A touch under 140 years ago, a new church was consecrated in the fast-growing area of Kennington with a mighty steeple that remains to this day the tallest in South London.

IMG_1490

A modest sized church was planned on the site, but the assistant curate, Rev. Charles Edward Brooke was rather keen on a larger church, in a variant of the gothic revival style. Fortunately for the church, Rev. Brooke was also rather rich and stumped up a staggering £10,000 towards the cost of building it.

Thus in November 1874 a new church was consecrated. Well, the nave was — it took another 17 years to build the rest, including the stunning spire.

IMG_1466

The church today is rather different from its original, thanks to the attentions of a German bomb in 1941. Fortunately plans to renovate in the modernist style were rejected and the church was restored in a style that complimented the original.

The spire and tower were also restored in 1994, and a new set of carved grotesques and gargoyles was added. Many of the carvings are in the form of caricature representations of members of the church congregation, the British Royal Family or the clergy. The Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Archbishop Michael Ramsey are among the better-known figures depicted.

IMG_1505

Living nearby, I have walked past many times as the spire is a convenient landmark when wandering around the back streets getting delightfully lost. However, the doors are always locked, until I happened to go past just as a service had finished.

An empty church with the choir practicing in the corner and the remaining incense wafting through the empty pews is a suitably heavenly experience.

The restored interior is somewhat plainer than the original worshipers would have recognised, but still impressive. The church was given a full clean in 2002, although that was spurred by smoke damage from a fire in Christmas 2001.

A single parishioner was left in the church. He actually lives in Morden, but returns to this church every so often, where he worshiped when younger.

He makes the journey because he thinks the church is delightful, and I have to agree with him.

IMG_1472

IMG_1481

IMG_1502

Also on ianVisits

Tagged with:

Whats's on in London: today or tomorrow or this weekend

4 comments on “South London’s tallest church spire
  1. Roger says:

    Does this church have a name? A former Kennington Ian writes…

    • david peet says:

      S John the Divine Vassall Road, by Street (the steeple completed by his son A E Street). Harry Goodhart-Rendel did the post-war restoration in 1958

  2. Isobel says:

    This is the church where my grandmother was baptised. She was born nearby in Beresford Street, now John Ruskin Street.
    It is a wonderfully spacious building.

  3. Steven Pettengell says:

    St John the Divine also boast’s a rather lovely side chapel, and legend has it that the Tower is haunted by the worker who fell during construction, in my youth the local Scout group, who meet in the adjacent church hall, would parade once a month to place the flags on the altar (the only time I ever saw the tower doors open.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*