About the Church
St Michael's Church was begun in 1839 when the land was gifted by William Cox during the development of Stockwell Park. It was built to the designs of William Rogers in the 'Lancet' or Early English style and accommodated 1,350 parishioners. It cost £4,125.12.9d. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester on the 9th November 1841.
It was built to meet the spiritual needs of the people starting to live in the rapidly growing suburb of Stockwell, and incidentally as a focal point for the new estate. Like the other churches nearby (including the chapel that became St Andrew’s Stockwell Green – our sister church), the new parishes were carved from the parish of St Mary’s Lambeth (the church next to Lambeth Palace that is now a gardening museum). The funding came from a variety of sources: The Church Commissioners, a special fund for new metropolitan churches, the estate developer (who gave the land) and local residents.
The design – Gothic Revival in style – is used “mischievously”, with a ring of little pinnacles around the spire (originally more flamboyant) adding a light hearted touch to a plain building. Thin iron cast columns support the large and wonderful galleries (which contain original box pews) and roof (out of sight behind the false ceiling). The biblical texts along the front of the galleries and the remnants of Victorian stencil work in the chapel indicate the original decoration, appropriate for low-church worship with few services of Holy Communion and an emphasis on Matins and Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer with hymns and sermon.
Pew rents (you could worship for free in the galleries, which have separate entrances – the Victorian householders were not keen to enter through the same door as their servants!) were the main source of finance, not just for the church, but for the wide range of social services provided by the Church at that time. This included education at the school in Halstead Street (now lost under Slade Gardens) and a soup kitchen. Special collections were taken then as now in response to crises (e.g. the Irish famine of 1847). Today St Michael’s supports the Brixton Food Bank and the Robes homeless shelter during the winter.
There is one oddity about St Michael’s. Almost all churches face east, towards Jerusalem. St Michael’s faces west. It was turned around in the 1880s to create a modern worship space in place of the original cramped sanctuary area under the spire and the box pews were removed at this time. There are several stories about why this happened, including rumours of a suicide at the west end, but no one actually knows and the practical rationale is probably the real one.
The striking stained glass windows in the present sanctuary – 5 lancets dominated by the Ascended Christ – come from the 1950s and were designed by John Trinick. The windows either side of the Ascended Christ show Mary on the left and St Michael, the Archangel, standing on a dragon/Satan on the right. Either side of these are, on the left, Jairus and his daughter, and on the right, the widow of Nain and her son. They replace the original Victorian glass that was shattered by a doodlebug in 1944, which also clipped the spire and exploded on the houses where Slade Gardens lies.
As you go round the church, look into the Warrior Chapel with its wooden memorial to those linked to the church who died in the 1st World War. This chapel was given by the 8th Scout Group and the Scout banners are kept in the church just down from the Chapel.
The Church is in need of repair and the Parish is keen to raise money to do so. Please see attached the condition report, which sets out what needs to be done. If you would be willing to help, please go to the Giving and/or Fundraising pages to see how to give. We have set up a Friends of St Michael charity to enable those who give for the fabric of the church to be confident any thing they donate will go directly to that object.
History of the Parish of St Michael
The first known place of worship in Stockwell would seem to have been the one erected in 1523 as a chapel to Stockwell Manor roughly where the Waltham Estate now stands opposite Stockwell Green. Sir John Leigh, who owned the manor together with parts of Vauxhall and Lambeth, built it just outside the moat. It stood until the beginning of the 19th century. The land around the church and the Crescent was bought in 1906 and houses began to be built in 1832. The site of the church was given to the Ecclesiastical Commisssioners in 1839.
The first minister was the Rev HS Plumtre, curate of St Mark's Kennington. Also employed were an Assistant Minister, Thomas Mowsell, a Parish Clerk, a Verger, 4 Pew Openers, an organ blower and a bell ringer. A list of subscribers to the Furnishings and Fittings in 1841 included stockbrokers, several merchants, lawyers, accountants and architects; also a victualler, a draftsman, a baker, coal factor, teachers, clerks, civil servants and serveral who describe themselves of independent means.
Until 1845, St Michael's was a "Chapelcy District" within the old parish. In that year it was assigned an area of its own and Queen Victoria signed an Order in Council creating a separate parish. The district specificed was almost twice the current size, including all the area west of the Clapham Road, which is now the parish of St Stephen's South Lambeth (on Wilkinson Street), created in 1861.
The first vicar was Rev Charles Kemble who joined in 1844. He seems to have played a major role in building and shaping the parish and an idea of his approach can be gathered from a paper he deliver to a clergy meeting in 1859 and subsequently published, called "Suggestive Hints on Parochial Machinery" and it sets out the plan of action he would recommend to a lonely incumbent appoint in a "district pronounced by the highest authorities on such subjects to be unmanageable".
