Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
A resident of St James’s Cloister on the corner of East Dulwich Road and Worlingham Road recently contacted Exploring Southwark to say that to the rear of their flat it was possible to see a sunken garden enclosed on four sides by Victorian brickwork. They discovered that the current flats had been built on a site where previously St James’s Church of Scotland had stood and, after undertaking further research, has produced the following article. With many thanks to the resident who prefers to remain uncredited.
In the 19th century the main Church (Kirk) of Scotland in London was, and still is, at Crown Court in Covent Garden, a focal point for Victorian Scottish life in London. A large number of Scots settled in East Dulwich, many of them jam makers from Paisley who had came to work at a branch of Robertson's jam factory in Catford, famed for its Golden Shred marmalade.
In 1881 these devout Presbyterians used to worship at Norland House, a privately owned house opposite Goose Green in East Dulwich Road. Covent Garden was too far to travel for regular worship although a special 'Dulwich Bus' was eventually laid on every Sunday. These Dulwich pioneers requested advice from Crown Court Church and in 1883 a temporary corrugated iron hall was erected, known as the Tin Church, in East Dulwich Road near Norland House at a cost of £1,000.
Three plaques rescued from St James's Church and now displayed within the grounds of St James's Cloister (click to enlarge). The Latin NEC TAMEN CONSUMEBATUR inscribed on the relief (the Church of Scotland emblem) is from Exodus and refers to Moses and the Burning Bush ('on fire but not consumed').
Funds were eventually raised for a more permanent church in East Dulwich from the sale St Columba's Church, Belgravia, and St. James's Church with church hall behind was built in 1891 on the corner of East Dulwich Road and Worlingham Road. The church offered both spiritual and social activities to an increased congregation and St James's Magazine came into being with 2,000 copies distributed in East Dulwich.
The church stood for the next 90 years, despite being damaged by an oil bomb that came through the roof in World War II. The congregation of Dulwich Grove Congregational Church (now Dulwich Grove United Reform Church) used it as a sanctuary while their church was renovated after bomb damage in 1940. But as fewer Scottish people came to East Dulwich and with attendance generally in decline, St James's Church was sold to the Presbyterian Housing Association in 1972, and St James' Cloister flats were erected in 1976, initially for couples. The present car park is where the church hall stood.
Today, three commemorative stones stand in the garden including the original carved version of the Burning Bush, emblem of the Church of Scotland, with Latin inscription, which had been a feature above the memorial window the church (see above).
George C Cameron (1979) A Scots Kirk in London
Norman Singleton, The Dulwich Grove Story
With thanks to Rev. Iain McLaren, United Reform Church, East Dulwich Grove.