Inventory Site Record

Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd (Hackney)

Brief Description

The Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd was originally built as the 'Ark of the Covenant' for the Agapemonite (Abode of Love) sect, which had been founded in Somerset by Henry James Prince. Prince came to Clapton with his congregation when he built the church here in 1892. It was closed in the 1920s but later acquired in 1956 by the Ancient Catholic Church. The church has a garden to the front with lawn, flower beds and shrubberies either side of the path leading from the fine wrought iron gates to the church door.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Church of the Ancient Catholics/Church of the Ark of the Covenant
Site location:
Rookwood Road/Castlewood Road, Stamford Hill
N16 6SS
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Rail: Stamford Hill. Bus: 67, 76, 149, 253 [73, 243, 243A, 318]
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Full Site Description

The church was built as the 'Ark of the Covenant' for the Agapemonite (Abode of Love) sect, which had been founded by two clergymen, Henry James Prince (1811-99) and Samuel Starky, in c.1850 in the village of Spaxton in Somerset. Prince was thrown out of the Church of England for blasphemy in c.1843, having claimed that the Holy Ghost resided in him. The community prospered and Prince raised the money to build their new church at Clapton, where he came with his congregation. Costing c. £20,000 the church was built to accommodate around 400 people, a Gothic edifice in Bristol stone with Portland stone dressings, with a tall spire and fine sculptures on the exterior by Arthur George Walters. The four symbols of the Evangelists appear on the buttresses, huge stone winged figures pinning down crouching and shrouded men, which are then repeated in bronze on the tower. Inside the church is a fine stained glass window designed by Walter Crane in 1896, depicting woman's submission to man. At the front, the church is separated from the street by a low wall topped with railings having a series of carved stone piers and ornate wrought iron gates.

After Prince's death in 1899, the sect was led by John Hugh Smyth-Pigott who had previously been a curate at Mildmay Park. Smyth-Pigott achieved notoriety in 1902 when he proclaimed himself the Messiah and promised to turn the pond at Clapton Common (q.v.) into wine. As a result of this he was discredited and 6,000 people are reputed to have greeted him at his church, pelting him with 'a shower of stones and umbrellas', and he had to hire pugilists for protection.

The church was closed in the 1920s to be acquired in 1956 by the Ancient Catholic Church, a church claiming to be older than the Roman Catholic Church due to its descent from the Syrian Orthodox Church at Antioch. A chapel for animals was then opened here, and spiritual healing offered.

The spectacular church has a well-kept garden to the front with lawn, flower beds and shrubberies either side of the black and white tiled path which leads from the fine wrought iron gates to the church door. The church has a low wall to the forecourt, with wrought iron railings and double gate between tall piers with lamp holders.

Sources consulted:

Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Arthur Mee 'London: Heart of the Empire and Wonder of the World' (1937); Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1972); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998)

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ340878 (534060,187820)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Ancient Catholic Church
Site management:
Ancient Catholic Church
Church: Joseph Morris & Sons
Listed structures:
LBII: Church of the Good Shepherd, forecourt wall, gates and railings.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.