Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Grove Chapel is a small independent chapel in Camberwell Grove, described by Pevsner as a “pretty, late Georgian chapel with a five-bay, two-storey front, very modest.” It was built in 1819 and Grade II listed in 1972. The establishment of the chapel resulted from a group of worshippers breaking away from the Camden Church (originally known as the Camden Chapel) which itself had been founded as a dissenting church from the parish church of St Giles.
In 1795 a new vicar was appointed to St Giles upon the death of the previous incumbent. A section of the congregation were unable to accept the teachings of the new vicar and broke away to form their own church with the intention it would be a chapel of ease to St Giles. However when it opened in 1797 it was under the management of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, a small society of evangelical churches founded by the Countess of Huntingdon in 1783.
Camden Church 1951. Watercolour by Albert P Jacques Warren
Camden Chapel, later Camden Church, was built on the north side of Peckham Road and attracted dissenting ministers from all backgrounds. In 1829 it became a licensed episcopal chapel and gained a reputation for oratory of a high standard. The church was consecrated in 1844 to finally become a chapel of ease to St Giles. It was badly damaged in World War II: pictures of the original church show it to have had a large cupola / tower which does not appear in the 1951 painting to the right. Services continued until 1952 when the church was demolished and part of the Sceaux estate was later built on the cleared land.
In 1818, events were repeated when the Rev. Joseph Irons was invited to preach at the Camden Chapel with a view to becoming the permanent pastor. Many of the congregation supported this enthusiastically but the chapel’s trustees were opposed to his appointment. Irons’ supporters raised subscriptions to build a new chapel and the plot in The Grove was secured. While the new chapel was being built, the new congregation worshipped in a room in Verandah Place that became known as the Carpenter’s Shop. There was considerable hostility towards the building of the new chapel and, according to W H Blanch, the lord of the manor was persuaded to place a barrier across what later became Camberwell Grove in an attempt to prevent the builders’ carts carrying building materials reaching the site.
Nevertheless, the Chapel was completed, and within only five months, in a style similar to the Camden Church. Initially the congregation numbered about 100 people but soon this grew to 300 to 400. Plans were made to enlarge the Chapel and two small wings added that accommodated a staircase to a three-sided gallery. Nearly a hundred years later, a V1 bomb landed close by to the chapel in World War II, which led to the collapse of the gallery and the windows being blown out but repairs were carried out soon afterwards.
The present day Grove Chapel describes itself as “an independent church which is reformed in its theology, Presbyterian in its form of government, evangelical in its ethos.”