypts had metal bars going across them to support the coffins, but William Rolls had big oak beams, and if i remember right it was the only one with an iron gate on it with the name William Rolls. Do you remember I found a cartwheel tuppence down there and gave it to you, this was one of the best jobs I had done back then. You also gave me the job of rebuilding the dome at the back of the church, best job we ever done for Rusjons, Dave, brings back memories mate, keep in touch! [Email supplied and passed on]

        1. Ah Rusjons! Gave me my opportunity as a young girl wanting to be a Carpenter when many wouldn’t 🙂 First site I went on, fantastic memories and still to date the best and most unique job I ever worked on. Was talking to a colleague this evening and decided to have a research, came across this article/thread.

        1. Hi Jeanie. i may even have some photos from the crypt as i used to take pictures of all my work. ill have to try find them. i have boxes and boxes somewhere. it would be interesting to know – back then, was William Rolls well to do, as you could clearly see the difference from the other crypts down there? as i said earlier, the other crypts have iron bars going across them to support the coffins, but William Rolls’ vault had thick oak beams across them, a gate and a name plate saying William Rolls Esquire. i think, as im no longer in the building game due to brain tumour. i make short films and documentaries, and maybe at some stage i would like to document this church.
          regards dony

          1. You’re right about William Rolls, Dony! The Rolls family were big landowners in the area, and the land St George’s is built on was donated by John Rolls. Descendants of John donated the land for the Passmore Edwards Library, Baths and Washhouse, almost next door in Wells Way, and set up the Rolls Royce company. They gave their name to Rolls Road – across Old Kent Road from the park.

          2. Hi Andrew Pearson
            That was a good little read. I remember asking my self years ago – I wonder if Mr William Rolls was or has anything to do with Rolls Royce? I briefly looked online but could not find anything, but with that little bit of information you gave me I shall be doing more research. So thanks for that

    2. Hi Jeanie, William Rolls wife Mary – was her family name before marriage Hartin or Devonshire, by any chance? regards dony

  4. In 1981-’82, I attended a 1 year post-grad studies at what was then LCP. I lived at what was then, I think called Walworth Methodist International Hostel. I would run weekly through the adjoining park for exercise. I always admired what seemed to be the abandoned St. George’s Church. I’m glad I found this site to learn of it’s history and new life for the community.

  5. In 1951 I was born in St Giles hospital. Lived in Villa Street, Walworth (cobbled road).
    I was christened and confirmed in St Georges Church in 1961.
    Every Sunday morning my friend and I attended the 9am communion service, after the service it was down to the vicars house where breakfast was served.

    1. Hello Valerie.
      I was born in St Giles Hospital in 1946. My mother and stepfather got married in St George’s Church in 1952. My stepfather had a confectionary and tobacconist shop in Wells Way, not far from the church. We came to Australia in 1956 and I now live in western Sydney.

  6. Hi Valerie,
    My son was born at st. Giles hospital in 1958. We lived in the corner house facing st. George’s church and I too used to go to Sunday service before breakfast at vicarage! Wonderful memories.
    Sheila

  7. I went with a school friend to St George’s in about 1957. It was Corpus Christi and the first time I had been to a Sung Eucharist. The priest was Fr Geoffrey Beaumont and his C20th light music group was flourishing, with general shock-horror that the CofE was going to pot! Another priest presided while Fr Beaumont in a scruffy cassock played the piano and we raised the roof to ‘Alleluia, sing to Jesus’ with improvisation between verses and had Michael Brierley’s ‘modern’ tune ‘Camberwell’ to ‘At the name of Jesus’.

    I was sad to find the church closed and then demolished, but I became an organist and still play some of his music.

    1. Hi Margaret
      Thanks for giving us your memories of St George’s! It must have been a very active place for a long time, until the local population started to dwindle after the park got under way. Fr Beaumont seems to be quite a famous hymn-tune writer: https://hymnary.org/person/Beaumont_G.
      But the church building is still there, thank goodness, and St George’s congregation is still going strong, but in a modern building nearby. You’ll be pleased to know they do have a ‘real’ pipe-organ there too!
      See below for another comment mentioning Fr Beaumont.