His advice covered making sure the church building was fit for purpose together, then focusing on the services and getting good music, then getting a good map of the parish and walking its streets. Kemble also wanted lay agents to look after social welfare side of things and, very importantly female visitors from an "upper grade in society". He was prepared to pay them if necessary. On the subject of temporal relief, he also says "Caution must be employed not to pauperise our people by our attempts ot do them good. Strive to inclucate a spirit of independence". However, a soup kitchen was set up very early by him and was still going 50 years later and very popular. So the food bank has a long history of support in the parish. Kemble also published a popular hymn book. It was Kemble who organised the building of St Stephen's. He left to become Rector of Bath in 1859.
Henry Thompson who was already on the staff, took over as Vicar and stay for the next 20 years. It ws during his tenure that the congregation was at its highest, with three services a day and an average of 200 in the congregation. He eventually exchanged parishes with the man who was to succeed him: Rev Mars Hamilton Begbie, who was Vicar here for 25 years. It was he to re-ordered the church. The faculty was granted in 1880 and it was at this point that the original box pews were removed and the current ones installed. The access to the galleries was also changed at this point. In 1887, the Parish Room was built.
In 1901, Rev Richard Dixon arrived, who had been a curate in the church and then spent several years working in Tasmania. He stayed until 1920. This is the first period for which there is an extensive set of Church Council minutes. They relate a dramatic confrontation in 1904 as to whether Hymns Ancient & Modern should be introduced. The antis won on this occasion and it was not until 1910 that the new hymn book was introduced.
Richard Dixon was succeeded in 1920 by Rev John William Mattinson with an exchange of livings. He was suceeded in his turn by one of the curates of St Mark's, Rev Herbert Henry Flack. His induction was the last time the galleries were used as extra seating. He was vicar for nearly 30 years right the way through the Second World War. The Church was hit twice: first by an incendiary bomb, which set parts of it alight. The fire was put out, but gallons of water were poured into the organ. Then towards the end of the war, a VI doodlebug flying bomb hit the steeple before rebounding off to destroy a line of houses opposite in what is now Slade Gardens. Services continued throughout the war.
In the 1930s, St Michael's churchmanship was categorised in a review of churches in Lambeth as "low and dry. No effort." Low and dry indicates a churchmanship that stuck closely to the Book of Common Prayer, plan and with little ceremoney, firmly protestant, but also opposed to any "enthusiasm", regarding that as a non-conformist aberration. Matins and Evensong would be their main worship, Holy Communion services unadorned: no candles or vestments. However, the introduction of mid-week communion services did come in during this period on the major Saints' days.
The building was restored after the War through the War Damage Commisssion and finally re-opened in 1953. It was at this point the false ceiling was put in and the chancel raised on a platform. Outside a number of pinnacles were shed. The organ was resored and fitted with pneumatic action. The interior was not restored to its Victorian richness, but given a much plainer finish. However, the interior was significantly enhanced by new stained glass windows. At the back of the church, 3 houses: 11,13 and 15 Stocwell Park Crescent had been destroyed and the Parish bought the land with a view to extending the church hall and building a new vicarage. However, the Council took the site in a compulsory purchase order, intending to build on it themselves. It took them 30 years to do so! The house owned by the Parish at No 78 Stockwell Park Road had also been destroyed and a new vicarage was built on the site allowing the old one at No 37, with its 22 rooms, to be sold off.
The raising of the area now occupied by Slade Gardens removed a large part of the parish and potential congregation, which was then partially re-built with the arrival of new immigration from Commonwealth countries, a few of whom are still core members of the congregation today. The new incombant was Rev. Joseph Tibbott, who came from Caterham and stayed eleven years before returning to his native Wales. He was joined by the only curate during 40 post war years, Rev Joseph Adetiloye from Nigeria (until the appointment of Rev C Newall in 1987). Rev Adetiloye eventually became Archbishop of Nigeria.
One legacy of the period was a shift in the churchmanship of St Michael's. The old and dry tradition had persisted up until 1950s, accentuated when St Andrew's was caught up in the Anglo-Catholic movement around the turn of the century. (It was said that at one stage theclergy of the two parishes would pass each other without speaking!) In the 1960s, worship became "broader", vestments began to be worn and candles were placed on the altar for the first time. It was also influenced by the Parish Communion movement, making the main Sunday morning service a Eucharist, whilst sung Matins and Evenson dwindled and finally ceased along with the disappearance of a robed choir. It moved away from the Book of Common Prayer to the Alternative Service Book in the 1970s like most other parishes.
Parish reorgansation was first mooted, in the form of a merger with St Andrews', in the 1970s and the Rev Alan Ramsey, was appointed as Parish Priest rather than Vicar, with the benefice suspended. This fell through and the benefice was restored 15 years later.
St. Michael's Church Hall
The calendar below shows the activities taking place in the Church Hall, which is accessible from both Stockwell Park Road and Stockwell Park Crescent. The cost is £30 per hour, which includes tables and chairs. If you want to hold an event elsewhere and would like to hire one of our four gazebos or tables and chairs, the cost is £20 per gazebo per day, £10 per table per day and £2 per chair per day. To inquire about hiring St Michael’s Church Hall or gazebos, tables and chairs, please contact the Hall Manager, Robert McConnell on or the Deputy Hall Manager, Jean Orr, on