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St Paul's Church (Diamond Way, off Deptford High Street)
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Sir John Betjeman once called this church 'a pearl in the heart of Deptford'. It is an exuberant Baroque building in Portland stone, which was designed by Thomas Archer and built in 1713-30 under the Fifty New Churches Act. The old maritime district it serves has been much battered by redevelopment and war, and it was the setting of an immense pastoral effort by the late Canon David Diamond, Rector from 1969 to 1992. He was a fierce critic of post-war planners, for he saw their work as producing social disintegration. He thought that the Church should lead in picking up the pieces. He wanted to make St Paul's not only a precious architectural symbol of Deptford, but also the focus of local life. His remarkable ministry saw the church restored and its mission made as vibrant and expansive as any in London. Even the Millwall football team joined in.

St Paul's Church (Diamond Way, off Deptford High Street)

A graceful 18th-century wooden staircase.

The church is raised on a platform and is almost square. Its principal or west front has a semicircular, balustraded portico of four Tuscan columns standing in front of a circular tower. This arrangement is eminently successful in combining a Classical portico with a tall, English steeple, and it is often contrasted favourably with Gibbs's design at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Thomas Archer had visited Rome, where he presumably knew Pietro da Cortona's church of St Maria della Pace, and so he might have used a semicircular portico independently of Wren's examples in St Paul's Cathedral. There is an east apse to mirror the portico. On the north and south sides there are pediments that surmount the three projecting middle bays. Tall, arched windows with prominent keystones are divided by rusticated Tuscan pilasters. There are double staircases leading to north and south doors: a feature that one would normally associate more with the terrace of a country house than a church.

St Paul's Church (Diamond Way, off Deptford High Street)

Thomas Archer's exuberant Baroque church skilfully combines a west tower with a sizeable portico.

As in many 17th- and 18th-century churches, there is an ambivalence in the internal plan. It appears to be square, and the filling-in of the corners for staircases and vestries makes it approximate to a Greek cross. Moreover, the corners are canted to the nave, which helps to give the impression of a centralized plan. On the other hand, two Corinthian columns mark off the north and south sides as aisles, for the entablature they carry runs from east to west and is not diverted to indicate transepts. The aisles also house galleries to add to the longitudinal effect, and the apse draws attention to the traditional east aitar. The Venetian east window curves round the apse and fits into a screen that terminates in a column at each end; a decidedly Baroque arrangement.

St Paul's Church (Diamond Way, off Deptford High Street)

The east end in 1999. After a fire in 2000, the church was redecorated as it was in 1723. Clear glass has replaced the stained glass in the curving Venetian window, and the gilding and the communion rails have gone.

St Paul's Church (Diamond Way, off Deptford High Street)

The semicircular portico ultimately derives from the church of St Maria della Pace at Rome.

The fine 18th-century pulpit has iron stairs. As usual, it is only one part of a former three-decker. The font, however, is not a Georgian original but a late Victorian import from Rochester Cathedral and is incongruously neo-Norman in style. Among the memorials there is one to Dr Charles Burney, Rector from 1811 to 1817, who was the brother of the greatly admired novelist Fanny Burney.

St Paul's Church (Diamond Way, off Deptford High Street)

The interior facing the organ gallery, showing one of the giant Corinthian columns that divide the interior. The font has since been moved from in front of the door.

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