The Garrison Church of St George was built between 1862 and 1863 on the orders of Lord Sidney Herbert, Secretary of State for War, and designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt with assistance from his younger brother, Matthew Digby Wyatt.
The Church was designed in an Italian-Romanesque style, similar to Lord Herbert's parish church in Wilton, Wiltshire, not far from Larkhill where the Royal Artillery moved in 2007. The Wilton church survives and provides a tantalizing insight into the original appearance of St George's.
Architects: the Wyatts
Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) designed the church with his younger brother, Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877) Matthew Wyatt had been Secretary to the Great Exhibition in 1851, while his older brother's practice undertook a great deal of work in Wiltshire largely due to the patronage of the Herbert family. Both were part of an architectural dynasty who worked extensively throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The nearby Barracks building was designed by James Wyatt (1746-1813) in about 1796-7, as was the Royal Academy. (James Wyatt is best known as the architect of 'doomed' Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire.)
The church was built to provide for the moral well-being for the soldiers of the Royal Artillery. During the Crimean War (1853-6) there was a public outcry about the living conditions for soldiers- as a result, hospitals, new barracks, and garrison churches were built.
The builders were George Smith and Co. of Pimlico, and the church is a good example of the patterned brick work, typical of the Victorian period. Development in technology in Victorian England led to the manufacturing of bricks which had previously been hand made, producing stronger, more regular bricks, available in a range of colours.
The interior was richly decorated with mosaics thought to be based on those in the Roman and Byzantine monuments in Ravenna, Italy. The surviving mosaics: St George and the Dragon, and those around the chancel arches, were probably made in Venice in the workshop of Antonio Salviati, and installed by London based contractors, Burke & Co.
The mosaic of St George and the Dragon forms part of Victoria Cross memorial, which also includes marble tablets inscribed with the names of members of the Royal Artillery decorated in conflicts from the Crimean War to the middle of World War II. The cost of the memorial was met through subscriptions in 1915. The chancel mosaics were installed later. On completion commentators celebrated the interior for its use of iron work. Iron corbels survive today.
Originally there were five tall stained glass windows in the semi circular apse- memorials to the fallen artillery officers made by Lavers and Barraud. William Wailes designed at least one of the windows, and another was a memorial to Lord Herbert.
World War II
On 13th July 1944 the fate of the Church changed forever when a flying bomb landed on it, causing a fire and gutting much of the interior.
Other Key Facts
The church was also bombed during the First World War- the rose window was blown out, and stained glass lost.
In 1928 King George V and his wife, Mary, visited.
Plaques on the perimeter walls record the names of soldiers killed in military conflict or those who served for the Royal Artillery and died of natural causes.
In 1952 a re-building scheme was considered, with designs produced by Kenneth Lindy, but the widening of Grand Depot Road in the early 1960s scuppered plans.
In 1970 the upper parts of the walls were demolished and the Church became a memorial garden with a corrugated roof placed over the east end to protect the mosaics and historic fabric.
The site was identified as a Building at Risk by Historic England, then English Heritage, in 2000. It remained 'at risk' until 15th October 2020 when it was taken off the At Risk Register in recognition of the protection and conservation achieved in recent years thanks to the work of HOLTOP and the Woolwich Garrison Church Trust.
In 2008 Historic England introduced the Heritage of London Trust Operations to the then Station Commander to discuss how best to protect the fabric and raise funds for its conservation. The Heritage Lottery Fund project was the result.
The Church remains consecrated with Services and events taking place every year. Services - including weddings - and community events are held at the Church for civilian, military, cultural and educational purposes. Our Services and events benefit all those who are or become associated with the Church, including soldiers of the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery and Regiments in station at Woolwich Barracks.
In 2011 ownership of the Church was transferred from Defence Estates to the Heritage of London Trust Operations. Then in 2018 a long lease was granted to Woolwich Garrison Church Trust who now manage the Church and surrounding land. Mainly comprising Greenwich borough residents the Woolwich Garrison Church Trust is a registered charity. The Woolwich Station Commander advises on operations and collaborates on events.