St Andrews Church

For those of you who may be wondering a) what’s happened to all the picture stories and b) why I’m such a grumpy Phantom just now, I am once again battling with Blogger. For the last week or so I’ve been patiently waiting for it to allow me to load photographs, for the last week or so it has been cocking a cyber snook at me. Bear with me, folks – I have some fantastic pictures that people have sent me and the odd ok-ish sort of pic I’ve taken myself to go with various things that just wouldn’t be the same without illustrations. I have no idea how long Blogger will continue to play silly buggers.

In the meanwhile I have a question for you about a church that used to be on the Peninsula, but which is so now thoroughly lost I can find nothing at all about it. I only found it because I was flicking through a marvellous photo book from the 1980s – Greenwich – A Personal View, by Jon Sturdy and still reasonably available second-hand. Most of Sturdy’s book consists of moody pics of the usual Greenwich suspects – the Observatory, the Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark etc. but when he comes to the Peninsula, a more poignant story emerges.

A photograph of what was once The Mitre pub then the notorious Tunnel Club (now that nasty nightclub that changes its name every time it has a major glassing, it seems. I think it might be called Da House at the moment – but that could be last month’s name) has both gas holders behind it and, next to it on the page (and, I think, in real life) is a fabulously affecting picture of a mouldering church interior.

On the ripped-out floors, rubble collects from falling, dusty masonry; rusting, ancient heaters hang forlornly from crumbling columns. In Sturdy’s photograph, bright sunlight streams through high window, giving a feeling of melancholy rather than creepiness. No furnishings, no altar, pews or hangings remain, just an austere brick shell.

It doesn’t look an old church – perhaps late 19th, probably early 20th Century, I’d guess from the pic. Little details like the heaters and dead electricity sockets are missed on a first glance. But it’s not totally barren. Someone has adorned it at some point with branches of leaves, now dead themselves, tucked into the mouldings at the top of the columns. Who? Why? A flight of fancy on the part of the local youth? A pagan party held at the church’s deconsecration? The remains from Greenwich Coven’s last Beltane?

By 1986, when Sturdy was writing, the church was already derelict and “probably unsafe, but if you are brave there are still ornate carvings and mouldings to be seen” though he warns would-be explorers to “avoid the large hole in the middle of the floor.”

In vain I have searched for anything at all on this now long-lost church. I can find nothing on the net, or in any of my books – if it is in Mary Mills’s excellent Greenwich Marsh – The 300 Years Before the Dome, I haven’t found it yet. And to my shame, I don’t remember it at all.

So I’m asking you. What was this spectre in Jon Sturdy’s picture? Who built it? When? Why? When did it finally die?

I can’t reproduce it here (Blogger won’t let me, and besides, it’s not mine to publish) but maybe someone else has a picture? Does anyone have anything about this most lost of lost churches?

2 Comments to “St Andrews Church”

  1. Louis says:

    I was overjoyed to find somebody who remembers St Andrew’s, Tunnel Avenue! As a young Priest in my first parish, I was sort of ‘in charge’ of St Andrew’s, 1961-64. [The Vicar at the time, my 'boss', was Fr George Griffiths, a marvellous old Welshman who looked like Friar Tuck. Though rathewr disabled, he was a first rate priest and a father-figure]
    St Andrew’s was cared for at the time by two families, the Simmons (who remembered Fr Corliss) and the Walkers, who helped run the Youth Club in the crypt; not much of a club, for lack of resources in a very poor parish.
    St Andrew’s must once have been a beautiful church. We were told that the Gas Company kept it up very well before nationalisation, which seemed to drain away all the sense of local pride – very strong in that area. Inside, the Nave area was light and graceful, and there was a beautiful little 18th century Font from a vanished church of St Michael in the City, whose revenues were used to help build SAt andrew’s; hence the name of the church was St Andrew and St Michael. The Altar was huge, with hangings of deep rose pink, as was the great curtain behind it, fronted by a beautiful Madonna-and-Child under a tall gold spire, and flanked by two angel-figures bearing candles. The design was typical Ninian Comper (Was it really by him?) and I remember once climbling on to to Altar and fetching down the heavy wooden figures to try and cleann off the layers of sticky soot that by then was covering everyting in the church. As far as I remember, we had an early mass and evening prayers on alternate Sundays, but there weren’t usually more tha half a dozen people regularly there in those days.
    I am not surprised that St Andrew’s became redundant, as there was very little residential population, only Boord St, Greenfell St and the end of Tunnel Ave. But I loved the area (despite the appalling pong of mixed dogfood and gasworks which pervaded everywhere), the lane all along the riverside, interesting and romantic, and the friendly people in the little factories etc. – I wish I could find out what became of the treasures of St Andrew’s – the font, the Madonna and so forth.

  2. Now, the answer to that, Louis, is something I’d like to know myself. I have a horrid feeling that it probably just ended up as fodder for those trendy archetectural salvage yards.

    There is a lovely but very sad picture, which I can’t reproduce for copyright reasons, in a book called “Greenwich – A Personal View” by Jon Sturdy. It’s of the church interior, abandoned and left, with plants growing through the walls.

    Sorry – there used to be more comments on this thread, but they were lost when the site migrated to another provider.

    BTW – the smells are gone now, as are the factories that made them. I can’t decide whether I’m pleased or sad about that.