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Caroline Gardens Chapel

An extraordinary centrepiece of a large almshouse complex, the chapel was originally intended for retired publicans and brewers. It was severely damaged in WWII, but a collection of funerary monuments and painted glass windows survived. Sealed up until recently it is now an arts centre.

Architect

Rose, Henry

Date

1827-33.

Asylum Road SE15 2SQ

Sun 3.30pm-9pm.

Queens Road Peckham

P12

  • Access for wheelchair users
  • Regularly open to the public at no charge
  • Toilets available

CAROLINE GARDENS CHAPEL Early historyCaroline Gardens Chapel, in Peckham, forms the heart of London_s largest complex of almshouses originally known as the Licenced Victuallers_ Benevolent Institution Asylum. However, despite being called an _asylum_, the grade-II-listed site was not a home for lunatics. Instead, the word was used in its older sense of _sanctuary_ and it was in fact an old folks_ home for retired pub landlords (or _decayed members of the trade_ as they were known at the time). The welfare state still being over 100 years in the future, almshouses were an important part of life, offering impoverished Georgian and Victorian elderly people the only alternative to destitution or the workhouse. Residents were entitled to a small weekly cash payment, coal, medical care and medicine. Dating the chapel between 1827 and 1833, architectural historian Nicolaus Pevsner describes the six-acre complex as _the only grand composition among the many almshouses of Camberwell. Exceptionally large_. Other almshouses in Southwark included those of the Girdlers_ Company and the Metropolitan Beer and Wine Trade Society. At that time, North Peckham was an area of market gardens and fields adjacent to the largely unbuilt-up Old Kent Road and a middle-class area called Peckham New Town, which was the first local example of planned development. However, rural or not, 10,000 people are reported to have watched the opening ceremony. At the time, the chapel was the beating heart of the community. A contemporary account declared that: _The services are bright and, though eminently congregational, are partly choral. The excellence of the congregational singing is mainly due to the establishment, some years since, of the Licensed Victuallers_ Choral Association, composed chiefly of the younger members of the various families who attend the Asylum Chapel._ The chapel is described as having _an organ of considerable power, by Messrs Bovington and Sons, erected by voluntary contributions_ while the walls bore _several costly tablets to the memory of benefactors, the most conspicuous being them to HRH the Duke of Sussex and HRH the Prince Consort_. Most of these carved stone memorials are still there. In 1858 the Albert Wing was added, and opened by the Prince Consort himself, adding 31 more dwellings. As a result, a 16ft statue of Albert was unveiled in the middle of the lawn outside. It was unveiled in 1864 by the Prince of Wales after Albert_s death in 1861. World War Two to the present dayDuring the Second World War, the LVBI evacuated its tenants to Denham, in Buckinghamshire. The asylum was bombed, and the chapel was almost completely gutted by an incendiary device, with the astonishing exception of its important stained-glass windows and fascinating collection of carved stone funerary monuments. After the war, the chapel was stabilised and made watertight by filling the crypt with concrete and adding a rudimentary asbestos-cement roof. The board of management decided that it preferred the new site in Buckinghamshire and, in 1959, the last tenants moved to Denham, along with the statue of Prince Albert. The asylum was sold to LB Southwark in 1960, which to this day uses it as social housing. Southwark renamed it _Caroline Gardens_ after Caroline Secker, a former resident and widow of James Secker, who was the marine in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) said to have caught Nelson when he fell. Although the cottages are still in use, the chapel was never really used again. In 1960, the local paper described how it was to become _a little theatre_. However, this did not come to pass. Around 1977, plans were put forward for the chapel_s restoration by the Jubilee Celebrations Committee. At that point, it was being used as a costume store by LB Southwark_s _Entertainments Department_. It was felt that just œ20,000 would be enough to restore _the roof, internal walls, guttering, plasterwork, bricks and windows._ This endeavour came to nothing and, apart from evidence of a temporary wooden room having been built inside the chapel for use by artists in the 1990s, the building appears to have been disused ever since. In 2010 Jo Dennis and Dido Hallett took over the space to run as an art space and to facilitate filming projects. ÿ