Friday, October 18, 2013

St Peter and the Guardian Angels, Paradise Street, 1902-3

North side and west window
I was ambling around in the Paradise Street area a couple of weeks ago, looking for William Gaitskell's house, and passed the Catholic church of St Peter and the Guardian Angels at 72 Paradise Street, which is at the end of Fulford Street (SE16 4QD).  It was the first time I knew of its existence.  Its exterior is a curious combination of very plain architecture embellished with very localized decorative flourishes.  Dating to 1902-3, it is a part of the story of Catholic missionary history in southeast London.  Like most churches throughout history, its interior was provided with several new features following its construction.

It's establishment was quite different to that of local Anglican churches, most of which were in some ways offshoots of the original parish of St Mary in Rotherhithe village, which had been in place for several hundred years. In the mid 1800s a Catholic parish church existed in Dockhead, but there was no Catholic church in the Rotherhithe area.  The East End Missions has been established to extend Catholic reach into the eastern areas of London that had no churches present and in 1858 a chapel was created in the rooms of a large house in Rotherhithe Street, whilst the adjacent Church of Immaculate Conception was built, completed in 1861. 

The first Parish Priest of St Peter's arrived in 1891.  Father Joseph Haynes was temporarily housed at Dockhead whilst he conducted mass in a chapel established in Paradise Street at the school of St Joseph in 1892. The Diocese purchased land adjacent to the school (now destroyed) and Father Haynes oversaw the build of St Peter and the Guardian Angels, for which funding was immediately sought, as the following rather charming letters from Father Haynes to Catholic newspaper The Tablet on 17th May and 11th October 1902 demonstrate:

Side door, west
SIR—I shall be glad if you can spare me a few lines to call the attention of your readers to a very modest little appeal which has appeared in your paper for some weeks. A few sharp-sighted. individuals, especially keen for works of charity, have already found it out and sent me £3. Probably there are many more who would gladly contribute if they had only noticed that tiny inch of type. May I add that the size, or rather want of size, of the advertisement is a measure of our poverty rather than our needs ? Yours faithfully, 92, Paradise-street, Rotherhithe, S.E. JOSEPH HAYNES.
SIR,—May I call the attention of your readers to an appeal for funds to pay off the debt of 3,000 due on our new church of St. Peter and the Guardian Angels? I am a mere novice in the art of begging; no poet; not even a humorist. I can only tell them this large but poor congregation, composed mainly of casual labourers, is faced by this great task. Will the readers of The Tablet help them? A church in honour of the Prince of the Apostles will be a suitable and permanent memorial of one of his greatest successors and of the Jubilee of his Pontificate. Yours faithfully, JOSEPH HAYNES. The Presbytery, Paradise-street, Rotherhithe, S.E.

The church was built in memory of the exotically named Sir Peter le Page Renouf (1822-1897), a convert to the Catholic religion who finished his career as an Egyptologist (Curator of the Oriental Collection at the British Museum) but had previously been one of Her Majesty's Inspectors for Schools.  In this latter role he had visited St Joseph's school frequently, and his wife, Ludovica de Brentano, Lady Renouf, helped to fund the church due to that connection, in the memory of her husband.

South side
The church was built in a style reminiscent of the Romanesque by architect Francis William Tasker (1848-1904) and cost £6000.00.  It's not a pretty church, but it has presence and it is distinctive.  It is built of London stock brick with six tall round-headed windows and an inset arched and gabled entrance formed of good quality yellow stock brick and decorative white and dark grey bricks.  It has a timber roof supported on hammer beams. A large round window was set into its western end, a feature particularly favoured by Tasker (see, for example, St Margaret and All Saints in Canning Town).

Inside it features buttresses, a choir gallery and a stone font that sits on five columns. A small Positive organ was added in 1922.  Between 1925-1930 Father David Leahy was responsible for adding an eastern apse with a sanctuary that contains a baldacchino in Sicilian marble. The Lady Altar was also added by Father Leahy, with a stone reredos featuring the Madonna, St Joseph and King David

Front door. north side
No bombs fell near it from either airships or planes in the First World War, but during the Second World War, when the Surrey Commercial Docks were targeted, a bouncing bomb landed on its roof.  There was no damage to the church itself but much of the surrounding area was destroyed.

Directly opposite the church in the early 20th Century were the Park Buildings, five storeys high, which opened in 1908 and were demolished in the 1970s. A little further down the road to the west was the Queen's Head public house (which was demolished in 1973). The church now sits on the edge of King's Stairs Gardens. 

Part of the Archdiocese of Southwark, the St Peter and the Guardians church is still very active today.  Just to note - the email address on the Archdiocese website does not work.  I have been unable to find out if the church is ever open to the general public, other than for masses and other church activities, so I have been unable to view and photograph the interior.  From descriptions I am sure that its interior is well worth a visit.

Sir Peter le Page Renouf, with a terrific beard
As a very slightly off-topic aside for Egyptology fans: Sir Peter le Page Renouf spent much of his career at the BM in serious conflict with Wallis Budge.  Budge was one of the those remarkable loose cannons on deck, frequently brilliant and often something of a liability, whose academic career and publications generate wildly conflicting responses amongst modern Egyptologists.  It is really rather delightful that one of the people who locked horns with Budge was a frequent local visitor at one point in his life.  Stumbling across an Egyptology link with Rotherhithe was rather gratifying (I've been involved in Egyptology for the last decade, and I cannot say how much this little discovery made me smile). For anyone wanting to know more, there's a page on Sir Peter le Page Renouf on Wikipedia and a review of his published letters on the British Museum website, and of course there's an entry for him in the 4th edition of Who Was Who in Egyptology (page 461, 2012). 

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