You can easily pass by St Bartholomew’s Churchyard in Sydenham. It looks like another church on another busy road. But do visit, and linger. As soon as you step inside the walls, or pass through the Lych Gate you are in another world – quiet, somewhat derelict, but peaceful. Yet again the churchyard walls seem to create and protect another level of being.
History of the Church
‘…St Bartholomew’s Church was built in 1827-32 as a chapel-of-ease to St Mary’s Lewisham and became Sydenham Parish Church in 1856. The small churchyard has a number of chest tombs and monuments among the grass and mature trees include yew and oak. The view to St Bartholomew’s along Lawrie Park Avenue was made famous by the painter Camille Pissarro in 1871…’.London Gardens Online (June 2014)
Lawrie Park is another of the housing estates built in South East London in the second half of the 19C. In 1851 the Great Exhibition ended. The Crystal Palace Company was formed at this point with the aim of enlarging the building and creating an ambitious park. To finance this the company planned to build housing estates. Various landowners and builders created prestigious housing in this area, discussed in detail here.
‘…Next to the church was Aberdeen House where the famous explorer Ernest Shackleton lived as a child…’.London Gardens Online (June 2014)
St Bartholomew’s Church
Lewis Vulliamy designed St Bartholomew’s Church. It was built in 1827-32 as one of the Commissioners’ Churches. It was originally a chapel-of-ease to St Mary’s Lewisham, and it became Sydenham Parish Church in 1856. The original building ‘…had a plain ceiling with pillars of brick and plaster…’. In 1858 Edwin Nash, an eminent local architect, raised and enlarged the building. He added the apsidal chancel as a memorial to Thomas Bowdler, its first minister, and raised the roof. Mayow Wynell Adams’ name is above the lych-gate of 1906.
The Lych Gate
In the churchyard
A large tomb dating from 1853 houses Robert and Elizabeth Harrild. Harrild, a manufacturer of printing equipment, lived in Round Hill House (near today’s Baxter’s Field) and was a major developer of Sydenham Park Estate from the 1840s. His son-in-law George Baxter, also a printer, is commemorated in Baxter’s Field. There is also a monument in the form of a colonnaded building commemorating Charles English, first vicar of the new parish, who died on 31 May 1867. William Dacres Adams was Private Secretary to William Pitt the Younger when he was Prime Minister. Many of his family members are also buried here.
Underneath the yew at the entrance to the church is the grave of 10 men who died during the rebuilding of the Crystal Palace in Sydenham in 1853 when the scaffolding they were on collapsed. Their funeral at St Bartholomew’s was attended by the many people touched by the tragedy. In 2003 the grave was restored and re-dedicated by the Bishop of Woolwich and an information board is now located next to the grave.
Unusually there is a crypt underneath the church. The churchyard is small and perhaps this is why the church buried people in the crypt, according to the plaque on the side of the building. However, today the crypt is a working space for community and youth activities.
A huge oak tree spreads its branches over the graves at the front of the church. And a group of new fruit trees stand near the Lych Gate now. An old yew tree is outside the South Porch, and opposite is a fine Larch Tree.
St Bartholomew’s Churchyard in Sydenham is an interesting visit, if slightly sad, but the Church is a fine and very large building. As I read the Church’s website I sense energy and determination from the congregation and the leadership to maintain and improve this interesting heritage. I think the future looks bright for St Barts and I will be returning in the near future.