As time has progressed religious places of worship have made way for the growth of a city.
I walked briskly homeward after a stressful day of studies, with the intention of falling face first onto my bed until day had become night, and subsequently to slowly sip some imaginary liquor in front of my imaginary and unrealistically warm fireplace. On my tediously familiar journey down Old Kent Road, I thought about Penelope J. Corfield’s attitude, demonstrated within her ‘Journal of Urban History’, towards walking and how rich an experience it could be, as you do;
‘The art of urban ambulation has many connotations: crowds,
crushes, high hopes, hard paving stones, sore feet, strange
encounters and street wisdom.’ (Corfield, 1990, p. 132)
This last point particularly resonated within me. If we truly paid attention to the finer details of our surroundings, what could we, in turn, learn from the streets we walk day in and day out? Out of the corner of my eye, I chanced upon a very aesthetically ancient building, which now that I had looked at for more than a passing glimpse, was clear to me was a Church. Christ Church, C of E to be exact. At which point it struck me. Religion. What better and more timeless concept to base a historical endeavour on. And Peckham, a hotbed for diversity and culture, was the perfect place to explore the ever changing and emerging religion.
I crossed the road to glean a closer look at the Church at which I had decided to begin my journey. Above the doors, carved in stone it read ‘Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.’ The Church, I later discovered was originally built on the opposite side of the road in 1838, however due to the rapid growth of the South Metropolitan Gas Works situated adjacently, the Church was uprooted and pushed across the road in 1868. This consequently made me consider how religion was progressively being brushed aside making way for the unstoppable rise in industrialisation. My thought process here could be compared to the views expressed in ‘Walking the streets of eighteenth-century London; John Gay’s Trivia’ written by Clare Brant;
‘At the dawn of the eighteenth century, William King described the streets of London’
“pestered with Hackney Coaches and insolent carmen, shops and taverns, noise and
such a cloud of sea coals that if there be a resemblance of Hell upon earth it is this
volcano in a foggy day”. Yet in 1709 a country gentleman thought the city and its
thoroughfares were a sunlit ‘paradise’.’ (Clare Brant, 1716, p.2)
This shows the eternal state of change that London, or any city, endures and this is truer in no sense than with religion.
I continued walking and took a left down an old side street in a flaneur like manner. I carried on in this vain until I came across a rather grandiose, ostentatious old building. Upon studying it, although not a genius discovery, I found that it was called “Our Lady of Sorrows” Church. The Church was built in 1866 and a Franciscan community resided in the Friary next door until the late 1900’s when it was closed down and Britain’s Franciscan Friars were facing extinction. This further emphasized the shift away from religion in a progressing society and made me wonder what would stand in the place that was once home to a devout religious brotherhood. I later learned that during the second world war, the Church was quite heavily damaged by enemy action, and Friary Eugene of the Church, climbed Eighty-one feet just to repair the roof. I found it remarkable how, once so well cared for and of great importance, now the building stood next to a derelict and abandoned Friary hall. This just goes to show the path that society has taken is one away from the preservation and practice of religion, and although it is still of great importance and shapes a lot of our society, it seems somewhat less maintained.
I embarked further on my journey through the poorer yet more charmingly distinctive parts of Peckham, past the block of flats where I had originally intended to be asleep before I was swept away by inspiration. I made my way to the high street. I looked across the road, perhaps out of hunger to the seductively enticing sandwich bar known commonly as Subway and by chance looked up to see a small faint plague which upon closer look read ‘Site of the Old Hanover Chapel, 17- 1910, Made Famous Under the Ministry of Dr. W B Collyer, 1801-1852’. After subsequent research I stumbled upon the very interesting fact that this Chapel was once frequented by important people of that era such as the Duke of Kent and it was a large and popular Church within the community. Now in its place stood a chain, that could be said is a symbol for the transformation of this once rural area, brought about by capitalism and industrialisation, leaving religion in its wake.
As I weaved blindly through pedestrian traffic, I reflected on the importance of religion within society and how the constant growth of the bustling industrial setting was out weeding the rigid and dated places of worship. On my walk I had discovered a sense of the cultural shift that had occurred since just a 130 years ago when Peckham was just a simple rural village, one that I would have never considered before setting out on this spontaneous walk. For me, it brought to light the necessity of taking in our surroundings when we aimlessly walk, in order to better comprehend the history of where we are, and in turn to further research the historical writings of others to broaden our understanding. In my case, what began as an ordinary amble through the town in which I lived, morphed into a mechanism for my understanding of not only the shift from the rural village to the suburban town of Peckham, but also the topical change in the significance of religion, and how it plays a part in our current society.
- Brant, Clare, Walking the streets of eighteenth-century London; John Gay’s Trivia (1716), Oxford University Press, pg. 2
- Corfield, Penelope J., Journal of Urban History, Feb 1 1990, pg.132.