Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Church of St Barnabas 1870-2 and the Gomm School of 1874

The church of St Barnabas and the rectory, from
E.J. Beck's Memorial to Serve for a History of the
Parish of St. Mary, Rotherhithe, 1907
In 1870-2 the church of St Barnabas was constructed on Plough Road, today's Plough Way, designed by William Butterfield. 

The building of churches in Rotherhithe mirrors the expansion of settlement along the edges of the Thames, with residential areas squashed into the ribbon between the river and  the ever-expanding mosaic of docks that eventually covered the interior of Rotherithe.  St Mary's, at the heart of Rotherhithe village, has been the parish church since at least the 15th Century.  It remained in splendid isolation until the 19th Century,  when a programme of local church building resulted in Holy Trinity (1837-8), Christ Church (1838-9), All Saints (1839), and St Paul's Chapel (1850).  St Barnabas came relatively late in this sequence, and was established to meet the needs of eastern Rotherhithe, which Reverend Beck, writing in 1907, described as "a new town of respectable streets" that had sprung up without any nearby church.  

Sir William Maynard Gomm, 1873-4
National Portrait Gallery
The church was the first new one in the area to be overseen by Reverend Beck, who took over the parish of St Mary's on the death of Reverend Blick, who had been partially responsible for many of the above-mentioned new churches.  Reverend Blick had forseen the problem of the growing population in that area and had secured land for the church, which was donated by a Mrs Ram from her own estate.  A fund was opened, with Reverend Beck and local timber broker Charles Churchill acting as joint treasurers.  Charles Churchill contributed to the fund as a subscriber, as did the lord of the manor of Rotherhithe, Sir William Maynard Gomm (1785-1875) who gave £1500.00 ("a most munificent contributor" according to Beck), as did other local people.  Sir William also donated the communion plate and Lady Gomm gave the marble font.

Attracting William Butterfield as its designer was quite a coup.  Butterfield is particularly well known for designing Oxford University's Keble College and Rugby School, both built in different colours of brick.  He agreed to work within the small budgetary constraints of the fund, and the foundation stone was laid on St Barnabas Day, 11th June 1870.  The church cost  total of £4000.00.  Beck gives a lovely description of the accompanying ceremony, which should not be tampered with:

The procession started from the mother church [St Mary's] after a short service.  The clergy and choir walked down the Lower Road preceded by a guard of honour of the Rotherhithe Volunteers with their band playing, and their honorary colonel, Sir Wm. Gomm, brought up the rear.  The patrons of the benefice were represented by several Fellows of Clare and by the Clare boat flag borne aloft by the captain of the college boat club.  The stone was well and truly laid by Sir Wm. Gomm. [Beck 1907, p.67]

From the Illustrated London News
The church was not completed until 1872, when it was consecrated by Bishop Wilberforce.  Like all the other local churches of the 1800s the church of St Barnabas was Gothic revival. It was made of yellow stock brick with red brick banding and a tiled roof, a faint but attractive echo of his earlier work at Keble.  It consisted of a chancel with a vestry, a nave, aisles and a porch.  The interior was red and white brick and stone. It was eventually provided with a stained glass window and a Brindley and Foster organ.  There was no churchyard associated with it, because according to the report by the Illustrated London News it was very closely surrounded by houses and yards. From the above photograph, published in Beck, it seems like quite a substantial creation.

The Illustrated London News of 6th January 1872 celebrated the opening of St Barnabas in typically matter-of-fact tones (with thanks to Nick on the Bermondseyboy.net site for posting it):

This new church situated in Plough-road has been built to supply the spiritual needs of a very poor district which has sprung up within the last ten or fifteen year in that portion of the parish of St Mary, Rotherhithe, boarding on Deptford.  The district is inhabited chiefly by the workmen employed in the timer docks, wharves, saw-mills and factories of the neighbourhood.

The former location of the church of
St Barnabas (courtesy Google Maps)
St Barnabas was destroyed in the 1960s and the roads have been so distorted by the redevelopment of the area that it was difficult to pinpoint its exact location at first.  The site is now occupied by Jura House  SE16 2NP.   It could not have been on the site of William Sutton Housing Association offices, which is the location stated in the Diocese of Southwark's records, because that building was erected in 1915, long before the church had been demolished.
A temporary vicar had to be found for the opening of the church, the previous selection having been re-appointed to a parish Yorkshire. The work of the Reverend Herbert Mather "was of a remarkably powerful character," according to Beck.  The first full-term vicar of St Barnabas was the Reverend Robert Russell.  Beck clearly admired Russell with considerable affection, as this rather touching account demonstrates:

The beautiful east window was eventually filled with painted glass, to Mr Russell's great joy.  He would sit in the church and contemplate the noble forms of the Saviour surrounded by His saints, and his face would beam with reverent emotion"

The parish of St Barnabas was constituted in 1873.  Reverend Russell oversaw the construction of the Gomm Schools of 1874.  The foundation stone for the schools was laid on 28th September 1872. The land on which the school was to be built was originally provided by Sir William Gomm, but this was subjected to a compulsory purchase order by the East London Railway.  Instead, the land used was granted by the Surrey Commercial Dock Company at a very low rate.  It cost £2600.00, £2000.00 of which was raised by subscription, including a £1000.00 donation by Sir William Gomm. When completed it too was in a Gothic revival style, designed by Mr G. Legg, and had capacity for 400 children.  I have been unable to find any photographs of the school buildings.

Later, the plan to provide a vicarage was fulfilled, and this was occupied by Reverend Russell with his mother.  The vicarage is shown at the right of the photograph on the top of this post.  Reverend Russell stayed with the church to the end of his life in 1901, and was closely involved during his life with the running of the Gomm Schools, where he taught religious studies, French and Latin. 

St Barnabas
According to the Diocese of Southwark, the parish of St Barnabas merged with the parish of St Katharine in 1956 at which point the church was declared redundant and was converted to a boys' club.  Although a demolition order was raised in 1966 it may not have been demolished until a few years later.   

For anyone who, like me, was unfamiliar with Saint Barnabas, he was born on Cyprus to Jewish parents and was named Joseph.  He was a landowner and gave his possessions to the church in Jerusalem. Following his conversion he was renamed Barnabas and was appointed as the leader of the church of Antioch, seeking the assistance of St Paul to help him carry out the task.  He is highly regarded as one of the earliest Apostles.

The National Archive website provides a detailed list of the records of St. Barnabas.  They were deposited by the vicar in The Greater London Record Office, County Hall SE1 on 23rd February 1967 Further records were deposited in The Greater London Record Office, County Hall, London SE1, by the vicar of St. Katherine with St. Barnabas, Rotherhithe on 6th May 1969.

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