Building » Peckham Rye – St James the Great

Peckham Rye – St James the Great

Elm Grove, Peckham, London SE15

One of the so-called ‘Ellis boxes’, a group of economically-built churches put up in the diocese in the first decade of the twentieth century through the patronage of Miss Frances Ellis. Unlike some other Ellis churches, later alterations have served to erode rather than enhance the modest qualities of the building; proper investment in the building has for a long time been handicapped by uncertainty about its future. The presbytery is a house (or pair of houses) dating from the 1830s, and is listed grade II. The church occupies a pivotal position in the Holly Grove Conservation Area.

The church was built in 1904, with financial assistance from Miss Frances Ellis. It was built alongside the presbytery, a semi-detached pair of houses in one villa dating from about 1835, acquired at the same time. The architect for the church has not been established, but the design is typical of the so-called ‘Ellis boxes’ and may be the work of F. W. Tasker. The south aisle and gabled porch were added in 1912.

In 1968 a choir loft and organ were installed in the northwest corner of the church, with the space below enclosed to create an area for families with noisy young children. In 1971 a new sanctuary was added, from designs by Tomei & Mackley, together with a new side chapel, sacristy and parish hall. These were intended as temporary structures, as the church was anticipating compulsory acquisition for a road scheme (later abandoned). The sanctuary was further rearranged in 1989.

In 2008 planning consent was granted by Southwark Council for the demolition of the church and its replacement with a new church and associated facilities, to a dramatic design by Niall McLaughlin Architects. This development would be financed in part by the sale of the listed presbytery. It is not clear at the time of writing whether this development will proceed.


The church is typical of the so-called ‘Ellis boxes’, being an economical design in loosely Romanesque style,  built in stock brick, with sparing use of stone for the dressings and with a slate roof. There is a gabled west end with circular window, a nave of five bays separated by broad pilaster bands and paired clerestory windows in each bay (single window in the east bay). The gabled porch (incorporating a Gothic window) and the south aisle are additions of 1912, and are built of matching brick. The sanctuary is a functional addition of 1971; a transept and side chapel gives off it to the north, all equally functional.

The interior is a simple, barn-like space with painted brick walls and a king-post roof. The sanctuary furnishings are wooden, of c1989. At the west end there is a plain choir gallery on the north side, installed c1968, its underside enclosed to form a cry chapel. Other features to note:

  • The painted low relief Stations of the Cross, in square panels, blessed and installed in 1906
  • The fibreglass statue of the Risen Christ over the chancel arch, installed in 1971
  • The high dado panelling around the church perimeter walls, installed c1930
  • The wall painting of Calvary and Jerusalem in the side chapel, by parishioner John Lessore. There is a carved and painted former altar frontal in front of it, depicting the Last Supper.
Heritage Details

Architect: Possibly F.W. Tasker

Original Date: 1904

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed