Woolwich - St Peter

Woolwich New Road, Woolwich, London SE18

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A Decorated Gothic Revival church by A. W. N. Pugin of 1842-43, with a chancel and chapel by F. A. Walters of 1887-89. The planned tower was never built. The church was Pugin’s first in London.

The first resident priest at the mission in Woolwich, Fr James Delaney (1768-1847), arrived in 1816. With the help of the local Catholic Tobias Conway he opened a chapel dedicated to St Patrick at the corner of Union Street and Sun Street. However, after a quarrel between Fr Delaney and Conway, the mission leased a chapel from the Methodists. Called St Mary, this chapel was blessed and dedicated on 12 July 1818. In 1827 the first parish school opened in Hennessy Alley. Fr Cornelius Coles, who was mission priest from 1839 to 1858, was responsible for the building of the current church.  Woolwich  and  the  Catholic  community  there  had  grown  since  the  18th century, due to the presence of the dockyard, the Arsenal, the Military Academy and the Royal Artillery. The dockyard  and  the Arsenal in particular attracted  a large workforce,  among  them  many  Irish  labourers.  The  mission  at  Woolwich  also provided a full time chaplain to the military until about 1900, when the post became part time.

In January 1841 Fr Coles opened a subscription list, which eventually included the names of the Irish nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell, the Countess of Shrewsbury and  the  Earl  of Arundel.  A  month  after  the  list  opened,  the  Board  of  Ordnance donated a piece of land for the new church in New Road. On 26 October 1842 the foundation stone was laid by Dr Griffiths, Bishop of the London District. Exactly a year later the new church was opened by the retired Bishop Dr Morris (formerly Bishop in Mauritius). The architect was Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852), whose first London church it was. As for many of Pugin’s churches, funds were severely limited and the contract included only the nave and aisles. The planned tower was never built, although Canon Monk had a special fund for it as late as 1950. The total cost was £4,033, which was paid off by June 1844.

Soon afterwards, Fr Coles added a sacristy and a small presbytery (1849, by A.W.N. Pugin), with a second floor above the sacristy as a next stage. In 1850, a Lady Chapel was added, donated by the Fogarty family in memory of their son, John Fogarty. After some negotiations, a site just to the north was given by the Board of Ordnance in 1854, where a school was erected in 1857-58 to designs by E. W. Pugin at a cost of £2,500. The next incumbent, Fr Jeremiah Cotter, enlarged the presbytery at his own cost (completed in 1870, by E.W. Pugin). However, after his death in 1886, it was inherited by his niece who proceeded to auction off the contents and rent it out. This was settled only in about 1900, when the presbytery was acquired by the Diocese in return for a small annuity for the niece. In about 1871, a small infants’ school was added at the rear the school.

Under Fr Seraphim Fieu, previously a curate at Woolwich, a chancel and St Joseph’s chapel were added to the designs of F. A. Walters (built 1887-89). The builder was Mr Godard. The new chancel was opened on 14 August 1889 by Bishop Butt. In June 1890, a new reredos was installed at a cost of £105 (replaced 1942). In 1892, several additions were made, all designed by the Belgian firm of Jans, including altar rails (removed 1971); thrones for statues of St Patrick and the Sacred Heart; and a new sounding board for the pulpit (removed in c.1970 to St Joseph, Shooter’s Hill, qv, later donated to the Pugin Society). In the same year, another classroom was added to the infants’ school. The parish used to have a small graveyard next to the church. However, Fr Fieu’s successor, Fr Joseph Reeks, had to move most graves for the extension of the playground.

In 1895 the Stations of the Cross were installed, oil paintings which were acquired from Southwark Cathedral. In 1900 Fr Arthur Doubleday (later the first Bishop of Brentwood) became parish priest. In 1905 a permanent altar to St Joseph was installed. In 1925 St Peter’s School was condemned by the London County Council, but a new school was not to be built until the 1950s. In 1934 Canon William Monk (1879-1968) became the parish priest.

In 1941 a nearby bomb broke most of the windows in the presbytery, school and church, and damaged the roof of a side aisle. However, even during the war the church was being prepared for its centenary celebrations, which included the improvement of the shrine to St Theresa, and the installation of a new stone high altar and reredos. The anniversary was celebrated in 1943 with Bishop Amigo presiding at Mass. The same year, the Lady Altar was restored.  In 1944 the Sacred Heart shrine was rebuilt, before another bomb caused further damage to windows and roof. Nevertheless the church was consecrated by Bishop Amigo on 26 October 1944. In 1945 a new shrine was installed to Our Lady of New Road.

By 1949 the war damage was repaired, and plans made for a new school (opened in 1953 on a new site). In the 1950s a hall was acquired in Anglesea Road. During the 1970s, several changes were made: the baptistery was turned into a repository, the font was moved to the sanctuary, the altar rails were removed (some sections were given to St Joseph’s, Shooter’s Hill, others were used for St Theresa’s shrine), the pulpit and sounding board were removed, as was the screen to the Lady Chapel. A war memorial built by Fr James O’ Leary after the First World War was dismantled because of its dangerous condition.

