Christ Church Clapham
- Original design
- Benjamin Ferrey , 1862
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
Christ Church lies at the northern extremity of the old parish of Clapham, of which it was long a part. By the 1840s this area was heavily built up and residents who found the distance to the parish church on the Common, Holy Trinity, inconvenient petitioned the Rector of Clapham, Rev W H Atkins-Bowyer in 1847 to procure the erection of a local place of worship.
A temporary church was constructed on land given by Mr Lucas, a local benefactor. Eventually after appeals for funds a Building Committee was set up to build a permanent church and in 1861 Benjamin Ferrey was appointed architect.
Work started in July 1861 and the building was completed in 1862 at a cost of £4,700 and seating 800 (rather than the estimated £3,800 and 900) and Ferrey’s original plans for a tower and spire were not proceeded with. The Consecration by the Bishop of Winchester took place on 6 May 1862.
The church was listed Grade II on 27 March 1979 with this description:
Nave, aisles of almost equal height under separate roofs, lower chancel with shorter aisles. Link from south chancel aisle to octagonal vestry building dated 1898. North and south porches. Coursed rubble masonry with freestone dressings. Early C14 style with large windows. Inside, a spacious atmosphere. Five-bay nave with alternating round and octagonal columns. Timbered roof with collar beams and windbraces. 1906 screen to north chapel. Elaborate pulpit of polished stones. Some glass by Clayton and Bell.
Ferrey’s work has been described as timid, orthodox and harmless; he was a close adherer to precedent rather than a bold originator. He certainly remained obstinately wedded to English Gothic at a time when his bold contemporaries were being influenced by France, Germany and Italy.
But a building such as Christ Church shows how unfair the criticism is; the church is a scholarly attempt to recapture what was best of the parish churches of the early middle ages as the Victorians saw them. The exterior of Christ Church is dull, but that is mainly because Kentish Rag stone weathers so dirtily; it would originally have been the same bright grey as the recently cleaned St Mary’s in Clapham Park Road. But the interior is light and airy and beautifully proportioned, with none of the heaviness which spoils so much Victorian work.
Although the Church was only two years old, the next work after completion took place in 1864, when an anonymous donor paid for the reredos, which was given a Gothic design with a large red cross by the architect G E Street, who was commissioned in July of that year. Street also drew up plans for extensive further works in the chancel including building sedilia, credence and a piscina, replacing the existing altar steps with marble, lowering the floor at the east end of the south aisle and shifting the vestry door.
The sedilia are the seats for the priests and the piscina the recessed basin for washing the communion vessels, located under the arched arcade to the right of the altar. The reredos has not survived.
Street’s work may have included more than this. The chancel was richly decorated, as can be seen in old photographs and in surviving painting round the arches of the sedilia and on the roof beams. There was also a low railed screen separating it from the nave (the present rood was installed later); this could have been either Street’s work or Ferrey’s.
We also do not know who was responsible for the beautiful brass candelabra which hang on either side of the altar but it could have been Street as he was an accomplished designer of church ornaments as well as a leading architect of the Gothic Revival.
After Street's refurbishment was complete the interior of Christ Church must have presented a colourful spectacle. The walls were richly decorated, and even the pillars of the chancel arch were painted. There were rich furnishings, many of them owned by the first vicar of Christ Church, Rev Bradley Abbott. What we see today is therefore very much plainer, and not really what Street thought an urban church should be like; but it is perhaps more to our taste.
G E Street went on to design the vicarage, the only example of his work in Clapham, in the Arts and Crafts style.
The immediate area around Christ Church – in contrast to the relative wealth of more central Clapham – has long been associated with poverty, from the terraced slum cottages and Victorian workhouses to the current local authority housing estates. Since as early as the 1660s, there has been large-scale population movement in the area, with families escaping the city during the Great Plague and the Fire of London, the more recent international Windrush migration in 1948 and with refugees from the Nigerian Civil War (often known as the Biafran War) in 1967.
Christ Church Clapham is at the centre of this community and is a place of sanctuary and refuge for people on their journeys, both physical and spiritual.