The cast iron Solomnic columns - St Barnabas Church

The cast iron Solomnic columns – St Barnabas Church

I have a fascination for St Barnabas Church because it has been moved and rebuilt then bombed and rebuilt. It’s such a powerful symbol of resilience. With the decline of the Woolwich Royal Dockyard its Chapel fell into disuse from 1923. The Royal Arsenal workers who lived on the new Garden City Estate (later re-named the Progress Estate) had erected a wooden hut (1917) in Arbroath Road to use for church services. In 1932 it was decided to take the Dockyard Church building down and to re-erect it in a reduced form as the local church for the Progress Estate. It was reconsecrated as the Church of St Barnabas. During a bombing raid, March 1944, it was seriously damaged and only the walls were left standing. The church was repaired and re-dedicated in June 1957.

Restored St Barnabas Church Eltham

Now whilst I’m a fan I’ve been frustrated that the church has been closed when I visited. Well all that changed recently;there was a sandwich board outside the church inviting passers by in. I was greeted by Rev Steve Cook who on finding out about my interest in the church told me more.

Exposed Skidmore capitals

Exposed Skidmore capitals

The Church was designed by George Gilbert Scot who commissioned Skidmore of Coventry to do the ironwork. The cast iron columns were highly decorative with foliage patterns and topped with gilt edged capitals. Columns with this spiral shaft were known as Solomonic as legend has it that columns like these ornamented the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The St Barnabas columns were damaged in the bombing raid and have since been concealed all that is exposed is the capitals. The angels were a much later addition.

Hans Fiebusch mural

Hans Fiebusch mural

The apse of the church was painted by Hans Fiebusch who fled Jewish Persecution in Nazi Germany 1933 and settled in England. He became a member of the London Group in 1934 and regularly exhibited his paintings at the Royal Academy. In 1944 he was commissioned to do a mural for the New Methodist Hall in Colliers Wood and this led to a long association with the Church of England. After the war he was commissioned by the Diocese of Southwark to undertake work in churches that had been damaged. The painting in St Barnabas has a central figure of God which is illuminated in an eerie light which reinforces the apocalyptic aspect of the scene. My visit reinforced my view that St Barnabas is a real Victorian Gothic gem in this part of London.

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