Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Our Lady of Sorrows Church. The former Friary is to the right
The Church of Our Lady of Sorrows on the corner of Bird in Bush Road and Friary Road in Peckham was consecrated in October 1866. The Capuchin Order of Fransciscans had been invited to set up a mission and friary in London in the early 1850s but the site of the church in Peckham was not acquired until 1856. A year later, a small school opened together with the first chapel which was adapted from a stable and coach house. This was replaced by a temporary wooden church. The permanent church was designed by E W Pugin and the foundation stone laid in 1859 but building progress was slow due to shortage of money. In January 1866, the Tablet reported that the walls to the new church had been erected and were ready to receive the roof but progress was being held up due to lack of money. Donations were invited and an anonymous benefactor came forward with a loan of £2000 which he was sorry could not be a gift.
The new building was named the Church of Our Lady of Dolours. The Tablet reported on its opening:
The monastery was to be built on the site next door to the church and Pugin had prepared designs for this too but, perhaps again because of lack of money, the Friary was not built until 1884 to designs by James O’Byrne. It comprised 22 cells and combined “solidity with restrained impressiveness of exterior” (The Tablet, 27 December 1884). The school had been destroyed by a fire the previous year and this was replaced at the same time as the Friary was built. This four storey building was home to St Francis’ School until new buildings were built on an adjacent site in the 1970s.
By the early 21st century, the Franciscan community had dwindled and those that remained were elderly. It was decided to hand the church over to the Diocese and the friars moved to their house in Erith while the Friary they had left became residential. In 2014 the running of the parish was handed over to the Vicentians (Congregation of the Mission).
“On Thursday last, the 4th of October, the Feast of St. Francis of Assissi, the new church of Our Lady of Dolours, Peckham, was solemnly opened by his Grace the Archbishop of Westminster. It is now eight years since the foundation stone of this beautiful structure (which is certainly not one of the least of Mr. Pugin's many triumphs) was laid, and both before and since that time, the Capuchin Fathers, who have the care of the mission, have been untiring in their exertions and self denial to promote its interests and obtain and complete the much-needed church, and the building, though very far from finished, is so beautiful, and the circumstances attending the ceremony of the opening, so gratifying, that they must feel in some degree rewarded for all they have done. Not one untoward event marred the happiness of the day, which must be marked with a " white stone " in the memory of all who were present. The procession, as it entered the church, was very striking ; the long line of acolytes with the cross and tapers ; the different religious orders ; the many secular priests ; the canons in their robes ; the mitred prelates ; the joyful music ; all seemed to realise the hope and expectation of 300 years, that the Church in England would cast off her fetters, and once more resume her rightful position and spiritual sway.” (Full Article)
St Francis of Assisi