Building » Camberwell – Sacred Heart

Camberwell – Sacred Heart

Camberwell New Road, Camberwell, London SE5

A post-war church brick church, in its character bearing some resemblance to the Art Deco churches of Cachemaille-Day and the industrial buildings of Giles Gilbert Scott. The striking staggered plan form was driven by a functional need to reduce noise from the adjacent railway line. The church is little altered and retains a complete set of internal furnishings of high quality. It replaced a 19th-century church destroyed in 1941 by enemy action. The church lies within the Camberwell  New  Road  conservation  area,  but  makes  a  relatively modest  contribution to the  local  scene, being  set  well  back from  the main road and bounded on one side by the high viaduct of a railway line.

A Camberwell mission was established in 1860 and Mass said at various locations until the present site by the railway line was acquired. The first church here was opened in 1872 by Bishop Dannell; it lay parallel to the railway and was in the early Gothic style, from designs by C.A. Buckler.  In 1891 it was enlarged at the west end by F. A. Walters, acquiring the appearance shown in figure 1 (Walters’ drawings are deposited in the RIBA Drawings Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, file no. PA 1167/3, 1-10).

The Buckler/Walters church was destroyed by enemy action on 8-9 October 1941. It was rebuilt in 1952-53 in a completely different style, and was turned around by 90 degrees with its bluff rear wall towards the railway line, to minimise noise from that source. The architect was D. Plaskett Marshall.

The church was built in 1952-53 from designs by D. Plaskett Marshall. It is built of red brick with sparing use of Portland stone on parapet copings etc, and is a stripped moderne design of industrial character, more 1930s in feel than 1950s. The previous church had lain parallel with a high railway viaduct and bridge; in order to reduce noise from the railway, the new church was turned around 90 degrees, with a blank (ritual) west and a staggered  plan that reduces in height and  width  towards the sanctuary; an unusual plan produced in response to site conditions.


As stated, the west wall is plain; the brickwork is relieved only by full height buttress- fins, somewhat in the manner of Cachemaille-Day.

The main entrance is on the north side (photo middle left) under a double height projecting porch with three doors and corresponding large windows above. There is a secondary entrance from Knatchbull Road at the southwest corner, alongside a tall asymmetrically-placed tower of industrial character (photo upper left). The staggered form of the plan is evident in the photo top right; each bay has a large steel framed multi-pane clerestory window.

The entrance doors on the north side lead into a narthex area and on into the main space,  which  is  divided  into  five  compartments  running  from  east  to  west.  The internal walls are faced in bare red brick and the flooring is of flagstones. The roof appears to be of reinforced concrete; the members are painted and the ‘purlins’ lead the eye towards the east end. The staggered bays are divided by piers which taper inwards and rise up to canted brick divisions in the roof space.  At the lower level, there are four square piers to each bay, separating the main spaces from the side aisles and chapels, each clad in green Irish marble. Above these, the large, steel- framed multi-paned windows contain opaque glass.

The first compartment from the west is the largest, and holds a wide gallery with a boarded timber front housing a large organ by Rushworth & Dreaper, rebuilt in 1962 and refurbished in 1993. Below this is a marble octagonal font, with octagonal timber cover, formerly in the baptistery and now placed centrally under the gallery. Behind this, the seating under the gallery is raked. The original baptistery lies on the north side, by the entrance narthex; it is separated from the western compartment by iron gates and contains three stained glass windows.


Around the nave, Stations of the Cross are placed over the arcades. They are large rectangular pieces, in opus sectile on a gold mosaic background, by Burns Oates. The aisles terminate at the east end with chapels of Our Lady and St Joseph. They also contain shrines to the Sacred Heart, St Anthony and St Teresa of Lisieux. The sanctuary is raised and also has narrow aisles, leading off to the sacristies. It retains its original altar, tabernacle plinth and communion rails, all of green Irish marble. At the east end is a tall, tapering maple reredos, with a large crucifix attached and canopy above.

Heritage Details

Architect: D. Plaskett Marshall

Original Date: 1952

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: II