      1. Hello from New Zealand,
        My great x2 grandparents were married in St George’s in 1835, and also his brother and her sister in 1833! I was wondering who owns the church now and what is it used for?
        Freya.

    2. Hi, Margaret, I remember Fr, Geoff Beaumont well. Our house was on the corner of Wells Way, opposite Church. Fr Geoff used to ride a push bike, and he’d pop into our house, and play our piano. (he liked a drink, too) He was very nice and friendly. I got married in the church, and having grown up in the same house, used to attend church services with my friends.
      Every time there was a wedding, huge crowds used to turn out. Everyone knew someone, as that’s how it was in those days, between 40s-60s
      Sheila

  8. Family lived in Caldew Street, attended St. George’s School and Church as choirboy and married there. A great part of my life and that of my family

  9. My great great grandparents Thomas Ogilvy and Sarah Lee were married in St George’s Camberwell in 1826. I have some records of her mother ( remarried ) Harriet Lockwood originaly Harriet Hannibal from Martinique and Barbados. In 1831 she lived in 6 Upper St George’s Place Albany Road but I cannot find this address now. Sarah Lee was born in Martinique and baptised in Barbados.
    I would appreciate any information about the area at that time and where was Upper St George’s Place
    Regards
    Ben

  10. I lived in number 4 the alms houses. As kids we used to get our drawing paper off the workers when they went for lunch

  11. All my family going back to middle 1800s were married there. My sister and brother in law in 1959 by Geoffrey Beaumont. He was so drunk at the reception my father asked him to leave. He tied his cassock in a knot round his waist, jumped on his bike and went off singing. My husband and I married there in 1967 by the priest Michael Vonberg. I also went to Sunday school at the vicarage and later to the church and parish breakfast. Our last visit was our son’s Christening on Mother’s Day, March 1969.

  12. St. Georges has a fascinating history and is best told by those who were involved in its day to day running, it would be lovely to hear more of these stories

  13. Did St. George’s Church, Peckham in the past have a boys’ boxing club connected to its history? I ask as I have seen an old postcard photo pre WW2 or 1940s/50s of a group of young boxers with a boxing trophy. Central boy, of 8 boys and two trainers, has a small shield badge on his chest where St. George (England) emblem is located top left on the shield with two other indistinct symbols on the low part of shield badge. Any ideas what group this might have been? Thank ou

    1. Hi Bob. St. George’s Church didn’t run a boxing club, but after the Church was given over to flats (very sad as I grew up next to this), what was our old public baths, situated close to hump-bridge, became a boxing club. This was during the 70s. Only other one I knew was the Lynn boxing club, as my brother used to belong to this. Tony was well known and often boxed at Manor Place swimming baths when this was reverted to a ring. Boxer, Freddie Mills would watch these young fighters.
      All the best, Sheila

      1. Is it also possible that the Trinity Centre – attached to St George’s Church – had a boxing club at one time? They had a big building in New Church Road, towards Addington Square which had all sorts of clubs and societies. I think it was badly damaged in the war?

  14. My Nan and Grandad were married at St Georges on Christmas day 1927 and my Mum and Dad were married there in 1959. a beautiful church, such a shame it has had such an ignominious history latterly.

  15. Hi,
    I was brought up in St George’s Way and went to the Brownies and Guides. I met my husband who was a Scout in 21st Camberwell (Trinity) and we married with a guard of honour from the Guides and Scouts in March 1970. Michael Vonberg was the vicar who conducted the service, with scaffolding holding up the roof! We continued to be involved with the Uniformed organisations and attended services until we moved to Welling in the late 70’s. We are still actively involved in Scouting although now in our 70’s.
    My maiden name was Hawkins, and my husbands name is David.

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