Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Henry Wood Hall, formerly the Holy Trinity Church, stands in the centre of Trinity Village, a well preserved and peaceful Georgian estate just a short distance from the traffic and bustle of Borough. The church was built in the early 19th century to alleviate the pressure caused by the increase in population within the parish of St Mary Newington.
The population of the parish of St Mary Newington had increased from just over 14,000 in 1800 to over 44,000 twenty years later and the church was unable to accommodate such an enlarged congregation. In June 1820 an Act of Parliament was passed that enabled the building of two new churches within the parish which became Holy Trinity Newington and St Peter’s Walworth. (See page on St Peter's Walworth for background information about the Church Building Act of 1818. )
The land for Holy Trinity Newington was donated by the Corporation of Trinity House from their estate to the south of Borough High Street. The Corporation is responsible for provision and maintenance of navigational aids which cover everything from buoys and lighthouses to satellite communication systems. They are also the organisation responsible for licensing and providing deep sea pilots who offer expertise in navigation in Northern European waters, and is a charitable organisation who provide for the safety, welfare and training of mariners. The Corporation had been sold the land by Christopher Merrick, a Junior Brother Mariner, in 1661 in exchange for seven years rent. The land was to be held in trust and the income used "for Relieving, Comforting, Easing and Maintaining of the poor Aged Sick Maimed Weak and decayed Seamen and Mariners of this Kingdom, their Wives children and Widowes where most need was."
The land was mainly used for market gardening and grazing, with stables and a brewery, until the beginning of the 19th century when Great Suffolk Street East (later Trinity Street) was formed in 1813/14. Only a few houses had been built on the estate at the time the foundation stone of Holy Trinity Church was laid in June 1823 by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the same day he laid the foundation stone for St Peter’s Walworth. Though the churches shared the same beginnings, the subsequent development of the areas around the two churches was to be very different.
The Trustees of Trinity House held a competition for the design of the new church and the commission awarded to Francis Bedford. The masonry work was awarded to William Chadwick, who also built the chapels at Kensal Green Cemetery and a part of the Ladbroke Grove estate, and Elizabeth Broomfield was given the contract for the bricklaying. The church was consecrated in December 1824 and in the same year William Chadwick applied for a building lease from the Corporation with the intention of building a square around the church. The houses he built were aimed at the middle classes, spacious and built to a high standard. Trinity Square, now Trinity Church Square, was completed in 1832. Chadwick went on to develop other streets within the estate and in 1853 Merrick Square was built by builders Cooper and Bottomley to designs by the Corporation’s surveyor. There was no cohesive masterplan for the estate but plans had to be approved by the Corporation’s surveyors.
By the mid 19th century, the Borough, like the area around St Peter’s Church in Walworth, was becoming one of the most overcrowded, poor and unhealthy places to live in London but the Trinity Estate was a wealthy middle class island amidst the squalor. The Charles Booth Poverty Maps of 1898 showed Trinity Square and the surrounding streets to house either the middle class and well-to-do or the fairly comfortable with good ordinary earnings.
Externally, the estate has changed very little since it was built and it’s like walking onto a film set and indeed it has been used as a film location. The central focus is the lovely church garden, complete with statue of King Alfred, again laid out by William Chadwick at the time the church was built. The church suffered some damage during the war and was closed in 1961 when the building was declared unsafe. The church bells were recast and rehung at St Andrew with St Thomas but when that church closed, the bells were purchased by St Peter Walworth.
Ten years later the church acquired a new lease of life when it became a rehearsal hall and recording studio for the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. The Southwark Rehearsal Hall Ltd purchased the church and donated it back to the Corporation of Trinity House who then leased it to Southwark Rehearsal Hall Ltd for 99 years at a peppercorn rent. The church required major building work which was just about to commence when in October 1973 the building was devastated by fire leaving only the four walls and tower standing. The building had been Grade II listed in 1950 and now required total reconstruction. The disaster was overcome and in June 1975 an inaugural concert took place before an invited audience. The hall was renamed the Henry Wood Hall in honour of the man who helped to create the Proms and brought classical music to the general public.