Zoar Street and Zoar Street Chapel

Page 93

Survey of London: Volume 22, Bankside (The Parishes of St. Saviour and Christchurch Southwark). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1950.

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In 1687 the Baptists of Southwark built (fn. 201) a meeting house in Gravel Lane on ground held by lease from the Bishop of Winchester. At that time Gravel Lane extended northwards to the river along the line of the present Sumner Street and Hopton Street and the chapel stood on the east side of the Sumner Street section. Zoar Street was cut through beside the chapel early in the 18th century and presumably was so named because of it, since "Zoar" means a place of refuge or sanctuary. The street is marked on the 1745 edition of Rocque's map.

Wilkinson refers (fn. 179) to the chapel as John Bunyan's meeting house and it is possible that Bunyan may have preached there, but as he died in 1688 his connection with it must have been of short duration. The chapel is mainly of interest because it was from the beginning used as a school and it is the earliest nonconformist school in London for which any detailed information is available. Three books of accounts for the school, for the period 1687 to 1745, are preserved at Southwark Library. They show that the original building, including galleries and seats, cost £360 and they give interesting details of the type of books and equipment provided for the school. Bibles were the only reading books before 1722 but after that date hornbooks and spelling books were bought for the juniors. Arthur Shallett was the first treasurer and all the funds seem to have been raised by dissenting ministers and Baptist congregations "in and aboute London." (fn. 201)

In 1819 the old meeting house was used as a workshop though the school still carried on in an adjoining building. Views of the exterior and the interior of the chapel were engraved for Wilkinson; one of the school being reproduced here (Plate 64b).

Zoar Street was rebuilt early in the 19th century. It was a typical narrow Southwark alley of that period with central gulley, and with little in the way of lighting or other amenities (Plate 64a). The whole of it was demolished during the war by enemy action.


  • 179. R. Wilkinson, Londina Illustrata, 1819.
  • 201. Southwark Reference Library MSS: Accounts of Zoar St. School.