Boone’s Chapel on Lee High Road is a impressive former church building on Lee High Road; it is one of only two Grade I listed buildings in Lewisham, the other being St Paul’s in Deptford. Less well known is that there is another Boone’s Chapel – about 500 metres up Lee High Road. This post looks at both of them starting with the listed variant.
‘…..a delightful little brick rectangle with stone trimming, two heavy round-headed windows on the front, equally heavy oval windows higher on the east, west and south, and heavy pediments on the same sides; octagonal cupola on the centre of the roof.’ (1)
Originally, there seems to have been a carved stone angel above the door but supports rusted away it was lost in a storm, probably in the early 19th century.
Christopher Boone had bought Lee Place around 1670 following the death of George Thomson. The Chapel was built for the Boones; it has been attributed to Wren, but was probably designed by Robert Hooke and construction finished around 1683, along with some almshouses built next door on the High Road. We will return to these almshouses, along with the Merchant Taylor’s almshouses, behind, at some point.
Between 1683 and 1877 the Chapel was used as a place of worship for the Boone family, the almshouse residents and as a chapel-of-ease for St Margaret’s Parish. After Christopher Boone died in 1686, the Chapel was also used as a mausoleum for him and his wife. The burial place in a chamber beneath the floor was discovered during restoration works on the Chapel in 2006.
When the Chapel was built, it was close to the gate to the estate; at this stage the main road broadly followed the course of Old Road. There were regular accidents on the sharp bend with carts going to and from London markets. During a service in 1813, when St Margaret’s was being rebuilt, a horse and cart failed to navigate the corner and the horse ended up inside the Chapel!
While it was one of the first London buildings scheduled for preservation, it had largely fallen into disuse by the end of World War Two. In 1999 Blackheath Historic Buildings Trust was set up to try to restore the Chapel. The initial plan involved some cross subsidisation with a block of new almshouses at the back. However, alternative funding streams through the National Lottery Heritage Fund were found that meant that this wasn’t needed and the Chapel was restored, with work being completed in 2008. The Chapel is now home to an architectural practice although is regularly open to the public including during Open House weekend.
Before moving up Lee High Road, it is worth pausing briefly by the adjacent wall, which is part of the Grade I listing, while the listing mentions ‘3 brick and stone piers and ball caps’ what is probably more interesting is a very weathered coat of arms, that of the Merchant Taylors Company (2).
The ‘other’ Boone’s Chapel was described by Pevsner as ‘a neat new Gothic chapel ….. red brick, apsed, lancet style.’ (3) It was designed by Edward Blakeway I’Anson, who was the third generation of the family practicing in a City of London architectural firm. The replacement almshouses were built either side of it – as the photograph below shows.
This second Boone’s Chapel dates from around 1875. The land will have been the first part of the estate of Lee House to have been sold off; there had been attempts to sell the whole estate in the early 1870s, but in the end only a narrow strip alongside Lee High Road was sold; 344 to 368 were built in the late 1870s and Blenheim Villas, 334 -342 a few years earlier (4).
While it was generally referred to locally as Boone’s Chapel, it was consecrated as St John the Baptist. It was later referred to as ‘a missionary outpost of the parish (of St Margaret’s) where the rector’s volunteer workers came to do good with the Lee villagers on whom curates also learnt their craft.’ (5)
It was slightly odd that this part of Lee had continued to be ministered to by St Margaret’s parish even when the ‘new’ parishes of Christ Church (1854) on Lee Park, Holy Trinity on Glenton Road (1863), St Mildred’s on the South Circular (1872) and the Church of the Good Shepherd on Handen Road (1881) were carved out of it. It was connected by a small isthmus of land between Old Road and Boone Street.
The parishioners included some of the Noble family from Lampmead Road. We have covered the 1920s and 1930s childhood reminiscences of Phyllis Willmott (née Noble) a few times in relation to the Sunday Constitutional, trips to Lee Working Men’s Club on Lee Road and in interwar play.
She notes that the Nobles weren’t a chapel or church going family; her mother had a Methodist upbringing but went to the chapel a couple of hundred metres from their home as ‘social pleasures drew her, a chance for a word or two with friends and neighbours; the chance to sit back and remember the Sundays of her own childhood.’ (6)
Part of the joy of going seemed to be the dressing up in the ‘Sunday Best’ even if the clothes were from a jumble sale. Her mother put on ‘a slick of powder and lipstick and perhaps a new feather in an old hat or, for me, putting the latest find from a jumble which we persuaded ourselves we had succeeded in making “as good as new.”’ (7)
Phyllis’ brothers were choristers in the small choir, girls seem not to have been allowed to join. They occasionally sang solos, which guaranteed her mother’s presence (8). The social aspect of going to church was important – her Mother would chat to friends and neighbours outside and shake hands with the curate who would take the service (9).
Her parents seemed to have assumed that religion was ‘a good thing for young children but something they naturally grew out of;’ it seemed particularly helpful as it allowed supervised childcare on Sundays. Most of the other children in the Bible Class seemed be from the ‘posh’ side of Lee High Road, the Blackheath side, rather than the poorer streets to the south (10). This changed when the evangelical Harold Plumstead became curate and organised lots of activities using them as an opportunity to persuade the children to ‘see the light’ and ‘stand up for Jesus.’ (11). Despite the lack of church origin tradition within the family, Phyllis was confirmed when she was 13 (12).
It seems that the church was at least partially rebuilt in the 1920s suffering some limited damage during World War 2, although it reopened in 1947 (13). However, it’s temporary closure probably sounded the Chapel’s death knell as its congregation dispersed in 1952 (14). Its listing in Kelly’s didn’t change though, so while not used, it seems to have remained in the ownership of St Margaret’s. During the 1960s the church unsuccessfully sought to turn part of the site into a petrol station.
By 1975, Kelly’s Directory was describing it as a ‘Pentecostal Church’ although by 1980 the entry had changed to ‘Assemblies of God Emmanuel Pentecostal Church.’ They added the single story modern frontage completed in 1984. More recently there were unsuccessful attempts to demolish the entire site and rebuild the church with some flats (the unsanctioned demolition of most of the almshouses will be covered in a later post.)
Behind the single-storey frontage are the red brick remnants of the original church.
Along with the New Testament Church of God next door, the church seems popular with dense parking in neighbouring streets at the time of Sunday services.
- Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner (1983) The Buildings of England – London 2: South p426
- Lewisham Leisure (1990) From The Tiger to The Clocktower
- Cherry and Pevsner op cit p426
- Lewisham Lesiure, op cit
- Phyllis Willmott (1979) Growing Up in a London Village p119
- ibid p119
- ibid p119
- ibid p121
- ibid p122
- Phyllis Willmott (1983) A Green Girl p40
- ibid p42
- ibid p43
- Lewisham Leisure, op cit
- The Kelly’s Directory information comes from a mixture of Lewisham and Southwark archives.
- The black and white photograph of the 1875 variant of the church is part of the collection of Lewisham Archives, it remains their copyright and is used with their permission
- The photograph of the original Boone’s Chapel and almshouses is from The Proceedings of the Lewisham Antiquarian Society 1908 on a Creative Commons