Building » Deptford – Our Lady of the Assumption

Deptford – Our Lady of the Assumption

Deptford High Street, Deptford, London SE8

A plain Gothic Revival church of 1844-5 designed by the mission priest of Greenwich, Canon Richard North, who was also responsible for later extensions. Notable furnishings include an elaborate reredos by F. A. Walters and executed by Earp, Son & Hobbs. The furnishings of the Sacred Heart Chapel are also by Walters.

In the nineteenth  century, the Catholic community in Deptford consisted predominantly of Irish labourers, working in the dockyard, the shipbuilding yards, for the railway or as builders. Deptford was initially served by priests from St George’s Fields, then Greenwich. In 1842 a separate mission was established at Deptford, with Fr William Marshall its first pastor. The following year, a temporary chapel was opened in the school buildings, a gift of Canon Richard North, the priest at Greenwich. Plans for a permanent building in the High Street were realised in 1844, when on 22 June the first stone was laid for a new church designed by Canon North, who was also the patron. The cost of the stock brick building was £2,000. Consisting only of a nave, it opened in August 1845. It was formally opened in 1846.

In 1855, a four-storey battlemented presbytery was built to the south of the church. At the same time, a statue of Our Lady was placed in the church. In the 1850s, there was also a campaign for the enlargement of the church. In his fundraising appeal of 1859, the parish priest Fr Joseph North described how the poor congregation would not be able to fund the extension and appealed for outside donations. The appeal was successful and chancel and Lady Chapel, built again to designs by Canon North, were opened in December 1859. A few days later, the high altar was consecrated.

According to the historian Nathan Dew’s description in 1883, the interior was at that time richly decorated, including a stencilled ceiling, a decorated dado and murals on the chancel arch. Of the latter, only a Crucifixion scene survives. A life-size crucifix was given to the church in 1871, commemorating a mission preached by Fr Plunkett, a Redemptorist priest. In 1884 Canon North paid for the adaptation of the reredos which had been awarded a gold medal at the 1878 Paris Exhibition; the designs by F. A. Walters are in the RIBA Drawing collection, and suggest that he increased its size, while retaining the main figures and aedicules, carved by Earp, Son & Hobbs. Apparently the sacristy’s doorcase with its carved tympanum was also exhibited at the Paris Exhibition and won a medal. (The parish paid £100 for it.) In 1886 Walters refurnished the Lady Chapel as the Sacred Heart Chapel. On the 19th Mary 1890 the church was consecrated by Bishop Butt.

In 1904 the interior was redecorated. In May 1906 the adjoining hall, formerly the Mechanics’ Institute, was acquired by Fr Felix Segesser. However, this amenity was lost again, when Fr Segesser left the parish ten years later. In 1942 church and presbytery were damaged in an air raid, destroying stained glass windows in the nave. In 1958 a grotto to Our Lady was built from stones from the former Catholic chapel in Brockley Cemetery, which had been destroyed by bombing.

In the 1970s and 1980s there were several improvements. Under Fr Gerald Flood the roofs were repaired, the brickwork repointed, a porch added to the west front, and the nave benches rearranged so as to form a central aisle. Under his successor, Fr James McGillicuddy, the interior was repainted, the sanctuary reordered and a reconciliation room created in the narthex. At the same time, the large crucifix was moved to its present location over the narthex doors into the nave. A parish hall was built between 1989 and 1991 at the rear of a new building erected on the site of the former Mechanics’ Institute.


The church is facing west; however, this description follows conventional liturgical orientation.

The church of 1844–5 and the extensions of the 1840s and 1850s were built in stock brick with Portland stone dressings to the designs of Canon North. The style is Early English Gothic Revival and in plan it is rectangular, of an aisleless nave with a narthex below an organ loft, a chancel flanked by a sacristy and a chapel. Holy Trinity Church, Bermondsey (opened in 1835) has been suggested as a likely local precedent for the choice of style. The west front is symmetrical, divided by four buttresses with pinnacles into a central bay of three lancet windows over the west door, and two side bays of one lancet window each. Below the left side bay is another door; the corresponding door to the right is obscured by a single-storey extension. There is a stone cross at the apex of the gable.

