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 church 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 South America.


“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 school room”. 

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. 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 used for a Preschool, and for a variety of educational/ social/cultural activities by voluntary agencies/organisations in the community.

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 the building you see around you. 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 Queen Mother.

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.

Some work was done on the new church and community centre in April 2009 to ensure that the planning and building regulations clearance will remain 'open'. Prior Gate Ltd was employed as contractors in February 2010, 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. Work is progressing to schedule. The new Church and Community Centre will be consecrated on 7th May 2011, the 170th anniversary of the consecration of the first church building.

Barrie Thurlow with contributions from Sonia Phippard and Olu Adam