Above: View of the church from the south. It could be thought of as a ‘country’ scene, with the church surrounded by open space and fine trees.
“An Inner City church in a country setting”
St Paul’s church, standing in its large walled churchyard beside Deptford High Street, is hardly the kind of building that you would expect in a place like Deptford. Due to continuing ‘bad press’ about the goings on in the area most people’s expectation of this urban community is so low that they are not even prepared to go a take a look at the place. Perhaps this article will help change perceptions.
Let’s start with the basic dates for the church. It was built 1712-30, designed in Italiante style by Thomas Archer. Archer only built two churches in London – this one at Deptford and St John, Smith Square, in Westminster. They were both some of the few new churches to be built under the ‘Fifty New Churches Act’ – a fund provided by the Government of the day to build additional parish churches in communities that had expanded during the 17th century. As a church, St Paul, Deptford, is almost unique in period and style.
There have been several restorations but essentially the fabric of the church remains from when it was first erected. It was first restored and repaired in 1856 by John Wichcord. In 1883 further restoration was carried out by Thomas Dinwiddy. More restoration was carried out in 1930 by Eden and Marchant. In 1973 the church was cleaned and restored when the interior was completely re-decorated.
Above: View of the western end of the church, as seen from the path leading across the churchyard from Deptford High Street. There are so many wonderful trees in the churchyard that finding a place to obtain a clear view of the church is quite a challenge.
Most of the surrounding land near the churchyard is a collection of streets, lined with houses and shops, including Deptford High Street itself. It is only the south side that has the open grassland – seen in the picture at the top. Having said that, the churchyard is quite large and surrounded by a well-built wall. This wall not only provides security but also shelter from the wind so that it looks like a small park. The noise from the heavy traffic passing nearby is hardly heard – also thanks to the high wall – providing a very tranquil space.
Above: View of the east end of the church with its fine spire rising above it.
Thomas Archer’s church is elegant from every aspect and it stands on what looks like a large plinth. Whether this was to provide stability for the heavy stonework which rises from land that is heavy London clay is not known. The masonry just above the grass acts to enhance the visual effect.
One last thing. If you enter the churchyard from Deptford High Street, you will see what looks like a blue street name plate with the words ‘Diamond Way SE8’. If you don’t know this part of the world you might think that the sign has been removed from being beside an actual road. Alternatively, you might also think that the name implies a diamond anniversary of some sort. On both counts you would be wrong. It is a street name plate but it refers in this case to the footpath across the churchyard which was named in memory Canon David Diamond who was parish priest at St Paul’s, Deptford. Father Diamond was appointed in 1969 and remained there for the rest of his life. He died in 1992, aged only 56.
He was one of the most remarkable parish priests in the Church of England. Born in London and also educated there, he later became ordained as a parish priest. When he came to Deptford he was, unfashionably, an out- and-out Anglo-Catholic, an incense, biretta and Benediction priest. When others were tearing off their dog-collars and dropping ecclesiastical titles, he revelled and delighted in his priesthood. But not in a solemn or starchy manner – the people of Deptford came to share this delight. Diamond’s approach was that everything was for the whole community, not simply for a church ‘club’. Everyone belonged in the Church, because everyone was loved by God.
He was a great organiser of community events and the Deptford Festival became famous, with its street parties, royal visits, flamboyant firework displays and fun for all on the grandest scale. The pensioners’ outing provided a day out for about a thousand pensioners. A cannon would be fired and 20 coaches would set off, with the narrow high street lined by primary school children, cheering and waving flags, the procession led by a brass band. It brought everyone together and made everyone feel they mattered, that Deptford was a great place to be.
One of Father Diamond’s greatest achievements was the organising of celebrations for the 250th anniversary of the church – in 1980 – when he was successful in inviting Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, to the special service held in the church.
Although Deptford looks rather drab when approached from New Cross Road, Deptford Broadway or Creek Road, there are several ‘little gems’ in the area, all of historic interest. Let’s hope that they help to change the area’s poor image which is due in part to people forming an impression of Deptford without actually taking the trouble to go and find out for themselves.