Historic Isle of Dogs Churches

A (largely pictorial) overview of the old churches on the Isle of Dogs. By definition, they are/were all Christian places of worship. I’d have liked to have included other religions, but there was never a synagogue on the Island, Islamic places of prayer are a recent thing, and I don’t think any other religion had premises on the Island. Besides that, my knowledge of churches, chapels, whatever has never been that extensive – I know about the (former) buildings but cannot profess to knowing too much about the in’s and out’s of what is or was practiced there.

I was for a short while a choir boy in Christ Church in the 1970s, but my interest was primarily the 2/6 for weddings and 3/6 for funerals. Not that I earned anything – in my very first service I fainted and had to be led outside, and my dad was less than happy at me calling the vicar (Rob) ‘father’. “I’m yer bleedin’ father”, I remember him saying to me outside the vicarage in Manchester Rd. His education by Stepney nuns had led him to have an aversion to all things to do with organized religion, and it definitely rubbed off on me.

Still, Island churches had a deep significance for the people who lived there, and many who still do. Their history is something worth posting about.

Alpha Road Wesleyan Chapel

A community centre since the late 1970s, the chapel was built in 1887 by G. Limn of Mellish Street at a tendered price of £1,350 to designs in a utilitarian Gothic style by James F. Wesley. The hall was added in about 1926 by Edwin Beasley of Victoria Dock Road.




Christ Church

The development of Cubitt Town in the 1840s led to the decision to build a new church to serve the growing community on the Isle of Dogs. In 1847 William Cubitt offered the Bishop of London a site for a new church and a donation towards its construction, but these proposals do not appear to have been taken further. By 1852 Cubitt had begun the new church himself, and it was built entirely at his own expense by Cubitt & Company on land leased by him from the Countess of Glengall.

By May 1853 the building had advanced ‘far beyond the carcass stage’ with both the tower and spire completed, and the church was apparently finished in 1854, at a cost of £6,500. The church and land were given to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners by Cubitt and the Countess of Glengall in 1855, but the interior was not considered fit for the performance of divine service, and Christ Church was not consecrated until January 1857.

The building is of brick with dressings of Portland stone. The bricks were originally white but have severely discoloured with age, and the dressings were said to incorporate some stone from the London Bridge demolished in 1832.

The destruction of Island churches during the Second World War and the subsequent fall in population resulted in the amalgamation of parishes and congregations. In July 1952 the three parishes of the Isle of Dogs were united under the title of the Parish of Christ Church with St John and St Luke, with Christ Church as the parish church. Following the closure of the church of St John in Roserton Street it was decided that Cubitt Town should have only one church, and in 1965 Christ Church was renamed the Church of Christ and St John.



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Cubitt Town Primitive Methodist Chapel

The chapel stood on the west side of Manchester Road, close to the junction with Glengall Grove. The first Primitive Methodist building here was begun, on a leasehold site, by Thomas Ennor of Limehouse in 1862, when the foundation stone was laid by Joseph Westwood of the neighbouring firm of Westwood, Baillie & Company, marine engineers. The building appears as the Jubilee Chapel in the Post Office Directory in 1869.There was a schoolroom below the chapel. The building was extended backwards in 1878 and again in 1891, increasing the accommodation to 450.

In 1904–5, after the freehold of the site had been acquired from Lady Margaret Charteris, the chapel was completely rebuilt by the local builders F. & T. Thorne to designs by a Nottingham architect, Henry Harper.

The church was demolished in 1978.


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Millwall Independent Chapel

The first place of worship built on the Isle of Dogs since the medieval chapel of St Mary, this was erected in 1817 by a congregation which had been meeting since 1812, at first in a house on the Mill Wall belonging to John Howard, a mast- and block-maker. Prominent in the founding of the chapel were Prows Broad, whose boatbuilding yard was nearby, and George Guerrier, a grazier, who contributed largely to the cost. Guerrier died in 1824 and was buried at the chapel (the only known place of interment on the Isle of Dogs since medieval times).

The chapel closed about 1908, after which it became a girls’ institute and later a printing works. Disused and dilapidated by 1951, it was pulled down soon afterwards.


