On a Southwark street can be found a modern building with a totally overshadowed facade of a 200-year old chapel in front. The portico frontage is all that remains of the Stamford Street Unitarian Chapel, which was built 200 years ago in 1821, as a replacement for a chapel in Westminster that had been sold.

The two congregations, of Southwark and Westminster merged and built a chapel on this location, however, just a few decades later the chapel nearly closed due to a lack of parishioners. But, in 1861 a new preacher arrived, Rev. Robert Spears, and proved so popular that far from closing, they had to build extra seating on a raised gallery at the back of the chapel to cope with demand.

From “Pictures of Unitarian Churches by Emily Sharpe”

In the 1880s, it was expanded again, to include a Sunday School, and in 1897 was joined by parishioners from Blackfriars Mission from the New Cut. It was noted that while the chapel matched the design of the portico when built, the addition of the upper floor for the school rather spoiled the effect.

Although used until WW2, it wasn’t abandoned due to war damage, but seemed to have closed as the docks were moving away and the population was shrinking. The main body of the chapel was demolished in 1964 and the rear turned into a playground for the neighbouring Nautical School, although the portico was restored by the Greater London Council (GLC).

It remained a playground for the school until when in 2005, permission was given to build the block of flats behind the portico, incorporating the old chapel entranceway into the building’s own entrance.

If I were charitable, I might suggest that the dark modern building acts as a good frame for the old chapel frontage and helps highlight it. If I were charitable. I am not, it’s ghastly and a perfect example of a really bad idea.


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  1. NG says:

    The “Gentle Author” has a phrase for this:
    The Creeping Plague of Ghastly Facadism”

  2. John says:

    Thanks Ian for this article. The portico and side walls are wonderful and I’m very glad they have been conserved, which in turn conserves the story of the chapel which unfortunately is long gone. The residential building behind is not so great, though not the worst either. Just a pity that the portico does not serve as a street entrance to the building behind.

  3. Lizebeth says:

    I’ve always wondered what this had been — unlike you, too lazy to do the research! Thanks for clearing up another London mystery…

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