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St Giles's Church (Camberwell Church Street)
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St Giles's Church (Camberwell Church Street)St Giles's Church was built in 1842-4 by Sir George Gilbert Scott to replace a mediaeval building that had been destroyed by fire in 1841. Scott's large new building emphasized Camberwell's transition from country village to prosperous suburb and the change in architectural fashion from Classical to Gothic. Whereas just 20 years earlier the parish had built a daughter-church - St George's, Camberwell - in a monumental Greek Revival style, Sir Gilbert's building was a fully fledged product of the Gothic Revival.

The church was built while Scott was a partner in the firm of Scott & Moffatt. The firm's early fame came from building workhouses for the new Poor Law Unions of the 1830s, but Scott gradually became known for his churches, of which St Giles's was the first important one, and was one of the most significant in the early Gothic Revival. In later years, he immodestly referred to the church in the context of the Gothic Revival as 'the best church by far which had then been erected'. The style is 13th-century Early English, which Scott usually employed (in its later or Geometrical version). The plan is cruciform and includes a crossing tower, with a broach spire rising to 63 metres (207 ft). Scott originally wanted to make the church longer, which would have improved its proportions, but the actual building is still a masterly composition. It is built of Kentish ragstone, with dressings in Caen and Sneaton stone. It was consecrated on 21 November 1844, by the Bishop of Winchester, within whose diocese almost the whole of south London once fell.

The plan is of an aisled nave of five bays, north and south transepts, and a substantial chancel. The present high altar under the crossing dates from 1974. The old chancel is now the Lady chapel. Scott's characteristic gabled reredos at the east end, which now has painted figures in its arches (by Sir Ninian Comper), was originally filled with boards of the Commandments, Lord's Prayer and Creed in the Georgian manner. The interior also differs from its Victorian aspect in lacking the galleries on iron columns which Scott supplied and which were removed after the Second World War. The removal of much 19th-century glass, together with the church's whitening in 1966, has left a conspicuously light interior. The piers of the nave are alternately round and octagonal. The nave, chancel and transepts have high-pitched roofs; the north porch and the crossing are groined.

Original to Scott's church are the pews, pulpit and organ case, supplied by Samuel Pratt of New Bond Street. The choirstalls came from Lady Margaret Church in Walworth. J. C. Bishop supplied the organ, designed by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, the well-known 19th-century musician, who was organist here in 1829-32. He was the great-nephew of John Wesley. As it happens, Mary Wesley, John's wife, is buried here. She died in 1781.

St Giles's Church (Camberwell Church Street)

Sir Gilbert Scott's church of 1842-4 has an east window whose stained glass was designed with John Ruskin's help and on the model of 13th-century French examples.


The 14th-century sedilia and piscina are from the old church and were placed in the present building only in 1916. The eight brasses on the south wall of the south transept, which date from between 1492 and 1637, were also rescued from old St Giles's. Among other memorials, is one on the south transept's west wall to the First Surrey Rifles, which was removed from the regimental depot in Flodden Road in 1962. The icon in the south transept was given in 1980 by the local Greek Orthodox congregation, which worshipped in St Giles's for some years. In the north aisle there is a memorial by Eric Gill to Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman (died 1927), the Liberal politician and reformer, who lived in Camberwell. In the opposite aisle a marble tablet commemorates Captain Nairne, who served the Honourable East India Company, was a director of the shipping firm, P. & O., and fought under Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

The great east window was made by the firm of Ward & Nixon and was pieced together in 1950 after being shattered in the Second World War. It is often stated that the window was designed by John Ruskin, who was a parishioner, although Ruskin's autobiography states clearly that he gave way in the matter to his friend, Edmund Oldfield. Ruskin certainly studied French stained glass (as he put it, 'the tracery of the east window seemed to us convertible into no dishonouring likeness of something at Rheims or Chartres'), but Oldfield was evidently just as learned. The window follows the 13th-century French style and comprises rich purple and red medallions. The central light depicts the Nativity, Temptation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. The two lights to the left show Old Testament scenes; the two to the right illustrate the Acts of the Apostles. Our Lord's baptism and the Last Supper appear in the tracery lights.

The west window contains 13th-century glass from Trier. Acquired at the time of rebuilding, it was repaired by Ward & Nixon. Sir Ninian Comper designed two windows in the south transept. The one above the brasses, installed in 1956, depicts St Giles with the deer. The 10th-century legend (three centuries after the saint's actual life) states that a King Wamba shot at a deer which Giles was protecting, but crippled Giles instead. Hence the saint's later fame as a patron of cripples. All that is really known of St Giles is that he was a 7th-century hermit in Provence.


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