Church of St John the Evangelist, Waterloo Road

Pages 32-36

Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1951.

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[See plates 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 ]

In 1818, when the country was settling down into a period of peace after the Napoleonic Wars and the population was beginning to expand rapidly, Parliament decided to allocate a sum not exceeding a million pounds for the building of additional churches in populous parishes and “more particularly in the Metropolis and its Vicinity.” (fn. 2) Of this sum, the Commissioners for Building New Churches appropriated £64,000 in 1822 for the needs of the parish of Lambeth. It was decided that a new church should be built on the Waterloo Bridge approach and a piece of ground on the east side of the road was purchased from the Archbishop of Canterbury and his lessee and the sublessee, Sir Gilbert East and Mr. Anderson. The ground was very swampy, consisting in part of a pond, (fn. n1) and the advice of John Rennie was sought as to the most suitable type of foundation. His recommendation that piling should be used under all the walls was adopted with such success that, after the lapse of 125 years, heavy damage by bombing and ten years' exposure to the weather, the walls were still strong and sound enough to be used in the renovated church. In view of the fact that the church was, in the words of the vestry, “in the more immediate vicinity of the Metropolis,” a more imposing design was selected than would otherwise have been chosen. (fn. n2) The architect was Francis Bedford, who also designed the church of St. Mary the Less, Black Prince Road (see p. 144).

St. John's was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester on 3rd November, 1824. James Elmes described it in 1827 as having “some faults and many beauties; the columns of the portico are of the lightest style of the Doric order, and, though rather effeminate for that masculine order, are beautifully proportioned and systematically arranged. The portico is hexastyle and joined to the body of the church, with antique propriety, as a continuation of the lateral cornice and roof. But all this propriety of annexation and real beauty of proportion is absolutely destroyed by the atrocity of a steeple, the ugliest perhaps in London, which is straddled a cock-horse across the pediment.” (fn. 5)

The church was renovated by A. W. (later Sir Arthur) Blomfield in 1885. (fn. 6) In 1924 Sir Ninian Comper carried out a number of repairs and alterations to the building. Among other things, the baldachino, shown on Plate 14, was erected in front of the altar, and the space behind was made into a Lady Chapel.

The building of a school for boys and girls of the parish was begun as soon as the church was completed. The school cost just over £2,000, of which a quarter was contributed from the funds of Lambeth school. The present schools in Exton Street were built on the same site in 1902.

By the 1840's the district had become so crowded that extra church accommodation was found necessary. In 1844–6 the Church of All Saints was built in York Street (fn. n3) (now Leake Street) from the designs of William Rogers. (fn. 7) The new church was short-lived, for by the end of the century the site was required for the extension of Waterloo Station, and on All Saints' Day, 1899, it was closed by Act of Parliament and the parish was reunited with that of St. John's. (fn. 8) An elaborately ornamented memorial altar piece from All Saints' was transferred to the chapel in York Road which was taken over as a church hall. This hall, known later as the White Horse Club, was taken down in 1950.

The Churchyard

The churchyard on the south-east side of the church was made into a garden and opened to the public in June, 1878. The watch house at the south-west corner (Plate 18), erected in 1824, was demolished in 1932.

Figure 6:

No. 86 Waterloo Road from St. John's Church. Sketch by F. A. Evans, 1949

Three or four large tombs remain in the part of the churchyard fronting Waterloo Road. Of these the most prominent is that of the Peache family, erected at the expense of James Courthope Peache (see p. 48) in 1827. (fn. 9) On the front are his coat of arms and crest, and on the south side is the inscription—


The north side of the tomb has a list of James Peache's ten children, all except two of whom died in infancy or childhood, and it also records the names of his two sisters and his niece, Mary Peache Larkin.

List of Vicars. 1826, J. T. Barrett; 1830, R. Irvine; 1848, James Aitken Johnston; 18 71, Hugh Wilson Bateman; 1874, Arthur J. Robinson; 1881, Arthur J. Jephson; 1884, Arthur W. Jephson; 1894, Arthur H. Powell; 1895, Francis C. Bainbridge-Bell; 1902, Edward G. Gordon; 1921, John Walker Woodhouse; 1925, Charles W. Hutchinson; 1944, Edwin V. Rhys.

Architectural Description

St. John's Church has a plain rectangular body and is built in stone and grey brick. It is designed in the style of the Greek Revival and is simple in treatment with a tower rising behind the portico at the south-west end.

This portico is raised on steps and has six fluted Greek Doric columns with an entablature and pediment. In the frieze of the entablature are cast-iron chaplets of myrtle instead of the usual triglyphs and mutules. The chaplets are spaced over and midway between each of the columns. There is a continuous band of guttae below the fillet separating architrave and frieze. The entablatures at the side and back elevations have the same detail.

Within the portico are five openings all of uniform size with double doors and slightly tapering panelled stone architrave surrounds. The window above each doorway has a similar surround. A cill band links the windows, of which only that at the centre, lighting the bellringers' chamber, is real. The others are false, although all have glazed iron sashes. Of the doorways, that in the middle serves a lobby leading to the nave while those on each side of it were planned with access to narrow staircases leading to galleries for charity children. Each entrance for children has one door and another identical panel in order to give a uniform appearance. The lobbies, which are entered through the two doorways nearest the ends of the portico, serve the aisles and have staircases by which the main galleries were reached. The charity children's galleries were placed high above each of these lobbies so as to save space in internal planning.