St. Cuthbert’s Church

A mission church within the parish of Christ Church, St Cuthbert’s was built in 1897 (although the site was acquired in 1893 and tenders sought as early as 1894). The site, formerly occupied by two houses — Nos 377 and 379 Westferry Road — was given by Lady Margaret Charteris, who laid the foundation stone on 15 October 1897. An organ-gallery was added in 1900. St Cuthbert’s was virtually destroyed by a bomb in September 1940 and demolished shortly afterwards. Par of Harbinger School playground is on its site.





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St. Edmund’s Church

St Edmund’s church and school replaced the little chapel of St Edward in Moiety Road. There were about 1,000 Roman Catholics living on the Isle of Dogs in about 1870. A 99-year lease of the site, at an annual rent of £30, had been taken out by Archbishop Manning and others in 1871. Funds were limited, a fact reflected in the general austerity of the buildings. The school and clergy-house having been completed, work on the church began in September 1873 and the building was opened the following August.

From the start there was trouble with the foundations, which had to be remade in March 1874, the priest-in-charge, Father Biemans, subsequently assuring prospective subscribers to the building fund that they were ‘on average twenty-five feet deep and . . . as solid as rock’. The truth was that to save money the only deep foundations were under the nave piers, the rest of the church and school being placed on the subsoil. Piling and underpinning had to be carried out in 1879 and 1883.

The church was demolished and in 1999 construction of a new church on the site commenced.



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St. Edward’s Chapel

This small building was opened in 1846 in Moeity Rd. to serve the growing Catholic community on the Isle of Dogs. Superseded in 1873–4 by St Edmund’s Church in Westferry Road, the chapel was still standing, albeit in ruins, in the 1880s. The site was later incorporated into Fisher’s Wharf.


St. John’s Church

The District Chapelry of St John’s, Cubitt Town, was created in 1873. It had its origins in St Paul’s Mission, established in 1866, which held its services in a wooden hut near the Millwall Docks. St John’s appears to have been the most vigorous and active of the three original Island parishes, and throughout its history was noted for its ‘high’ Anglo-Catholic practices. Attendances at the church exceeded those at Christ Church and St Luke’s in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and by 1939 the annual attendance figures for St John’s had reached 6,000, ten times those of Christ Church.

St John’s was damaged during air raids in 1941 and was abandoned and eventually demolished in the 1950s. Worship continued in a temporary ‘church’ in the clubhouse on the opposite side of Roserton Street. Between 1939 and 1947 St John’s lost 90 per cent of its communicants, and the three Island parishes were merged in 1952. The old mission hall adjoining the club-house was refitted as the new church and dedicated in 1955. Attendances continued to fall, and in 1965 the congregations of St John’s and Christ Church were combined and Christ Church was rededicated as the Church of Christ and St John. St John’s church and hall were demolished following fire damage in 1970.


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St. Luke’s Church

Like other churches in the Isle of Dogs, this began as a mission curacy within the large parish of Christ Church, and was at first housed in a temporary building on the west side of Westferry Road, known as the ‘Iron Church’.  By 1868 a new church was built on ground given by Lady Margaret Charteris and Lord Strafford. A mission hall was built on to the south side of the church in 1883.

St Luke’s was damaged during the Second World War and was demolished about 1960, when a chapel with stained-glass windows was made at the east end of the parish rooms and consecrated for worship. This was demolished in 2014, and at the time of writing a new church is being built.








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St. Mary Chapel

The earliest reference to a St Mary Chapel dates from 1380, on a section of high land in the Isle of Dogs marshes, in the centre of the Island not far from the present-day Crossharbour DLR station. Eventually, it lent its name to Chapel House Farm, and sections of the chapel were still visible on construction of Millwall Docks in the 1860s.



St. Paul’s Church

Known locally as the Scottish Church, St. Paul’s was important for its connections with the Scottish shipyard workers drawn to Millwall in the 1850s to work on the Great Eastern and other ships. John Scott Russell, the Scottish builder of the Great Eastern (himself the son of a Presbyterian minister), laid the foundation stone in 1859.

Although the church had been built with extra foundations to cope with a peat layer in the subsoil 18ft or 20ft thick, it has had a history of structural problems, largely caused by subsidence. St Paul’s was replaced by a new church at Island House, Castalia Square, in 1972 It was subsequently used for industrial storage, one of the side windows being removed to form a doorway. In 1989 the St Paul’s Arts Trust was formed by local residents to take it over for use as an arts centre.



