Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The front elevation of the Sutherland Chapel was described as ”proud” by Nicklaus Pevsner who further described it as having a “monumental classical front with two giant Tuscan columns”. Unfortunately, it is not easy to see and could easily be missed by the casual passer-by. Originally built to face on to Walworth Road, shops have been built that obscure the view from there and the main focus of the building has shifted around to Liverpool Grove where the side of the building now presents as a terrace of attractive houses that clearly have a bit of history.
The Congregational chapel was built in 1842 for Dr Edward Andrews who had formerly been minister at the Beresford Street (now John Ruskin Street) chapel for 22 years. He had left due to “legal difficulties” but his congregation were loyal and raised enough money to build a new chapel for him large enough to accommodate 1000 people. In the event, Dr Andrews died before the new chapel was completed and Revd. John Wood became its first minister.
The investigator for the Charles Booth London Survey interviewed a later minister GW Keesey in December 1899 and found him despondent. “Mr K has been here for 12 years and is fighting rather a hard fight. Death and removals are taking from him many of his better off people and he has been almost inclined to give the chapel up owing to the financial struggle involved in keeping things going. … He is capable but, as stated, hardly enthusaistic." (Charles Booth Notebook B277)
In the event, the chapel closed in 1904 and by 1908 was one of the first cinemas in London, able to seat 720 people and owned by one of the pioneer film exhibitors, the Electric Theatre Company Ltd. They owned another cinema in Shepherd’s Bush and by 1910 had a total of 23 theatres. The cinema showed a repeating programme that lasted 75 minutes with an entrance ticket that cost 3d (just over 1p). By the mid 1950s the chapel was used for a while as a theatre store.
The building was converted in the 1990s into housing along with the Sunday School at the rear of the chapel. It is part of the Liverpool Grove Conservation area.