Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Revd. Alfred B Goulden was sent to serve the parish, a man with great determination, a great talent for fund-raising and publicity, and who certainly had a way with words. He wrote colourfully about the conditions of the parish, some said his methods were sensationalist and misleading. This is an extract from his description of the parish when he arrived:
“It is a poor parish in the middle of poor parishes, only to be distinguished by surpassing all others in poverty; what few shops there are share in the desperate aspect of depression. The wretched, ruinous houses with battered doors, dingy broken windows and blackened walls, cluster thickly together in murky courts and alleys. Foul sewers pour out disagreeable smells. Rotten refuse lies in every direction. All disagreeable smelling trades seem to be actively practised in the neighbourhood. Here they smoke haddocks, boil bones, slaughter horses, make ‘catgut’, soap and whatever else can make a parish disagreeable. …
“Even the children and mere infants sprawling in the gutter look up at passers-by with pinched and ugly faces; evil eyed men leer out of the open doors of the public house; women in faded and tattered finery, with awful history written in their faces, lounge about the dark archways and doors. Down these narrow and dirty streets, costermongers, tramps, labourers and thieves are huddled together. A small low room suffices for a whole family, streets and lanes abound where it would be hard to find a person who had not served his time in some prison or reformatory. Immorality of the coarsest type is regarded with utter indifference. …”
Revd. Goulden applied himself energetically, his first task to find suitable premises. At that stage there was very little money, and the only premises that could be afforded was a dilapidated and decayed stable which still accommodated horses. St Alphege Sunday School opened in 1873 and before long there were 160 children in attendance “all in rags and tatters huddle together best they can.” Soon after, simple Sunday evening services began for adults and soon 50 people were attending, mostly the parents of the Sunday School children. Named The Manger, these premises were limited and clearly larger and more suitable premises had to be found, but, with an annual endowment of only £150, it was not easy. Eventually, a lease was taken on ‘The Shamrock’ a former public-house with a dilapidated skittle alley behind which had lost its license due to fights and assaults that had continually taken place on the premises. Money was so scarce the clergy acted as carpenters and joiners and on 13 July 1873 ‘The Temporary Church of St Alphege, Southwark’ opened. Bible classes and weeknight services were held. Sunday evening services were crowded: “black-sliders, open profligates, drunkards, wife-beaters, pick-pockets, crowded into the fold”.
Day schools for both girls and boys were opened but these were soon integrated into the Board Schools which were being built. A crèche was started where working mothers could leave their babies, a safer alternative to baby farms and the care of older siblings. Convalescent children of the parish were served meat dinners in one of the school rooms, and orphans, children of widows and those whose parents were out of work were given soup dinners several times a week in a house rented especially. Next door a Club for Working Men was started and by 1893 there were 40 organisations that the Mission had set up and running which included Mothers’ Meetings, Clubs for Working Boys, a Home for Working Boys, a Home for Working Girls, a Home for Homeless Boys, an Orphanage for Little Girls, and a Night Refuge for Women and Girls.
The Church of St Alphege in King’s Bench Street is a simple brick structure built in 1931 as a church hall for the original St Alphege Church, very close by in Lancaster Street. Next door to the church is the St Alphege Clergy House, built in 1910 to house both clerics and other staff who worked at the church. The chapelry of St Alphege was formed in 1872 as a sub-parish of St George the Martyr and covers an area west of Southwark Bridge Road to Blackfriars Road, to the south of the parish which would become All Hallows (now defunct).
Revd. Goulden was tireless in his fund-raising and soon there was enough to at least make a start on building a permanent church in Lancaster Street. The dedication service in 1882 was crowded, mostly with parishioners but money was still owed to the builders and the church was unable to be consecrated as, at that time, the church did not own the freehold of the land. The church was made of red brick and had a single bell and was described as simple, in the pointed style, with no aisle or chancel arch.
Revd Goulden died of typhoid fever in 1896 though his health had been failing for the previous two years.
It is not surprising that a man as successful and as outspoken as Revd. Goulden should attract controversy and criticism. There were many objects of piety within the church of St Alphege and Protestants consistently denounced the church for its Roman Catholic tendencies. Revd. Goulden is reported as saying to counter these accusations that he “had learned by experience that what the people wanted was a full exhibition of the Catholic Faith.”
Other parishes nearby envied his fund raising abilities. Revd. E H Longsden of nearby parish St Michael’s in The Mint bemoaned the difficulty he had in raising money. “I sometimes wonder how … the people of St Alphege’s manage it. Father Goulden used to raise 3 or 4 thousand a year. Yes, he used to be called the “Costers’ Bishop” and the press used to write it up. We used to laugh.” Revd. W J Somerville, the vicar of St George the Martyr, urged care when looking at the numbers of communicants and those confirmed at St Alphege's as they were the result of bribery: he maintained relief was only given to those who attended church services or meetings. The vicar of Christ Church in Blackfriars Road accused the St Alphege Mission of sensationalism and untruthfulness and that the statements “that the Mission had begged upon were, to say the least of it, misleading.” The Charles Booth investigator who had elicited these comments was more forgiving: “… when every allowance has been made for reckless giving and for sensationalism, that Father Goulden did get a multitude of agencies at work and did make the Mission “hum”.”
The church was declared redundant in 1983 and demolished in 1991 although the church still owns the land and flats have been erected on the former church site. The parish was reintegrated with the parish of St George the Martyr but the congregation of St Alphege still continue to meet in the hall in King’s Bench Street.
St Alphege Annual Reports and Accounts, 1893 and 1897
Interviews with Revd W J Somerville, St George the Martyr; Revd W H Longsden, St Michael's and Revd A H De Fontaine, All Hallows Charles Booth Notebooks, District 31 Book No. C1, 1899
John Bull: 28 April 1883, 29 November 1884, 22 May 1886
(This is a slightly modified version of an article that previously appeared on my website Bankside and Borough Now and Then which is not currently online)