A Glimpse Inside Woolwich’s Garrison Church Of St. George
Cities are full of traces. Traces of destruction and creation. Of decline and prosperity. Of war and peace.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, particularly regarding Woolwich and its see-sawing fortunes and the many score-marks of history we can see in its streets and buildings. Sometimes it’s as innocuous as a shoddy shopfront concealing an elegant eighteenth-century townhouse. Other times, it’s as conclusive as the rubble and carbuncles left after Greenwich Council razes an entire town block, or the Arsenal Gate being forever marooned by that flourish of 1980s “planning” known as Plumstead Road.
A few Sundays ago, I visited the ruin of the 1860s Garrison Church of St. George, which is opposite the Royal Artillery Barracks. The traces that remain are what survived after most of the building was blasted to oblivion by a V2 flying bomb in 1944.
The St. George ruins offer us a different type of trace. They carry the full weight of 20th-century history, for a start, rather than rubbing our noses in the misguided actions of council drones and short-sighted planners. And what’s left is well worth preserving. A new curved roof shields the stunning mosaic work and inscriptions from the elements, and is a marked improvement on the previous makeshift shed. This is also a site upon which other traces of memory have been inscribed. Besides the memorials to soldiers who fell while the church was whole, a more recent set of plaques remembers eleven men who have died in service since WW2 or by an act of terrorism. Lee Rigby is among those named.
A modest garden replaces the aisles and pews. The church’s roof was all but completely destroyed during the war, so now it’s an open-air space that functions as a memorial garden and is occasionally used by the nearby Royal Artillery Barracks.
During my visit, I met some locals who’ve banded together to form a friends group. They aim to gather enough similarly enthusiastic volunteers to enable the church to open to the public regularly (for more details you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter @StGeorgesSE18 or email them email@example.com). They’ve already amassed a pile of information on what the church, and its surrounds, used to look like, and will tell you about the plans for its future. Do pay them a visit; you’ll be glad you did.