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14 Responses to Historic Isle of Dogs Churches

  1. Dave Penn says:

    I used to go to Cubs, underneath the Methodist church

  2. Thank you for that fascinating piece, Mick. The great Ian Nairn praised St Paul’s Presbyterian Church in his book ‘Nairn’s London’ (1966):

    “I always expect this astonishing little building to have gone by my next visit: it seems such an improbably fierce survival. The chapel committee chose the young Mr Knightley [architect], who afterwards went on to do many other things, including the old Queen’s Hall and the late wild Westminster Bank in Holborn. Mr Knightley in turn chose to recreate Pisa on the Isle of Dogs: a fussy piece of Romanesque, fighting mad, polychrome from end to end. The front diminishes in arcaded tiers, the four bays are given a circumstantial arcaded clerestory, slate-hung for good measure. It is a very lovable firework, and needs to be much better known.”

    ‘Fighting mad’ is a classic description from Nairn – and he would be pleased that the building still stands.

  3. MIKE Pye says:

    great photo’s Mick actually remember a lot of them i was a alter boy at St Edmunds for a year or so i liked the old church very grand inside and of course the school was next door.

  4. Gill says:

    Interesting remark from your dad re Christ Church. My mum went to sunday school there circa 1920, she told me that her grandfather did not approve of Christ Church as he deemed it’s practices to be “High Church”.

  5. Justin Lobb says:

    Hi Mick
    What a brilliant set of pictures – thank you. My family settled in the Isle of Dogs in the 1860’s and didn’t leave until they were bombed out in WW2. Christ Church was where my granddad was christened in 1906, where his Dad was christened in 1882 and where gt gt granddad got married in 1881. I’ve also got a “handed down” 1926 Bible from the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School to one of my relatives (signed by Sister Agatha). Would that have been the Primitive Chapel do you think?

    • Hello Justin, Thanks for the comments. I reckon the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School was wither the hall in Alpha Grove or the chapel in Stebondale St, which I didn’t mention in the post – very remiss of me.

      • varina burford says:

        There was a Wesleyan Chapel in Stebondale Street, up by Pier Street.
        The other ‘chapel’ was at the opposite end of Stebondale Street, situated between Glengarnock Avenue and Schooner Street – which was the LCMHall (The London City Mission Hall) Mr.Trowell was there in the ’20s , but sadly became blind, and inn the 1930’s Mr.Oddy was there. (which you probably already know; but just in case…..)

      • thanks for the comment, Varina, interesting to learn something new

  6. Tom Pyke says:

    Thank you for these pictures, Mick. I am the Vicar of the Isle of Dogs, and have been since November 2006. I’m delighted to tell you that work on the new St Luke’s is nearing its completion. We are at ‘first fix’ on the church and hall, and we expect the building to open in a public ceremony in July (2018). It has been a long time coming…
    Fr. Tom Pyke.

  7. Graham Hugh McKelvey says:

    Great pictures and stories re St Paul’s.
    I am in NZ and am interested in any historical information on my Great grandfather Rev. Hugh McKelvey ,who was a Reverend at St Pauls for few years to 1890.
    My Mum tells me
    “The death certificate for the Rev. Hugh McKelvey says he died of Typhoid Fever and Exhaustion on 18 September 1890.
    .Rev Hugh’s wife must have gone back to Belfast with her two wee boys… mission work for the blind for 6 years before heading to SA.”

    Few years ago managed a fleeting visit to the museum (East India ) were got an impression of how hard life was in the Isle of Dogs in the ship building days. Rev Hugh was i think 36 when he died. Apparently involved with distribution of Bibles in Poplar before st Pauls.

  8. Pingback: St. Cuthbert, Westferry Road, Isle of Dogs, London (Demolished) – J.E.K. & J.P. Cutts

  9. Martha says:

    Lovely historic photos. Thank you. My friend, The Rev Martin Seeley, was Vicar of a church in tge Isle of Dogs. St John’s and St Paul’s was it? Can’t recall tge name of it but I’m quite sure it had two names of two saints and one of them was John.
    Wonderful place. I visited several times, including my friend’s wedding Was impressed by the diversity and welcoming Wish I could remember the name.

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