Inventory Site Record

St Giles Churchyard, Camberwell

St Giles Churchyard, Camberwell (Southwark)

Brief Description

The medieval church of St Giles served a large parish comprising the villages at Camberwell, Peckham and Dulwich, the area later engulfed by housing. The present church of St Giles was built in 1842-44 when the earlier church was destroyed in a fire in 1841, only its porch remaining. The new church was Sir George Gilbert Scott's first major gothic building. The walled churchyard was in use until 1856, having been enlarged in 1717, 1803 and 1825. After its closure it became neglected and part was lost when Peckham Road was widened. It was cleared of graves in 1939 and laid out as a public garden, with headstones forming a wall on the northern end. It contains mature trees and a few tombs remain in the grass.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Camberwell Parish Church
Site location:
Camberwell Church Street/Peckham Road/ Churchyard Passage
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Rail: Denmark Hill. Tube: Oval (Northern) then bus. Bus: 12, 35, 36, 40, 45, 68, 68A, 171, 345, 343.

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.;

Full Site Description

Camberwell was a rural village with its Anglo-Saxon church situated in cornfields, meadows and woodland according to the Domesday Book of 1086. An earlier wooden church was rebuilt in stone in 1152 by the Lord of the Manor of Camberwell and its dedication to St Giles may date from then. During the C19th thousands of people were arriving in London to look for work and the city expanded to engulf the old villages. The medieval church was enlarged to cope with the growing congregation, but was destroyed by a fire in 1841 and the present St Giles Church was built in 1842-44. The porch of the medieval church is all that remains, a freestanding structure now used as a shelter. The new church was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, his first major Gothic building, with a spire 210ft high. It was consecrated on 21 November 1844 by the Bishop of Winchester. The church later suffered damage in WWII and was restored by Sir Ninian Compter.

The east window was designed by John Ruskin, who lived locally, and his friend Edmund Oldfield; Ruskin sought inspiration for his design by visiting medieval French cathedrals such as Chartres in 1844. His autobiography, 'Praeterita', contains many vivid memories of growing up in Camberwell and he later entertained many famous artists and writers in his house in Denmark Hill, including the poet Robert Browning. He gave his famous lecture 'Work' at Camberwell Working Men’s Institute in 1865.

Among the notable people buried in the churchyard are James Blake who sailed around the world with Captain Cook; Mary Wesley, wife of John Wesley, their grandson Samuel Sebastian Wesley designed the church organ; and Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny and his wife Mary, whose family estate was on Denmark Hill. When the churchyard was laid out as a garden, the gravestones were mainly moved, but there are a number of tombs within the grass and on the wall by the entrance on Wilson Road. Churchyard Passage, which is bordered by a strip of garden, was part of the old series of footpaths leading from the church to Denmark Hill, which was the former high street of the old village of Camberwell.

At the front of the church is the First Surrey Rifles War Memorial in a raised bed surrounded by ornamental beds; additional ornamental trees are planted in raised beds in the garden fronting onto Camberwell Church Street and the east boundary.

Sources consulted:

LB Southwark website; 'St Giles The Parish Church of Camberwell: A short guide and history', Friends of St Giles, 1987; Ron Woollacott, 'Southwark's Burying Places, Past and Present', Magdala Terrace Nunhead Local History publication, 2001; Southwark Listed Buildings data; History on St Giles Church website

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Southwark
Site management:
Parks; Friends of St Giles Church
medieval; 1939 (garden)
Listed structures:
LBII*: St Giles Church. LBII: Porch to medieval church in Benhill Road.
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:
Conservation Area name:
Camberwell Grove
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Archaeological Priority Zone
Other LA designation:
Churchyard, Tier Two

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