Internally, there is a narthex below the organ loft, of dark-painted sturdy timber framework. To the north, a metal stair leads up to the loft; in the northeast corner a small room has been partitioned off, whose thin walls unsatisfactorily attempt to copy the original black and white timber framework. A passage at the south end of the narthex leads to the adjoining church hall. Parts of the narthex screen to the nave are carved with tracery, other parts, notably the entrance doors, have been altered and replaced. (The screen may well have been open originally and later glazed and closed off.) Over the doors into the nave is the large crucifix of 1871, facing a small figure of St Anthony of Padua in a niche. The nave is seven bays long, of which the four easternmost on the north side and the five easternmost on the south side have lancet windows with clear glass. The timber king-post roof incorporates hammerbeams; its arched braces are frequently likened to an upturned ship and taken to be a reference to Deptford’s maritime history. The carved and painted Stations are ranged along the outer walls and the narthex screen. The south side has three large statues of the Archangel Michael, St Patrick and the Sacred Heart, all by Mayer of Munich. The nave benches are modern. Above the chancel arch is a 19th-century mural of the Crucifixion, very dark in contrast with the bright white walls. The font in front of the sanctuary is of stone, with carved representations of the four Evangelists’ symbols. The door to the sanctuary to the northeast has decorative anchor-shaped fastenings, another reference to the dockyard neighbourhood. Its doorframe of c.1878 is highly carved with foliage and an ogee arch topped by St Michael and two angels. The tympanum depicts Christ descending into Hell. Similar foliage carvings can be found in the chancel arch capitals and corbelled plinths which until c.1992 supported sculptures of Our Lady and St Joseph.

The square-plan sanctuary is slightly lower in height than the nave and has three bays. The three lancet clerestorey windows to the south have clear glass, while those to the north have small stained-glass panels of the Sacred Heart, the IHS monogram and the Eucharistic chalice. The east wall has a rose window of the Assumption. Below it is the grand reredos of c.1878, executed by Earp, Son & Hobbs and enlarged by F. A. Walters (designs of July 1884). A series of niches holds carved figures of Our Lady and six angels; with three further angels above the ogee arch above the Virgin Mary. The bottom half of the reredos consist of diaper work of terracotta. On top of the side buttresses (in the shape of square-plan towers with two-light windows) are sculptures of the Agnus Dei and the Pelican in her Piety. The original altar in front has carved frontal panels of the Annunciation and the Assumption, flanking a central quatrefoil of the Nativity.

A broad pointed arch connects the sanctuary to the south chapel (formerly the Lady Chapel, since 1886 the Sacred Heart Chapel). The arch to the nave features foliage capitals whose half-columns rest on corbels with angels, and corbels with human faces above the arch. The chapel has a three-light window with stained glass depicting the Sacred Heart in the centre, flanked by St Gertrude and St Margaret Mary. The battlemented reredos (painted white and blue) is a simplified version of the larger reredos, without statues, and is also by Walters  (drawings  dated October 1886). The frontal features the Sacred Heart in a raised mandorla. On top of the altar is an icon of the Virgin and Child; to one side are statues of Our Lady and St Bernadette. The step in front of the chapel altar is clumsily tiled in small modern tiles.

The west windows feature the Madonna and Child in the centre lancet; this window was erected to the memory of the Very Reverend John Melville Glennie (died 1878), Canon of the Diocese of Southwark and former rector of Deptford. The south lancet shows St Michael the Archangel and is dedicated to the memory of the fallen of the First World War. The north window depicts St Martin of Tours. It was dedicated to the memory of Martin Montague Edwards, a native of Tasmania who died in 1889. The window at the far north features a number of symbols from the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, including the Morning Star, the Ark of the Covenant and the Tower of David. The lancet at the far south is obscured by the organ.

Heritage Details

Architect: Canon Richard North, F. A. Walters

Original Date: 1844

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed