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Registered Charity 1131245
452 Streatham High Road · London · SW16 3PY · Tel: (020) 8679 6888
A church known by the name "Immanuel" has stood at the foot of Streatham Common beside Streatham High Road since 1854. 2004 saw its 150th Anniversary. The present building, however, shown in the top photograph, bears little resemblance to the original.
The first Immanuel church did not even occupy exactly the same site as the present one. It was on the land now occupied by St John's House, the tall yellowish block of flats with the pitched roof partly hidden by the tower in the photo. (Click on the photos to see enlarged versions.)
This original building was soon outgrown and was extensively enlarged in 1865. The tower was built and the church was extended over the land behind it. Further additions were made later in the 19th century. It is possible to see how it looked in 1892 by visiting Lambeth borough's Landmark archive on the web. There is also a picture of the inside of the building as is was in 1898, complete with galleries.
Including its galleries the enlarged church had seats for well over 1000 people. Its tower was always a prominent landmark beside the Streatham High Road - as it still is. Thanks to the generosity of a number of donors over the years, the church had a quantity of pleasant if unremarkable stained glass. Otherwise, however, it was a relatively undistinguished piece of "Victorian Gothic" architecture, once described as "a poor adaptation of early fourteenth century style"! Very little of that building remains today - just the tower, as in the top photograph, and some rooms at the back.
A booklet commemorating the 150th Anniversary was produced - see the note at the bottom of the page.
The huge capacity of the building was not wasted. A succession of popular preachers served as clergy and the congregation was often drawn from a much wider area than the immediate parish. In the 1930s, when Revd E N Porter Goff was vicar, "Church Full" signs were a common sight outside to turn away those who arrived a little late for evening service. By then, however, the galleries had become unsafe and had been removed, reducing the capacity to a mere 600 or so! Porter Goff became a nationally known figure, partly through his writings, and during his time at least one service from Immanuel was broadcast.
Two photos from the parish archive - an exterior and an interior view - appear to date from this period. The exterior view is from a similar viewpoint to that of the top picture on this page. The interior view shows some of the changes that had taken place over the years. Not only have the galleries gone - they were removed within the space of a week - but also the huge stone pulpit has been replaced by a more modest wooden one. Behind the lectern - now moved to the side - a war memorial has been erected, commemorating those from the parish who died in the First World War. The Landmark archive includes a similar view of the interior, as it was in 1932
But this is to jump ahead. Right from the beginning the people of Immanuel evidently believed in building as a means of advancing the work of the church. During the incumbency of the first vicar, Revd Stenton Eardley, not only did they enlarge the church but also, in 1861, they built Immanuel Church of England Primary School. Another building project, in 1878, was the "Beehive Coffee Tavern" - a place where people could meet and partake of non-alcoholic refreshment, a cause close to Eardley's heart. He was a champion of the Temperance Movement and was credited by one local resident with turning the area from a "hell on earth" - presumably because of the number of drunken people about - into a peaceable and quiet neighbourhood. Eardley also inspired the people of Immanuel to build other churches - two locally, in West Streatham and West Lambeth, and two in Switzerland for English visitors.
The Beehive Coffee Tavern still stands, beside what is now the entrance to Sainsbury's superstore, although it now has no connection with the church and is used for solicitor's offices and a day nursery. The second picture in the left column shows it as it is now - and probably much as it appeared all along! The light coloured building to the left is the Pied Bull pub - whose customers the original founders of the Beehive no doubt hoped to entice away!
Eardley retired through ill health in 1883 and died shortly after. He was succeeded by Revd George Streatfeild who continued this tradition of building, not least by building the neighbouring parish church of St Andrew in memory of Eardley. (The unusual spelling 'Streatfeild' is believed to be correct.) However, although the parish acquired the plot of land adjacent to Immanuel church during his incumbency in 1891, it was never developed until the late 1950s, remaining until then as the church "garden" - it was never designated or consecrated as a "churchyard". In the top photograph it is the area occupied by the church hall, the building with the three windows across the front, and there is a view of the building in 1898 in the Landmark archive where it can be seen as an open plot to the left of the church with railings and a notice board in front. Compare it with the earlier picture linked above.
Following Streatfeild a succession of clergy led the church and left their mark, not so much in terms of building work but in developing the church's ministry. Among them, E N Porter Goff has been mentioned; another who is still remembered by a few older members, both for his support for the community during the second world war and his evangelistic and pastoral contribution, is Revd Keith de Berry who succeeded E N Porter Goff in 1939. Not that the earlier vicars of Immanuel had neglected this side of the work; both Stenton Eardley and George Streatfeild were well known for their evangelistic open air meetings on the common opposite. There is a list of vicars of Immanuel at the bottom of the page.
Over the years the parish of Immanuel had gradually reduced in size. As the area developed there was a need for more churches, and parts of the parish became separate parishes - Holy Redeemer Streatham Vale and St James West Streatham in the west and St Andrew's in the south. But in 1952 the trend started to reverse. St Anselm's church to the north east had been bombed in the Second World War and was not rebuilt. Its parish became part of Immanuel parish and Immanuel church became "Immanuel with St Anselm".
It was in the late 1950s that the church buildings as they are today began to take shape. There was an interested buyer for part of the Beehive Coffee Tavern, which had long since ceased operating as a place of refreshment and by then served as the church hall. It was decided to sell, and build a new hall on the land beside the church - the "garden". The new hall was completed in 1960 and this is the hall that is there today.
The third photograph, of the choir, was evidently taken shortly before the new hall was built. The grass in front is the "garden", and the wall behind is what was then the south wall of the church. The vicar (centre front) is Revd Donald Whitaker (vicar 1952-1962) and the dark-suited man centre back between the choristers is the verger, Fredrick Charles Grove, whose son Wilfred kindly provided the photo. Music clearly played a big part in the life of the church at the time!
The fourth photograph shows the building as it was through the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. The new hall, with its three windows across the front, is to the left of the tower. (The windows have since been enlarged.)
In the years that followed the opening of the new hall the church re-evaluated its mission to the surrounding area. It was decided that, among other things, there was a particular need to develop the work with young people. An open youth club met on several evenings a week in the new hall, with a full time leader.
Not that work with young people was a new thing - even today a few older members recall meeting as young people in the 'Beehive' when it served as the church hall, and there are records of a thriving Lads' Club functioning even before the First World War. An interesting link has come to light recently; apparently some of the members of what was then known as Immanuel Church Institute Lads' Club, and which also met in the 'Beehive', were among those recruited to work as farmers in South Australia around 1914. Their story is on www.safarmapprentices.net, with some familiar views at www.safarmapprentices.net/proponents/lads_clubs.htm! The fifth and sixth photos (together) - which come, not from parish records but from archives in South Australia - show a reference from the club and a picture of the member, William Chasteauneuf, whom it helped to emigrate. Several people in South Australia must be able to trace their families back to young men from Streatham and, almost certainly, Immanuel Church and its Lads' Club.
The 1970s saw further building developments. Immanuel Church of England Primary School, by then well over a century old, was rebuilt on a new site a little distance away, between Northanger and Buckleigh Roads. Along with it was created a purpose built youth centre for the youth club, freeing the church hall for other purposes. The old school building was sold and eventually demolished to make way for the Sainsbury's superstore next to the church.
A casualty of the building work in the 1970s were Immanuel's bells. Soon after the tower was built in 1865 it contained a ring of 8, and these were rung regularly for a century. However, in 1968 concern was expressed about the safety of the tower if the bells continued to be rung. Extensive remedial work was needed and the funds were not forthcoming for this as the parish had other priorities. Eventually the bells were sold to provide additional funds for building the youth centre, and they were removed in November 1976. They went to All Saint's Church, Chelsea, but unfortunately they were not suitable for All Saint's tower as they stood and had to be recast. The removal of the bells was quite an event in itself - as can be seen from the photographs!
But the 1970s also saw the first signs of the end for the church building itself. No longer did 600 or more people fill the building each week; it was now unnecessarily large for the 150 or so that worshipped there. The cost of maintaining the huge structure - even just to redecorate or carry out routine repairs - was becoming beyond their means. Heating the vast space adequately was impossible.
Eventually the heating system completely failed. The church was faced with the question of whether to repair at considerable expense, knowing that this was likely to be only the first of many very costly repairs, or find some way to replace the building with a more modest structure which they could afford to maintain. Many options were considered, but the one selected was to demolish most of the old building and build a smaller one on part of the site. Just the tower - a local landmark - and some rooms at the back were retained. The part of the site not needed was sold to raise money for the work, as were most of the contents and effects, including the stained glass. The surplus part of the site was purchased by the Shaftesbury Society Housing Association who built on it the block of flats behind the tower in the top photograph, St John's House. It provides sheltered accommodation for elderly people. (You can view some photographs of the demolition and rebuilding.)
The new church was dedicated in 1988. Externally, the new building is undistinguished like its predecessor - the difference being that the new building is largely hidden and is not really intended to be seen. The tower remains to catch the eye and mark it out as a church, but in the top photograph the only part of the church that can be seen is a bit of the roof, between the hall and the tower. Internally the church offers a bright, simple worship space, as can be seen from the bottom photograph - which shows the interior as it was in 2004. There have since been a number of minor internal rearrangements, but always the design brings people together around the sanctuary area rather than leaving them to see it from a distance as in the traditional church layout.
At the same time as the new building was under construction there was another important development. The neighbouring church of St. Andrew, created by people from Immanuel almost exactly 100 years before, had become unviable, with a tiny congregation and its own building and financial problems. After extensive discussion between the parishes and the church authorities St Andrew's was closed, the parishes were reunited and the new Immanuel building opened as the parish church of Immanuel and St. Andrew. In the interests of keeping the name fairly simple the reference to St Anselm was dropped.
