open door to a healing heart
The new parish of St. Swithun was created by an Order in Council on 23rd November 1888, to meet the demands of the rapidly growing community, under the patronage of the Vicar of St. Mary’s. By this time mission services had already begun in a house in Ardmere Road in 1880 but moved later to “the Elms”, which became known then as the St. Mary’s Mission House. During weekdays the building was used as a Working Men's Institute and Club.
On the 26th April 1884, Lord Dartmouth laid the foundation stone of the Mission Church which was completed in just under three months. It was designed by the architect Ernest Newton and serves today as the church hall (behind the church). It is built of red brick facings of Bath stone and has triple lancet windows. The builder was W G Larke of Fore Street, London. At its opening on 19th July 1884 it had a capacity for 350 persons.
As part of a scheme by the Lewisham Church Extension Association, three new churches were to be built. The first was St. Lawrence’s, Catford (1886/7), followed by St. Swithun’s (1892) and St. Cyprian’s, Brockley (in 1900).
Again, Lord Dartmouth performed the duty of laying the foundation stone on 2nd July 1892. By 1902 the nave was complete but the chancel and transepts had to wait till 1904 for completion. The original plan was to have included elaborate decoration but according to the Reverend Drew Roberts the work had to be abandoned because of the migration of the wealthier residents from Hither Green.
The architect, Ernest Newton (1856-1922), was a pupil of Norman Shaw. He had a distinguished and successful career and was president of the RIBA in 1914. Although he is not normally associated with church architecture, St. George’s, Bickley and the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lee were also designed by him. He was also responsible for redesigning “The Chesnuts” as the new vicarage by giving it a modern frontage. The builder was Parmenter of Braintree, Essex.
Unlike St. Mary’s, with a peel of eight bells, St. Swithun’s only has one. The church is built of red Wrotham brick with Bath stone windows. It has large east and west windows but very small windows in the transepts. Before the last war, the seating in the church was provided by individual chairs, but after the war pews were provided from the bombed church of Christ Church, Lee Park. Some damage was caused during the Second World War in 1940 and repairs were carried out in 1946.
The memorials include a stained glass window at the west end of the north aisle to the Reverend R G Dutton which was originally sited at the east end of the Mission Church.
Another more recent acquisition is the Territorial Army War Memorial removed from the former TA Centre in Ennersdale Road. The latter lists who lost their lives in the two World Wars. A gift, to the memory of William Maskell, provided electric lighting to replace the existing gas lighting in 1947.
Most of the wood carving was executed by Messrs. Wispelaere of Bruges. The reredos was given in memory of Ann Dalcho in 1906. The pulpit and the choir stalls were also installed at the same time. The organ, built by Peter Conacher of Huddersfield, was formerly in Blenheim Palace, and was installed about 1893.
The reredos over the High Altar was dedicated in 1911 but completion was delayed because of the war. After 1918, the niches were filled with carved figures as individual gifts. The whole was designed to give a visual portrayal of Christianity. From left to right these figures represent:
Top Row: Archangel Michael, St. George, St. Augustine, St. Peter, Christ on the Cross with his Mother and John on either side), then St. Paul, St. Theodore of Tarsus, St. Gregory, and the archangel Gabriel.
Bottom Row: St. Helena, Venerable Bede, St. Aidan, St. Oswald, St. Paulinus, St. Hilda, then the Last Supper, St. Bertha, St. Ethelbert, St. Edmund, St. Boniface, St. Lioba, and St. Alban.