South Norwood Churches - An Update

The interesting submission in the last issue by John Brown of the 1899 entry for South Norwood in Kelly’s directory gives prominence to its churches and invites the question as to how they have fared throughout the past turbulent and increasingly materialistic century.

St. Mark’s Church. In the case of the district’s very first church, St. Mark’s (1852), not at all badly. This apsed, stone-built church still stands prettily on the corner of Albert and Coventry Roads and, situated within a populous area just below the railway, remains a lively Church of England community church. In this it is of course assisted by the presence next-door of St. Mark’s Church of England primary school, now catering for over 200 pupils. Successive rebuildings and expansions since the war have replaced the original earlier buildings, though the very first school building for 22 pupils in Coventry Road, opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1860, is preserved and used as a classroom.

The post-war developments also involved property clearance in Albert and Coventry Roads, including the demolition in the latter of the old Victoria Arms  Pub, thus providing the school with a playing-field and ampler playground space. This gives the area a green and open aspect. In fact the two-acre site containing the church, the original school room, the post-war brick-built parish hall, the neat and low new school, and central maple tree, presents an interesting and notable architectural and environmental scene, gaily enlivened of course when the school is in session.

The church and old school room are on Croydon Council’s list of buildings of architectural and historic interest.

Holy Innocents’ Church. Holy Innocents’ Church (1895) in Selhurst Road, next to the Recreation Ground, originally a daughter church of St. Mark’s, became a parish church in its own right in 1945 and serves mainly the Anglicans above the railway in South Norwood, who one surmises are not as numerous as in the past.

Designed by a leading Victorian architect of Gothic-style churches – G.M. Bodley – this stately building has gained the distinction of a Grade II starred listing by English Heritage. Behind the church is the parish hall and vicarage – both post-war buildings.

Holy Trinity Parish Church. Holy Trinity Parish Church (1867) stood on the very edge of South Norwood beyond Selhurst Station, in what generally, though perhaps not officially, would be called Selhurst. Sadly it is no longer with us having become redundant and subsequently demolished about 20 years ago. It was replaced by Trinity Court, a well-designed sheltered housing complex built around a small green and opened in 1985. Preserved of course was the substantial stone-crossed memorial fronting the church to all who lost their lives in the Great War -“erected by the people of Selhurst”. The spacious and rather gloomy Victorian vicarage next to the church site remains and is used as a school by a small religious sect.

Congregationalists. At the time of the Kelly’s extract a hundred years ago the Congregationalists worshipped in a small chapel in Clifford Road, but in 1906 they moved to a new substantial brick-built and stone-decorated church in Enmore Road, now looking rather faded, where they still worship as part of the United Reformed Church. Also the Congregationalists operated in a compact stone-built church dating from 1866 next to Selhurst Station, but have faded away latterly and the church, recently smartly refurbished, is now used by the Seventh Day Adventists.

Weslyans. The Weslyan Chapel referred to was presumably the grand Methodist Church in South Norwood Hill, opposite the Stanley Halls site, which celebrated its centenary in 1975 and was shortly afterwards demolished and replaced by sheltered housing. The church, however, continued to function in a spacious and stylish hall, part of the original buildings, the entrance being in Suffolk Road.

Baptists. Not mentioned in the Kelly’s entry are the Baptists who at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries were active in a prominent church with a tower on the corner of Holmesdale Road and Oliver Avenue. The tower was, however, lopped by a flying bomb and similarly to the Methodists the church was demolished for structural reasons soon after celebrating its centenary in 1985. It continued its activities in the halls attached. However, the cleared site remains empty while funds are sought to build a new church.

Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholics did not arrive in South Norwood until 1907, when they took over the inferior chapel building in Clifford Road vacated by the Congregationalists, but in 1933 they moved to the imposing newly-built St. Chad’s Church in Whitworth Road where they are now well-established.

Conclusion. So over the last century the “downs” for the traditional churches in South Norwood have not surprisingly been rather greater than the “ups”, but on the plus side one has seen in recent years a surprisingly large number of small independent Christian churches springing up in the area operating in rented or adapted accommodation.

Who, therefore, can possibly forecast what the state of the churches in this area will be in another 100 years time?

Hugh Byford 

The Baptists successfully raised the money for an attractive new church on the corner of Holmesdale Road and Oliver Avenue.

Ed. 2012

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