St George’s Church was built in 1824 to accommodate the local population explosion, which was too much for the Camberwell parish church of St Giles. But a century and a half on, with local housing reducing as the park developed, the building became impractical for the local congregation. It closed, became derelict, and was eventually converted to housing in 1994.
Begun in 1822, and completed 2 years later at a cost of £20,000, St George’s was one of many ‘Waterloo Churches’ built to celebrate the Duke of Wellington’s 1815 victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. The architect, Francis Bedford, used similar ‘Greek Revival’ designs for St John’s Waterloo, Holy Trinity Church in Borough, and St Lukes, W. Norwood. The stone mason for the original work was John Day, who had a yard at Camberwell Green, and also built and owned the baths in Addington Square.
The adjacent canal had been constructed 10 years earlier, but the area was still mostly fields and market gardens. However, it was built to last, accommodating 1734 people, and was able to cope with the rapidly developing streets around it. It became a centre for the Trinity College Cambridge mission to inner city London, at the end of the 19th century, and was Grade II listed in 1954.
Such was the local population expansion that the graveyard filled up by 1856. It was therefore turned into a small garden, opened in 1887. However, as the local population reduced in the mid-20th century with the development of the park, the building became something of a white elephant, and eventually the congregation had to move services out in 1970. Despite attempts to maintain it, no use could be found until, in 1977, it was sold to the Celestial Church of Christ, who also couldn’t afford to maintain it. That same year, vandals broke into the crypt, desecrating coffins, graffiti-ing walls, mutilating corpses – apparently driving a stake through the chest of one corpse and playing football with a 100yr old skull! There was even talk of smallpox danger from the disturbed corpses and skeletons in the crypt.
The church was badly damaged by fire in 1980, and left roofless and vandalised for most of the 1980s. Demolition looked likely, but various alternative uses were proposed, including an arts centre/recording studio and an indoor sports centre. Then, in 1993 it was decided to turn the shell into housing association flats. What was left of the remains in the crypt were re-buried in Nunhead Cemetery, on 11th October 1993 (see Postscript below). After a successful 18 month, £2m conversion, it re-opened in 1994 as 30 ‘Mediterranean-style’ one-bedroom flats, run by St George’s Housing Co-operative.
The expressive bronze Christ statue in the front railings is a 1919 war memorial. It’s by Arild Rosenkrantz, Danish painter/illustrator/stained glass artist – one of his very few sculptures. It was stolen in Aug 1991, only to turn up undamaged a fortnight later in a Brixton scrap-yard, following a newspaper appeal by the curate. It was Listed by English Heritage in 2017 – see blog here.
Can anyone decipher this sign on the side of St George’s?!
It seems to be offering a Reward, possibly for information about persons damaging something. It may have been painted over and then painted a second time, so two sets of text seem to be visible. A lightning conductor runs through the centre, and the left side is very faded, possibly from water. Very fine signwriting, though!
Have a look for yourself, from Jubilee Plaza by the underpass.
We were lucky enough to be sent, from Austalia in 2021, this image of a memorial in Nunhead Cemetery. It marks the re-burial site of the human remains which were removed from St George’s crypt in 1993 when the conversion to flats was carried out (see comments from Dave Phillips and Dony below).
Together with this image, we received a copy of the list of bodies buried there, from the Necropolis Company who carried out the work. This lists the names of around 120 people who could be identified, presumably from inscriptions found in the crypt. Their dates of burial were mostly from the early- to mid-19th century (apart from some later family members), and would mostly be the well-to-do, who could afford a vault in the crypt. Please contact us if you think a person of interest may be on the list.