Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
There has been a church dedicated to St Giles in Camberwell since early medieval times. The church was added to and renovated through the years until a devastating fire destroyed the building in 1841. The story goes that when the old church burnt down, the medieval porch was rescued and moved to the vicarage garden on the other side of Peckham Road and used as what must have been a very small summer house. The vicarage and garden were sold to Southwark Council in the late 1960s where the Gilesmead Estate was built. The porch remained on this land and is now within the playground of a school nursery and, though it may sound a bit incongruous, this Grade II listed remnant seems quite at home. The porch was chosen for a Southwark Blue Plaque in 2009 but it was not mounted and unveiled until December 2016 while repairs were carried out to the stonework.
However, I recently came across a painting of the vicarage on the Southwark Collections website which was painted just before it was demolished. This has baffled me because the porch is more than just similar to that shown in the photo above though there are a few minor differences. When comparing the photo to the porch shown in an engraving of the old church, the entrance way to the old church is square rather than pointed. Could it be that the porch which has been thought to be medieval is in fact late Victorian, a survivor of 20th century demolition rather than a catastrophic fire?
Since posting the above, I have heard from Clare Vernon, historian of medieval and Byzantine visual and religious culture, who lives locally. She has undertaken further research into the porch and believes it to be medieval in origin though from a later period than previously thought. Her findings can be found here.
I have also heard from Donald Mason, local historian, who has also conducted research into the origins of the porch. He does not believe the building currently in Benhill Road was the medieval porch to St Giles but was constructed in the mid 19th century from materials salvaged from the church when it burnt down. The purpose for the new structure is explained in his article Old St Giles 3: Blue Plaques and History.