Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The East Dulwich Picturehouse opened in April 2015 and is a popular addition to Lordship Lane. Prior to the cinema acquiring the building, it had since 1963 been the church hall for St Thomas More RC Church situated further down Lordship Lane where Irish dancing and other social events had taken place. Before then, it had housed a school and church named after St Anthony and the initials S and A are still there picked out in brickwork on the front elevation.
The Catholic congregation was growing and by 1907 it was clear the church was outgrowing the premises. A site was acquired from Dulwich Estate next door to the library, but though Dulwich Estate had stipulated time limits for the construction of the church, progress was slow, delayed further by World War I, and the new church did not open until 1929. It was named after St Thomas More in 1935. The school continued to flourish with 140 pupils and the vacated church of St Anthony’s was refurbished as a church hall, though once more was used as a church temporarily when St Thomas More Church suffered bomb damage in World War II.
Lordship Lane in the 1920s. Looking slightly different but still recognisable, St Anthony's Church is on the left.
Members of the Franciscan Order acquired the site on Lordship Lane in the proximity of Bassano Street around 1879, before then Mass had been said in a private house in The Gardens, off Peckham Rye. The site had a house, stables and coach house and the plan was to convert the house into a monastery and the stables and coach house into a church on the upper floor and a school on the ground floor. Mass was said for the first time in the new church on Whit Sunday 1879 and the school opened in 1882. The site was acquired by the Benedictine Order as the Franciscans felt it was not in keeping with their role as itinerant missionaries. Unfortunately, the plans carried out by the Benedictines incurred a lot of debt and to pay this off a lot of the site had to be sold** with only the church and school building remaining in the Order’s keeping.
It was realised soon after the end of the war that new larger premises were needed for the school and St Anthony’s School opened on the present site in Etherow Street in 1964. The vacated school premises were used as overflow accommodation for St John’s School that was then on the corner of Archdale Road and North Cross Road.
In latter years, the Church Hall was under-used and in need of renovation and, despite protests, the decision was taken to sell. Fortunately, it has been refurbished as a cinema and so remains a facility for the community.
** On part of the site, the Champion Hill Steam Laundry was built which is now partly premises for ESPH gym. A first hand description of the laundry can be found here - scroll half way down the page.