The character of the church which worships in the new building is rather different from the one that had filled the old building in the early years of the 20th Century. No longer do people come from far and wide; instead, the church has become more truly a parish church. Most of the congregation are drawn from the parish or close by, and the social and ethnic mix of the surrounding community is well represented. The electoral roll stands at just over 100, although not all attend every week and some are no longer 'active'. A typical congregation at the main Sunday service is around 60-70.
But not everything has changed; it continues to be, as it has always been, a welcoming church, where a great variety of people feel at home. There is a steady influx of new members - but also a similar number who leave, because the surrounding community is a transient one, with people always moving on.
Another thing that has not changed is the continuing need for concern for the church buildings. Within a year or two of the new church being complete it became obvious that work needed to be done on the hall - by then some thirty years old and showing signs of much use over the period. Following the departure of the youth club the hall had become a valued amenity for the wider community, used by a wide variety of community groups as well as the church. Users include or have included neighbourhood watch groups, political parties, other Christian groups, a brownie pack, music groups needing somewhere to practise, classes for circuit training and martial arts, the local health centre and private individuals needing a hall for a reception or party. For many years a lunch club for pensioners met in the hall from Monday to Friday and a drop-in community café providing a "place to go" for those needing companionship or support opened there four days a week.
Some time was spent considering various alternative plans to improve or even replace the hall, but it was eventually decided to refurbish the kitchen and toilets, create a new entrance area and a lounge and generally improve access including providing a toilet for disabled people. The hall itself was to be left substantially as it was, although extensive maintenance would be carried out.
Funding for the project was to come largely from capital reserves. The amalgamation with St Andrew's had given the enlarged parish two additional halls which had belonged to St Andrew's. These were much older than Immanuel's hall and in a poor state of repair. They were eventually sold, leaving the church with a capital reserve of over £250,000. Part of this money had been used to purchase a house for the curate and the remainder had been placed on deposit with the intention of using it to upgrade the remaining, much newer, hall beside the church when the plans for that were complete.
By the time the hall project was ready to start the curate had left, but the house had been retained and let to tenants. The funds on deposit were unfortunately insufficient to fund the work needed - particularly as urgent repairs also had to be made to the church tower - and the house had to be sold, but it proved to have been a good investment. The capital on deposit, accumulated income and proceeds of sale of the house amounted to well over £400,000. A further £56,000 was raised by the local congregation and another £25,000 was received in grants.
An account of the project, dubbed the Church Hall Renewal Project, together with the repairs to the tower which became necessary at the same time, is given on the separate Hall Renewal Project page. The work was completed in July 2002.
"Immanuel" is a Hebrew word meaning "God is with us", and is one of the biblical "names of Jesus". It is quite common as a dedication for English parish churches, although the spelling is unusual and the alternative "Emmanuel" appears much more frequently. "Immanuel" reflects the original Hebrew spelling while "Emmanuel" follows the Greek of the New Testament writers. An investigation in the 1990s suggested that there were only 5 parish churches with the dedication spelled "Immanuel" in England.
A commemorative booklet marking the 150th Anniversary of Immanuel was published and copies may still be available, price £3.00, (£3.50 with postage) from the Parish Office. Written by two long-standing members, Jenny Hull and Myrtle Powley, and assistant priest Revd Wendy Aird, it contains a much fuller historical account than that given above as well as information about the present building and stories from Immanuel's distant and not-so-distant past.
A similar booklet, 'The Church on the Main Road 1854-1954', was produced for the Church's Centenary in 1954. It is out of print, but the text may be viewed and/or downloaded online in either '.rtf' format or '.pdf' format. As well as providing additional historical detail from the first 100 years it offers an interesting reflection of the church as it was in 1954. The '.rtf' format version should be viewable in Microsoft Word and many other word processors, but if you have problems visit the Microsoft Website to download a free Word viewer. To view or download the '.pdf' format version you will need Adobe Reader, which, if you have not got it, can be downloaded and installed free from the Adobe website.
(Immanuel with St Anselm, 1952 - 1988, Immanuel and St Andrew from 1988)
Revd Stenton Eardley 1854 - 1883
Revd George Sidney Streatfeild 1883 - 1898
Revd Henry F S Adams 1898 - 1914
Revd Walter J Latham 1914 - 1926
Revd W F Leadbitter 1926 - 1933
Revd E N Porter Goff 1933 - 1939
Revd O K (Keith) de Berry 1939 - 1952
Revd Donald T Whitaker 1952 - 1962
Revd John Collie 1962 - 1968
Revd Leslie Walters 1968 - 1981
Revd David Ward 1983 - 1987
Revd David Isherwood 1988 - 1995
Revd Simon Butler 1997 - 2004
Revd Sr Elizabeth Shearcroft CA 2005 -
Thanks are particularly due to Miss Jenny Hull for providing some of the photographs used on this page and associated pages - both her own and from the parish archives - and also to Wilfred Grove for providing the photograph of the choir.
(A brief history of Immanuel and St Andrew's Church. © David Gray 2002-9)
Page last updated 09 November 2009.
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© Copyright David Gray and PCC of Immanuel and St. Andrew Streatham 2002-9. Photographs copyright David Gray 2002-9 except where otherwise stated.
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