Rothbury Hall

A glorious fantasy of a building, Rothbury Mission Hall somehow seems a bit lost and forgotten, lodged between Blackwall Lane, Mauritius and Azof Roads and a car mechanics -  an area which has never been either glorious or fantastical, even when this exuberant confection of turrets, steeples and stained glass was built.

Darryl Spurgeon describes it as “An extraordinary building of 1893 with a quite fantastic roofline of cupola, thin spirelets and dormers,” and I guess that just about sums it up.

Pevsner has nothing to say about the place, but the fabulous Julian Watson tells me that “according to LAJ Baker in his ‘Churches in the Hundred of Blackheath’ it was built as a Baptist church and was bought by the Congregationalists in the 1890’s.”

According to a short piece in Greenwich Industrial History Society’s site it was built by W T Hollands with the cash stumped up by a splendid chap with the enviable name of Josiah Vavasseur. Vavasseur (can’t you just think of a million nicknames for that…) had a nice little company making recoil-components for naval armaments until he was bought out by another, much bigger manufacturer, William Armstrong, for a very tidy sum indeed. Apparently Vavasseur was rather amused at the source of his sudden wealth and named his architectural contribution to the spiritual welfare of Greenwich’s paupers after Armstrong’s house in Northumberland.

By the time Life and Labour of the People of London 1890-1900 was written, the final volume of which I found in the “everything £1″ box of a secondhand bookshop (you do always check those, don’t you…) it had already become that Congregational mission.

Charles Booth wasn’t impressed. He describes it  as having “a pauperising influence and not effective from the religious standpoint; the Sunday school the principal piece of work, eight hundred children in average attendance; a good deal of money spent on social work.”

It’s been the home of Emergency Exit Arts for some years, a festival-making organisation about which I don’t know enough and would like to know more, not least because the homepage of its website has giant meerkat puppets on it. The building is Grade II listed, but not in a great state.

Whilst digging around the net for this post, I discovered a group called Heritage of London, a pan-London building preservation trust I had never heard of but who seem like A Good Thing. According to HoL’s site, Greenwich Council has offered to sell the building to the Trust, which they will restore, whilst keeping the arts group in residence, which sounds like a win to me.

Thing is, there are no dates on the website, short of the 2012 at the bottom, which could just be an automatically-updated thing. It looks a new site, but the prices – both purchase and restoration – look a bit low to me. It also ‘hopes the building will be workable for the Olympics’, which feels a bit late in the day, frankly, unless work’s been going on and I’ve been hyper-unobservant.

Does anyone know anything more about this? Has work been going on that I’ve missed or was this an optimistic piece of puff from before the recession?

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Rothbury Hall
Rothbury Hall

2 Comments to “Rothbury Hall”

  1. Neil Rhind says:

    Very interested to see your note about the Rothbury Mission. It was built and fitted out at the expense of arms manufacturer Josiah Vavasseur (1834-1908) for the Congregationalists – nothing to do with the Baptists. Vavasseur, born in Braintree, Essex, was an engineer and an expert on rifled ordnance. He became the technical director of what was to be W G Armstrong-Whitworth & Co Ltd, and made a fortune. He lived on the Eltham Road from the 1860s and in 1888 moved to a massive house on Blackheath Park: No 99, which he named Rothbury, after a village in Northumberland where he stayed when visiting the Armstrong Whitworth factories near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He also owned Kilverstone Hall, at Thetford, Norfolk, where he died in November 1908. He and his wife had no children or close relatives and he left the bulk of his enormous estate to charity and to his adoptive heir Cecil Fisher, son of Admiral of the Fleet Sir John (Jacky) Fisher, on condition he adopted the Vavasseur name. Rothbury and Kilverstone Hall survive today in good order, the former in expensive flats, and latter still in the ownership of the Fisher family. There are some marvellous photographs of the inside of No 99 in Vavasseur’s time on the English Heritage images web site.


  2. sitdowncomedian says:

    I have been inside the hall – one summer a couple of years ago. It seemed pretty ramshackle and in need of refurbishment. One of my colleagues is on the board of EEA, I will ask her to get in touch with you.