In the early 1980s the church  was  restored  and  refurbished  by the architects  T. Houlihan & Associates. Apart from repairs, the work included the enlargement of the internal porch for use as a meeting space, the creation of a children’s chapel; a new floor and a new heating system. It was financed by the sale of the Anglesea Road hall and a grant from English Heritage and the Heritage of London Trust. The value of the contract was £91, 375. In 1993 the 150th anniversary of the opening of the church was celebrated with a Mass, during which Archbishop Bowen dedicated the new stone forward altar. For the anniversary, the church’s exterior and interior had been renovated. New sanctuary furniture was introduced, a new floor laid in the sanctuary, and the statues of St Patrick and St Joseph were restored.

The chancel and aisles were built in 1842-43 from designs by A.W.N. Pugin. Subsequent additions include: the sacristy; the second floor of the sacristy; in 1850, the Lady Chapel at the northeast corner; and in 1887-89 the chancel and St Joseph’s Chapel at the southeast from designs by F. A. Walters.

The materials are stock brick, with stone dressings and a slate roof. The plan is longitudinal, with a long nave and lean-to aisles, with a lower chancel with side chapels. (St Joseph’s chapel at the southeast is shallower than the Lady Chapel.) The main entrance is at the west end, with additional access through the southwest porch, which was planned to be the site of the unexecuted tower. The west front has a central cusped doorway below a seven-light window. The buttress to the north aisle has  an  empty  canopied  niche.  The  west  face  of  the  south  aisle  displays  several changes in brickwork - presumably due to war damage - and irregular buttresses due to the planned but unexecuted southwest tower. The entrance at the southwest has an elaborate gabled and pinnacled doorway with a small seated statue of St Peter.

A large timber narthex with organ loft above occupies the two westernmost bays of the six-bay nave. Between the doors into the nave stands a bronze statue of St Peter on a marble pedestal (1878, by E. Balmes, Rome). On the north side of the  narthex is the repository (formerly the baptistery), with a stained glass window depicting Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, the Good Shepherd and the Baptism of Christ. Adjacent to the east of the repository is a confessional which is accessible from the north aisle. To the south of the narthex is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, with a shrine to St Theresa of Lisieux on the south wall.

The southwest porch has a commemorative plaque to previous parish priests, erected in the church’s jubilee year of 1893; a marble plaque by Hoare & Sons, Woolwich, to Captain C. J. Caffrey ASC (died 1916); and a plaque of 1992 listing the main funders for the restoration. Above the door is a modern mural.

The nave has a scissor beam roof. There is no clerestorey and the arcade is supported by quatrefoil pillars.   Each aisle bay has a two-light window. (Most windows have clear glass, apart from those at the east, and in the baptistery.) In the floor near the sanctuary there is a ledger stone to the memory of members of the Fogarty family, who donated the Lady Chapel. The north aisle has a canopied Gothic niche with a statue of the Madonna and Child (style of Mayer of Munich), just in front of the Lady Chapel. The Chapel itself has a three-light window depicting the Virgin and Child, with four censing angels. The altar reredos depicts the Annunciation and the Adoration, on either side of a small statue of the Virgin above the tabernacle. The frontal depicts the Virgin and Child enthroned, flanked by angels. On the north wall is the door into the sacristy and a shrine to St Anthony, with a statue in front of a mural of the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua.

On either side of the sanctuary arch are pinnacled niches with statues of St Joseph and St Patrick. The sanctuary has a panelled wagon roof. The five-light east window has scenes from the Passion and the life of St Peter. The high altar and the reredos are of an elaborate Gothic design, apparently dating from 1942. The reredos has a central pinnacled niche as monstrance throne above the tabernacle, flanked by blind tracery with two angels. On either side are ogee doorways with statues of SS. Peter and Paul in niches above. The frontal depicts five angels with the symbols of the Passion. In a blind arch on the south side of the sanctuary are preserved three murals of Our Lady between SS. Peter and George, with the arms of Pope Pius XI and the Diocese of Southwark below. The forward altar, lectern and chair are of stone and date from 1993. The altar and lectern consist of various coloured stones, depicting the Lamb of God and St Peter, respectively.

In front of St Joseph’s Chapel at the southeast stands the original octagonal font, carved with the symbols of the Evangelists and the Lamb of God. A plaque commemorates the erection of the chapel’s altar in 1905 in memory of Frs Fieu and Reeks.  The  three-light  stained  glass  window,  showing  scenes  from  the  life  of  St Joseph, was designed by N.H.J. Westlake (1909). The stone reredos has a central niche with a statue of St Joseph with the Christ Child, above the tabernacle, flanked by diaper panels and thin marble columns. The frontal has a mural of the Holy Family set within an arch with marble columns. To the right of the altar stands a large bronze sculpture of San Pio, to the left is a small remainder of the altar rails. In the south aisle is a canopied shrine to the Sacred Heart (between the second and third windows from the east), with a statue attributed to Mayer of Munich. The Stations, oil paintings in timber frames, were acquired from Southwark Cathedral in 1895 and are also attributed to Mayer.

Diocese: Southwark

Architect: A. W. N. Pugin; F. A. Walters

Original Date: 1842

Conservation Area: No

Modifications: 1887-89

Listed Grade: Grade II