Each of the north-west and south-east elevations (orientation not being at the cardinal points) have twelve windows in two rows. Those above the galleries are rectangular on the exterior, though slightly arched inside. They reach up to the entablature and are longer than those below, which are squat in proportion. The lower windows have segmental heads and their cills are panelled. Both rows have the same kind of stone surrounds as the openings under the portico. The upper windows are linked by bands stopping at the corner antae and the antae near the portico which mark the extent of the entrance lobbies.

The back or north-east elevation has a very austere character with antae dividing it into three bays. The centre bay contains the window over the altar which is deeper than the other upper windows and cuts into the cill band; beneath this window is a plain double-recessed rectangular panel in brick. Each outer bay has a lower segmental headed window lighting a vestry and an upper panel which is a blind recess. These are identical in detail with the windows at the sides. Above the entablature at this end the pediment containing a small louvred lunette has recently been rebuilt.

The tower rides above the ridge of the copper roof and is immediately behind the south-west portico. It is in stone and has three main stages with a short pedestal stage supporting a square obelisk.

Of the stages, each of which is diminishing, the lower is rusticated with clock faces to all four sides. It has a cornice which com bines with the double plinth above to form a base for the middle stage. This middle or belfry stage, which contains a peal of eight bells, has on each elevation a louvred round-headed opening set in recess with Ionic columns at each side and antae at the four corners. The entablature and deep triple plinth or podium support the upper main stage which is similar to the belfry stage though open on all sides. It has gorged foliated caps of no definite order to the recesses set between corner antae.

Above the entablature of this open stage the short pedestal stage, which has rectangles of carved honeysuckle ornament to its four surfaces, carries a square obelisk with sunk panels terminating in a ball and cross.

Acroteria of different types with honeysuckle relief are placed at the four corners above the cornice of the pedestal stage and above the entablatures of the columned stages below.

Figure 7:

St. John's, Waterloo Road. Doorway to crypt

The church was heavily damaged by enemy action on the night of Sunday, 8th December, 1940, when a bomb struck the nave roof. Much of the roof was destroyed and most of the internal fittings and fabric, including the baldachino, were damaged beyond repair. Although some of the upper parts of the walls were demolished the tower and portico escaped virtually unscathed.

The interior of St. John's was designed with the same simplicity of detail as the exterior. Galleries round three sides of the church were supported on short Doric columns, while the surfaces between the windows were relieved by delicate antae of the Ionic order. The antae had honeysuckle ornament and ran the full height of the hall-like interior. Above them the same ornament was used as a continuous pattern to the frieze. The ceiling was flat and divided by beams into panels, each of which had a ceiling rose in plaster at its centre.

The fittings which escaped destruction include the font which stood under the west gallery and is now again in use. Both font and cover are of white marble, the font being urn-shaped with handles in cherubim form. It probably dates from the early 18th century and is of Italian origin, having been presented to the church at the time of building. The organ, which dates from the erection of the church, was built by Bishop. It was in a plain wood case and stood in the west gallery. It was rebuilt by Hele in 1883. (fn. 1) After being seriously damaged during the war it is now being repaired and the case restored to the original design. The stained glass to the north-east window, designed by N. J. Cottingham, who lived almost opposite the church at No. 8 6 Waterloo Road, was totally destroyed when the church was bombed.

Between the square stone piers, which bound the churchyard on Waterloo Road, are original iron railings and gates, parts of which were removed for metal salvage during the war. The piers have simple volute frets to each face and are capped by acroteria which have honeysuckle ornament. The railings and piers extend as far as the site of the parish watch house, which stood at the corner of Exton Street. The watch house was a plain building in brick and stone, and had the upper of its three storeys above a simple cornice. The cornice was supported by antae at the corners.

For ten years the church stood open to the skies while religious services were continued in the vaulted crypt. In 1950 restoration work was commenced to the designs of Mr. Thomas F. Ford so that St. John's could be used as the Festival Church during 1951.


  • n1. Described in a contemporary newspaper as having been long “the resort of a numerous flock of geese and ducks.”
  • n2. The total cost of the church, including the purchase of the site, was about £20,000.
  • n3. It was opened on 1st March, 1846, the sermon being preached by the Rev. Charles Browne-Dalton, rector of St. Mary's, Lambeth.
  • 1. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Everyman Edition.
  • 2. A public Act for building and promoting the building of additional churches in populous parishes, 58 Geo. III, cap. 45.
  • 3. Duchy of Cornwall Office, extract dated 1822 in a file of newspaper cuttings.
  • 4. St. Mary, Lambeth, Vestry Minute Books.
  • 5. Metropolitan Improvements, by Jas. Elmes, 1827.
  • 6. London Church Guide, by Charles Mackeson, 1894–5.
  • 7. The history and antiquities of Lambeth, by J. Tanswell, 1858.
  • 8. Bap. Reg., St. John, Waterloo Road.
  • 9. L.C.C. U.L./F.10.