Camberwell (St. Giles)

CAMBERWELL (St. Giles), a parish and union, in the E. division of the hundred of Brixton and of the county of Surrey, 3¼ miles (S.) from London; containing, with the hamlets of Dulwich and Peckham, 39,868 inhabitants. This place, in the Norman survey called Cambrewell, and in other ancient records Camerwell, appears to have been known to the Romans, whose legions are by some antiquaries supposed to have here forded the Thames, and to have constructed the causeway leading from the river through the marshes in this parish, of which a considerable part, consisting of square chalk-stones, and secured with oak piles, was discovered fifteen feet below the surface of the ground, in digging the bed of the Grand Surrey canal, in 1809. In Domesday book mention is made of a church; and in the register of Bishop Edington at Winchester, a commission dated 1346, for "reconciling Camberwell church, which had been polluted by bloodshed," is still in existence. The village or town is pleasantly situated, and the beauty of its environs has made it the residence of many wealthy merchants of the metropolis: it is paved, and lighted with gas; and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water from springs, and from the works of the South London Company. The ancient part of the village contains several spacious mansions in detached situations; the more modern is built on rising ground to the south-east, and comprises the Grove, and Champion, Denmark, and Herne Hills, which are occupied by elegant villas in a pleasing style. A literary and scientific institution was founded in 1846. There are several coal and coke wharfs, and a limekiln on the banks of the Surrey canal, which terminates in the parish, through which the London and Croydon railway also passes. By the act to "amend the representation," the whole parish, except Dulwich, was included within the limits of the borough of Lambeth. The magistrates for the district hold a meeting every alternate week.

The parish comprises 4342 acres, of which 55 are common or waste. The living is a vicarage, valued in the king's books at £20, and in the gift of the Rev. J. Williams: the great tithes have been commuted for £80, and the vicarial for £1100; the glebe comprises 21 acres, with a good glebe-house. The church, an ancient structure in the later English style, with a low embattled tower surmounted by an open lantern-turret rising from the centre, was destroyed by an accidental fire on the morning of Monday, the 8th of February, 1841, and only the roofless walls left standing: a meeting of the parishioners was held on the 13th for the appointment of a committee, who, at a subsequent meeting, were empowered to raise £12,000 for the erection of a new edifice. The new church, which is the most magnificent ecclesiastical structure recently completed in the neighbourhood of London, is of cruciform design, with a central tower and spire, and in the style of the latter half of the 13th century. The mass of the walls is built of rubble-work of Kentish ragstone, mixed with the materials of the old church; the exterior is faced with hammer-dressed stone from Yorkshire, with dressings of Caen stone. The general character of the building is bold and massive, rather than highly ornamented. The nave is supported on each side by five arches, resting on alternately round and octagonal pillars with carved capitals: the pulpit and some other portions of the interior are of oak, the communion-table is of stone; there is a fine organ, and the west window contains some stained glass, chiefly ancient.

The district church dedicated to St. George is situated on the bank of the Surrey canal, and is a handsome structure in the Grecian style, erected in 1824, at an expense of £17,000, of which £5000 was a grant from the Commissioners for Building New Churches; it is adapted for a congregation of 1700 persons. The living is a perpetual curacy; net value, £500. Emmanuel district church, situated in the High-street, near the old mansion-house, and of which the first stone was laid in 1841, was completed at an expense of £6000, of which £2000 were contributed by the Metropolitan Church-Building Society, £1000 by the Incorporated Society, and £1900 by Sir Edward Bowyer Smith, who also gave the site and a house for the minister, and presented the organ. It is a handsome structure of white brick, in the Norman style, with two towers surmounted by small spires at the east end, where is the principal entrance; the interior is well arranged, and contains 1000 sittings, of which 500 are free. The first stone of St. Paul's church, Herne-Hill, was laid in June, 1843. It is a brick building faced with Sneaton stone, in the English style, with a tower and spire 115 feet in height: the extent of the plan is 115 feet from east to west, and the internal length of the nave 80 feet, and its breadth, including the aisles, 50; the windows are of stained glass. The edifice affords accommodation to 700 persons; the cost was £4958, independently of numerous gifts of fittings-up. The living is in the gift of the Rev. J. G. Storie; income, £500. Two churches have been erected at Peckham, where are also two proprietary episcopal chapels. Camden chapel, built in 1795, and subsequently enlarged, is a handsome edifice of brick, with a campanile turret; it was under proprietary management previously to November, 1844, when it was consecrated. Besides these, is a chapel dedicated to St. Matthew, on Denmark Hill, and which, though locally in this parish, is dependent on that of Lambeth. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyans.

The free grammar school, originally intended for 12 boys, was founded in 1618, by the Rev. Edward Wilson, vicar of the parish, who built the premises, and gave seven acres of land for its endowment, which are let on lease for £60 per annum, paid to the master, who has also a house rent-free, and the privilege of taking boarders. The school is under the management of governors, who are a body corporate, and have a common seal. The Camberwell collegiate school, founded in 1834, is a proprietary establishment, on the principles of King's College, London, and under the patronage of the Bishop of Winchester; the buildings, to which are attached two acres of garden and play ground, are situated in the Grove, and are in the collegiate style, with a cloister in the centre of the front, forming the principal entrance. On the south of the village is Ladland's Hill, on which are the remains of a Roman camp, defended on the south side by a double intrenchment; and in a field in the neighbourhood, called Well Hill, three large wells, 36 feet in circumference, and lined with cement, have been discovered, from which the place probably derived its name. A head of Janus, 18 inches high, was found about a century since, at a place designated St. Thomas' Watering, where pilgrims used to stop on their way to Becket's shrine; and near it is a hill, called Oak-of-Honour Hill, from an oak under which Queen Elizabeth is said to have dined. Dr. Lettsom, an eminent physician, lived for many years in a beautiful cottage in the Grove, where he had an extensive library and philosophical apparatus. The uncle of George Barnwell, the hero of Lillo's tragedy, resided in an ancient house of which there are still some vestiges remaining.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.