Our mission statement is “to know Christ and to make him known”. We look to live this
out through or work with children and young people, and by working in partnership with
others to serve our community through activities in our lovely building and within our
community. We will continue to give sacrificially towards mission to demonstrate our
evangelical heritage and commitment to make Christ known to all people in the world.
Early in the reign of Queen Victoria areas around London like ours were beginning to
change from countryside to the busy suburbs they are today. A number of new parishes
were created in Peckham to serve the growing population. The parish of St Mary
Magdalene was formed from part of the parish of Camberwell. The plot of ground for the
church, part of an area long known as the “Duck’s Nest”, was the generous gift of
Richard Edmonds Esq. of the parish of St Paul’s, Deptford. The first church building built
on this site was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester on 7th May 1841.
William Harnett Blanch recorded in “the History and Antiques of the Parish of
Camberwell” published in 1875, that the church was a substantial building of brick. He
further noted that St Mary Magdalene has focused on mission since its inception.
Through church planting other churches were established between 1841 and 1883 in the
area served by St Mary's, including St Mark's, Harders Road (now Wood's Road). St
Paul's Church (Hooper's Hall) on Consort Road, dedicated in 1907, was built by St
Mary's to serve the benefice's growing population. Between 1897 and 1971, twenty four
people left St Mary's as missionaries to various parts of the world, primarily Africa and
“The design is a composition from the Norman and early Pointed styles, and consists of
a nave and aisles, a chancel, and a western tower, forming a general entrance,
surmounted by a spire. The interior is remarkably neat; there are deep galleries,
supported by cast-iron columns on each side, and also at the west end, which is
partitioned off by a range of three pointed arches. In the centre recess is a small organ;
all the windows are of the lancet form; beneath the church is a spacious crypt, used as a
St Mary’s has since inception focused on community ministry. A Church Day School,
now St Mary Magdalene Church of England Primary School, was built in 1856 on
Godman Road. According to J. D. Beasley in his book, “Peckham in the Nineteenth
Century” published in 1973, the school had accommodation for 130 boys, 120 girls and
150 infants. A new school building replaced the Victorian school (now housing) in 2002,
providing a modern welcoming school for local children. St Mary’s Church Hall was built
in 1891; it was for many years home for our youth clubs and other uniformed youth
associations with links with the Church, e.g. Brownies.
It is currently planned that this will shortly be used to provide a local nursery.
In the Second World War, in the early days of the blitz, the first church building was
destroyed by a bomb on 21st September 1940 with the loss of five lives. The Vicar, Rev.
Edmund Buxton, wrote:
“The destruction of the church will be a great grief to many…but let us remember that
although the walls of the church building may have fallen the Church still stands – the
Church which is the Body of Christ of which we are members. Nothing can destroy that.”
Worship continued in the Church Hall as well as at St Paul’s, Consort Road while the
people of the parish worked, saved and gave for a new building. St Mark’s Church was
also damaged during the war; the parish became part of St Mary’s. At last at the
beginning of the 1960s work began on replacement building. The new building was
consecrated on 3rd November 1962 by the Bishop of Southwark, Lord Bishop Mervyn
Stockwood. The occasion was honoured by the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth, the
New Church Building
Unfortunately, the 1962 church building had inherent design flaws that made it
inhospitable, unwelcoming, inflexible and very expensive to maintain. Problems included
perennial leaking roof, inefficient heating system, large glass walls that made it a “green
house” during summer, fixed pews on a sloping floor, and poor access for disabled
people. The Revd. Mike Payne (Vicar 1978-2004) initiated efforts in 1994 to address
some of the problems. However, the constraints of the original design, plus increasing
evidence that the costs of dealing with the leaking roof were extremely high, ruled out
various simpler alternatives to deal with the practical challenges of the building; they
foundered on the cost/benefit balance.
A decision was gradually reached to replace the 1962 church building with a new church
and community centre. Four architectural firms were asked in 2002 to develop ideas for
the purpose-built place of worship and community centre to further promote the mission
of the church in the community, and IID Architects developed a design which was
accepted. The church was not deterred by initial difficulties in obtaining planning
permission. A revised design, which is both more practical and cheaper, was re-
submitted and the planning application went through smoothly in April 2006.
The demolition of 1962 church started on 14th April 2010. The Rt. Revd Christopher
Chessun, the Bishop of Woolwich, blessed the baptistery to mark the laying of the
foundation stone of the new church building on 24th July 2010; and as Bishop of
Southwark, he consecrated the new Church and Community Centre on 7th May 2011,
the 170th anniversary of the consecration of the first church building. We are delighted
that the building is now used by our own young people’s groups, by LinkAge Southwark
provision for older people and by various community groups and local families.
Barrie Thurlow with contributions from Sonia Phippard and Olu Adams