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Church of St Swithun, Lewisham

Description: Church of St Swithun

Grade: II
Date Listed: 12 March 1973
English Heritage Building ID: 203304

OS Grid Reference: TQ3859274492
OS Grid Coordinates: 538592, 174492
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4525, -0.0068

Location: Hither Green Lane, Lewisham, Greater London SE13 6QA

Locality: Lewisham
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: SE13 6QA

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Listing Text

12-MAR-73 (East side)

(Formerly listed as:

DATES OF MAIN PHASES, NAME OF ARCHITECT: A mission church (still attached at the E end) was built in 1884. The permanent church is to the designs of Ernest Newton: nave and aisles 1892-3: transepts, chancel, south chapel all with vestries etc below 1904-5.

MATERIALS: Red Wrotham brick with Bath stone windows and door dressings and window tracery: the copings to the gables and buttress tablings are of Portland stone. Welsh slate roofs (renewed 1956). Red clay tiled roofs to the hall.

PLAN: Three-bay nave, two-bay chancel, N and S aisles (shorter than the nave), shallow N and S transepts, S chapel, vestries etc (beneath the chancel, chapel and transepts), church hall (former mission church) at E end beyond the chancel. The chancel tapers slightly to allow sufficient width for the morning (now Lady) chapel and stairs to the vestries.

EXTERIOR: The most distinctive feature of the exterior is the use of large windows with rich, early C14 tracery. The large E window has eight lights divided into two main parts by Y-tracery and with ornate Flamboyant tracery on either side. The W windows are similarly treated. The aisle side windows are of four lights, again with Flamboyant tracery. The S transept has a particularly tall, four-light window with a transom and Geometrical tracery in the head. There are clerestories to both the nave and chancel. The nave and chancel roofline runs through at the same level. The various constituent parts of the church are each under their own gable, apart from the lean-to N aisle. Entrance to the church is by means of N and S doorways in the returns of the nave where it projects beyond the aisles. The hall has three round-arched lights under a superordinate arch at the E end. The falling away of the site to the E allows for vestries beneath the E end and for an impressively tall termination to the building.

INTERIOR: St Swithun¿s is a large, expansive design. The budget was tight so effect comes from largely plain, simple lines with enrichment being largely confined to large, richly traceried windows. The interior walls are mostly plastered. The nave has high three-bay arcades on either side with octagonal piers, chamfered arches, and moulded capitals and bases. Three-sided shafts rise from the capitals to the springing of the roof. The arches to the crossing have moulded arches, semi-circular responds and moulded capitals and bases. At the W end is a gallery: the wall supporting its front has three (now glazed) openings in the nave leading into a narthex beneath the gallery and which is entered from the N and S doorways. Over the nave is a semi-circular, horizontally boarded waggon roof with tie-beams with king posts, and with iron ties intermediately spaced between the tie-beams. The other roofs are all keel-shaped apart from the one to the N aisle which is a lean-to.

PRINCIPAL FIXTURES: Most of the rich, ornamental woodwork was carved in Bruges by H and A De Wispelaere. Their high altar oak reredos was started in 1908, erected in 1911 but finishing off was delayed by the First World War until 1919. It is highly ornate and has two tiers of figure carving. The main panel features a carving of the Last Supper, after Leonardo da Vinci's fresco, with the other panels being occupied by figures of saints. The De Wispelaere firm was also responsible for an earlier (1900) reredos, now in the Lady Chapel. It too made the oak pulpit and poppy-headed stalls, all of 1906. The late C20 embroidered Stations of the Cross are by a local artist, Gillian Riches. The seating in the nave has shaped ends: the choir stalls have been moved into the E end of the nave. The organ was built by Henry Willis and Sons.

HISTORY: The expansion of Lewisham in the late C19 required an increase of church accommodation. The first move in this area was the holding of mission services in Ardmere Road, followed by the building of a mission church on the St Swithun site and which opened in July 1884: it survives as the church hall. Shortly afterwards the Lewisham Church Extension Association was formed to build three churches in place of mission buildings. A scheme was drawn up in 1888 for a parish for St Swithun's and the ambitious design by Newton was published the following year (Building News). The foundation stone of the new building was laid on 2 July 1892 by the Countess of Dartmouth whose husband had given the site. This delay strongly suggests that raising the necessary funds was an arduous business. The first phase of the church was consecrated on 15 July 1893 by the bishop of Rochester in whose diocese the church then was. On 15 June 1904 the Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos laid the foundation stone for the rest of the church and the consecration by the bishop of Rochester took place on 26 November 1905. The first part of the church had cost £6,400 and the second about £5,000. The builders for both phases of construction were Maides and Harper of Croydon. Changes were made from the original designs in the interests of economy: notably the W end was reduced in elaboration with the envisaged pair of W windows separated by a buttress and the narthex-porch with a pair of doorways were given up. So was a two-light bellcote over the junction over the crossing.

The architect, Ernest Newton (1856-1922), was articled to Norman Shaw and set up in practice in 1879. He was a founder of the Art Workers' Guild and an early member of the Arts and Crafts Society. He built up a large practice as a domestic architect, designing many houses in the Home Counties. St Swithun's is his only surviving church: his only other one, the Good Shepherd, Lee, was destroyed in the Second World War.

Building News, 16 August 1889 (drawing of projected church).
Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South, 1983, p 416.
Leaflet, The Parish Church of St Swithun Hither Green: Notes on the Reredos (n d, c.1950)

The church of St Swithun's, Lewisham, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* It is a large, well-designed late Victorian and Edwardian town church.
* It has rich woodwork in its furnishings.
* It is the only surviving church by a well-known late C19/early C20 architect.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.