London, St Peter’s Vauxhall

St Peter’s Vauxhall on 27 April for a conference, Historic Religious Buildings Alliance (which was excellent and remarkably positive) – one delegate there said “you’re Northern Vicar”! Lots of train rides too, but you can find them elsewhere.

Vauxhall Manor originated as part of the Manor of South Lambet and gets its name from Faulkes de Breaute who married Margaret de Redbers in 1216. In 1326 Edward the Black Prince granted it to the Prior and Covent of Christ Church, Canterbury. Industry developed in the C17 with the Duke of Buckingham’s plate glasshouse, potteries, vinegar, glue and starch works, then new wharves and depots as the railways arrived. It was famous for the Vauxhall Gardens – their heyday was between 1720 and 1760. Peter Whitfield’s lovely book London, a life in maps, says that “each evening in summer would see a stream of boats ferrying their parties to Vauxhall. It was laid out as a formalised woodland, with arbours and long walks lit by hundreds of lanterns hung in the trees; the darker fringes, however, were ‘adopted to all species of gallantry or vice’” (page 83). By the 1840s it had begun to look tawdry and was closed in 1859. The land was soon used for “slums and noxious industries” to quote the church leaflet.

Father Gregory, the incumbent of St Mary the Less (the main parish church), accepted the land for St Peter’s from the developer on condition that all the seats were free. He, and others, believed that religious instruction and the teaching of trade skills were the surest way of combatting poverty, “the one giving the will to work, the other the means.” They started with an art school, opened in 1861, which would provide designers and artists for Doulton’s pottery works and draughtsmen for Maudslay’s steam-engine factory. During the 1870s and 80s they achieved great renown and many leading sculptors were trained here. Gregory included an orphanage on site, it was for the daughters of clergymen and professional men, who were apprenticed as pupil-teachers – rather a clever piece of thinking.

In 1860 Gregory asked the architect John Loughborough Pearson, who had done the work on the schools, to draw up plans for the church. Although his plans had to be scaled down to what they could afford, most of the internal decorations went, the essential elements of the interior space are Pearson’s. It was built between 1863 and 64. It is the prototype of many other town churches he went on to design. It cost a mere £8,000. The apse is fifty feet high – I didn’t ask how they heat it – and the vault takes the weight with no external buttresses.

The font is in the north west corner, and seems to be a little surrounded with stuff. An amazing font cover and some modern stained glass.

Colourful pulpit as well – you can tell a good conference by the quality of its food!

Glorious Chancel – like St Anne’s in Derby, imagine it behind clouds of incense!

Here we are, looking back down into the nave, and a final window.

According to their website – https://www.stpetersvauxhall.org/sundays – they seem to combine contemporary worship at 0930 and 1600 with traditional worship at 1100 plus a monthly Choral Evensong. Good luck to them if they can manage that variety! They have a lot of outreach work, and gave us a very good welcome. The church was a lovely space and was very good for our meeting. Perhaps this final photo reminds us that the work must go on.

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