ST MARY MAGDALENE CHURCH

WOOLWICH, LONDON


A place of Christian worship for over 1000 years!

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A history of st michael and all angels church

By cyril pendergast

St Michael and All Angels Church - A Summary of the Architectural Features

The chapel and chancel of St Michael and All Angels Church were consecrated in 1878, the Nave was added in 1889 and the south aisle and south west tower were constructed in 1954. The chapel was built to the designs of J. W. Walters, the nave was added by William Butterfield and the south aisle and south west tower are by T. F. Ford.

The accommodation comprises nave, south aisle, chancel, choir vestry, clergy vestry, chapel, south west vestry, and organ gallery.

When the nave was built in 1889, it was intended to build western towers and north and south Aisles, consequently brick toothings were left in the aisle walls ready to receive the new work. The nave arcades were covered externally with vertical tile hanging above brick walls. These features remain on the north side although the tiling was removed on the south side when the aisle and south west tower were added in 1954.

The church was damaged during the Second World War and repairs were carried out and completed in 1955.

The building is built in a simple lancet style with geometrical tracery to the west window. There are circular windows to the clerestories which have cusped bar tracery.

The church is constructed in yellow stock bricks with red brick string courses. There is a projecting brick plinth at ground level and there are Bath stone details and weatherings. There is a flying buttress on the south side of the chancel.

The roofs are pitched and covered in plain clay tiles.


A History of St Michael and All Angels Church - by Cyril Pendergast

The church originated largely through the efforts of the Rev. H. Baker, a mission priest, sent to the area to meet the urgent needs of Parishes south of the Thames in 1865. His mission centre was a large room in a "Skittle Alley", behind the Admiral Public House in Frances Street.

From here he sought to find a site for a proper church building locally and the present site in Borgard Road became available in 1866/7. He set to work immediately and an iron and matchboard building was erected on the site. During this time he started efforts to provide schools for the relatively destitute children in the area ― not an easy task.

The present church building was built in stages, as funds resulting from appeals became available, starting with the Chancel and Vestries. The Chancel was designed by J. Walters and the nave, with its cusped round windows to the clerestory, by W. Butterfield; both within early English traditional style. These were eminent names in the architectural world of the day.

The elaborate carved reredos was designed by Ernest Geldart (1849-1929) ― a clergy friend of Father Baker, and who, it is almost certain, designed the original East window which was destroyed by enemy action in World War II.

The Chancel and Vestries were attached to the old iron church (as a nave) in 1868 and with completion of this work in 1878, the Parish was gazetted within the Diocese of Rochester. The work to complete the nave around the old iron church was almost completed by 1889 and patronage was vested in Keble Trustees, an Oxford Collegiate. The tower at the northeast corner above the organ loft and sacristy was not built, nor the side aisles, and only temporary walls formed the nave north and south boundaries. The foundation stone to be seen outside the East End of the Chancel was laid by the bishop of Rochester in 1875.

The parish was formed out of a corner of St Mary’s Parish. Prior to the church being built, it was a feature of worship in the old "Skittle Alley" mission, (because it had no license for sacramental activity), that once a month, after their own service, the priest headed a procession round to St Mary’s Church for Communion Service. Attendance at St Mary’s was not "free" and pews were rented, and non-members could only take part in their service after the "Prayer for the Church" had been said.

Father Baker died in December 1898 having been a dedicated mission priest from 1865 to 1879 and a vicar from 1879 to his death, encouraging and maintaining worship within the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He pursued his task to provide schools over the period from 1866 in the "Skittle Alley" to the provision of extensive and permanent school buildings (dedicated in 1871) on land at the West End of the new church. The church’s location close to Woolwich Barracks area was reflected, around the turn of the century when Sunday evensong and special festive services were enhanced by support from the string section of the Royal Artillery Orchestra.

In 1920 the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies was built in Samuel Street within the parish area, (founded by three members of the congregation - Misses Parnell, Gregory and Ashmore). It had its own chapel. This called for some covering administration by Vicars and Rectors.

The years after the war saw a change from individual housing of the Victorian era – heavily damaged by air raid activity, to a parish population of flat dwellers, some high-rise. The change extended to the use of army land. Some cohesion apparent in earlier parish life was lost.

An appeal in 1954 realized funds to demolish the temporary nave wall on the south side and build the present side aisle as originally planned, giving direct access to the Lady Chapel and providing the lower and upper rooms at its West End. This work was completed and dedicated by the Bishop of Southwark in February, 1955.

St Michael's Church school was closed in 1966 and was replaced by Cardwell Cottage School - later Cardwell Primary School. With the building of the new school and general development of the area, a new vicarage was built adjacent to the church on the north side.

In 1974 the Rev. F. J. Young retired after a dedicated 33 years work in the parish since 1941. He was the last of six vicars and not replaced.

1978 saw the celebration of St Michael’s centenary with a Parish dinner at the Trafalgar Restaurant in Greenwich and other activities for the occasion. A banner presented by the children of Cardwell Schools for the occasion stands in the Lady Chapel. The British Hospital closed in 1989. Mementoes can be found in both Churches.

The church survived the First World War, but was heavily damaged in the second by VI bomb in 1944 with all windows being blown out and some structural and roof damage. Some repairs were achieved, after the war in Europe in 1945, with the aid of War Damage Funds, and windows were replaced. Difficulties to meet ‘black-out’ regulations during the war were solved by holding evening services in the British Hospital Chapel and in the basement of a house in Belson Road.

The years after the war saw a change from individual housing of the Victorian era - heavily damaged by air raid activity, to a parish population of flat dwellers, some high-rise. The change extended to the use of army land. Some cohesion apparent in earlier parish life was lost.

An appeal in 1954 realized funds to demolish the temporary nave wall on the south side and build the present side aisle as originally planned, giving direct access to the Lady Chapel and providing the lower and upper rooms at its West End. This work was completed and dedicated by the Bishop of Southwark in February, 1955.

St Michael's Church schools were closed in 1966 and replaced by Cardwell Cottage Schools, now Cardwell Primary School and Early Years Centre. With the building of the new school and general development of the area, a new vicarage was built adjacent to the church on the north side, although this is now in private ownership.

(Original typing by Melanie Pharaoh)