Chapel to former mission settlement, 1929-30 by Geoffrey Raymond.
Reason for Listing
The Chapel of St George and St Helena is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a well-detailed Tudor-Gothic chapel, its design sensitively adapted from that of Lincoln's Inn Old Hall, with an impressive interior dominated by an elaborate hammer-beam roof.
* Artistic interest: including a remarkable south window by Reginald Bell, showing Christ appearing to 'the people of Dockland' on the industrial Thames shore.
* Historic interest: the architectural, ceremonial and spiritual heart of the former Dockland Settlement, a centre for missionary and social work which rose to national prominence in the 1920s and 30s under the leadership of Reginald Kennedy-Cox, and was revived in the 1950s by the Revd. David Sheppard, later Bishop of Liverpool and a leading social campaigner within the Church of England.
The complex of buildings now known as the River Christian Centre have their origin in a missionary outpost founded in 1894 by Malvern College – one of a number of public-school and university ‘settlements’ established in the east London slums during the late C19. Its fortunes were transformed in the years after World War One under the leadership of (Sir) Reginald Kennedy-Cox, a charismatic and well-connected Old Malvernian who abandoned a West End playwriting career to work as a volunteer at the settlement, serving as its Warden from 1918 until his retirement in 1937. Kennedy-Cox reinvented the mission as the Dockland Settlement (the word ‘Dockland’ seems to have been his coinage), specialising in youth work with children and teenagers from impoverished Canning Town families; its network of sports clubs – especially football and boxing – became a fixture of working-class life in the area throughout the inter-war period. Daughter settlements were founded at Poplar, Rotherhithe, Bristol and Southampton, and Kennedy-Cox secured the patronage of high-profile sponsors including Princess Helena Victoria (who became the president of the Dockland Settlements) and Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI).
The original buildings of the settlement, comprising converted terraces and a corrugated-iron chapel, were gradually replaced during this period. At the heart of the complex was a new chapel, modelled on the C15/C16 Old Hall at Lincoln's Inn and dedicated (as Kennedy-Cox put it) 'to St George for the boys and St Helena for the girls’ - the latter dedication being also a compliment to the settlement's principal royal patron. The architect was Geoffrey Raymond (1881-1972), a former partner of the prominent Roman Catholic architect JJ Scholes, although Kennedy-Cox seems to have played a large part in the design. The dedication ceremony, vividly described in Kennedy-Cox's memoir, was attended by 1,200 people including delegations from the four daughter settlements, the band of the Royal Engineers, the choir of the Chapel Royal of the Savoy, Princess Helena Victoria and, as guest of honour, Queen Mary.
The settlement struggled during the post-war years, with Malvern withdrawing its direct patronage in 1956. Two years later it was reconstituted as the Mayflower Family Centre under the Wardenship of the Revd David Sheppard, a former England cricketer and afterwards, as Bishop of Liverpool, the Church of England’s leading social campaigner and a chief author of the controversial 1985 report Faith in the City. Sheppard himself said that his experience as an inner-city missioner at Canning Town shaped his later approach to the ministry, convincing him that issues of poverty, inequality and social justice must be central to the Church's work in society. The Mayflower Centre remained in existence until 2003, when it merged with a local Elim Pentecostal fellowship to become the River Christian Centre, Canning Town.
Red-brown brick with Portland stone dressings and tile roof.
The chapel is an aisleless rectangular building on a north-south alignment. At the south end is a narthex with a gallery above; at the north end, further galleries with vestries beneath flank the raised sanctuary area. The chapel formed the eastern side of the settlement's central quadrangle, with the two domestic ranges projecting to the west.
The model for Raymond's design was the C15/16 Old Hall at Lincoln's Inn, then newly restored by Sir John Simpson. The style is late Gothic, with Tudor-arched windows and doorways, the latter set in rectangular stone surrounds with carved quatrefoils and shields in the spandrels. The gabled south (liturgical west) front to Vincent Street has a big seven-light window with Perpendicular tracery of C15 type, below which is a doorway with nook shafts. The north front to Cooper Street has an elaborate rose window in the slightly projecting centre section, flanked by two-light windows with transoms. Here is set the foundation stone, laid on St George’s Day 1929 by HRH Princess Mary. The western flank facing the quadrangle is symmetrically composed, with a central doorway flanked by pairs of five-light windows with transoms. Above the doorway is a sundial inscribed, ‘Time passeth, God remains.’ The parapet is crenellated, and a small octagonal lantern crowns the roof-ridge.
The interior is a single aisleless space beneath a complex roof with two tiers of hammer-beams. There is much Tudor-Gothic woodwork by Maile and Son Ltd. The south gallery has a frontal of linenfold and tracery panels. The raised sanctuary area is enclosed on three sides by traceried oak screens; those to left and right support musicians' galleries with panelled frontals and vestries beneath, while that to the rear forms a reredos, its central panel now removed. Above the west doorway is a painted plaque commemorating the gift of a flag (now removed) from the Whitehall Cenotaph 'in memory of the men of Dockland who gave all that man can give for England during the Great War'.
The great south window contains brilliantly-coloured glass by Reginald Bell, a scion of the Clayton and Bell dynasty of glassmakers. The upper lights display a flamboyant tableau whose subject is described by Kennedy-Cox as 'the return of Our Lord in triumph to the earth... St Michael and St Gabriel sound a fanfare, and all the saints, modern as well as ancient, are there in answer to the call. St George in the foreground lays down his sword and St Helena holds up her fragment of the Cross; and first of them all to welcome our Lord - is a little Canning Town child holding out a bunch of wild flowers.' The figures are arranged upon a great flight of steps in the manner of a High Renaissance painting; below is a more muted scene showing the risen Christ appearing to local residents, with the industrial Thames shore in the background. The legend reads: ‘To the glory of God this window has been placed here by the people of Dockland, mothers, men, boys and girls. Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.’ On either side are war memorial windows with paired contemporary and medieval figures: a WW1 soldier (right) with the Abbess of Barking, ‘first promotor of social work in Medeival [sic] Essex’, and a WW2 airman (left) with a ‘Merchant Venturer of our London Docks’, commemorating 'the continuous interest in our work by successive Lord Mayors of London'. Below the gallery are windows depicting the chapel’s patrons, St Helena and St George, and others containing fragments of glass from windows destroyed in WW2. The rose window in the north wall has flame-coloured glass in concentric rings, apparently depicting the Heavenly Spheres. The two-light windows on each side depict Sir Galahad and King Arthur (left) and St Michael and King Alfred (right). The windows to east end west contain heraldic glass, including the arms of various benefactors to the Mission.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.