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 chruch 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 remains 'at risk' today.
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 and at least four services take place every year.
In 2011 ownership of the Church was transferred from Defence Estates to the Heritage of London Trust Operations. The site is now managed by largely borough residents who have formed the Woolwich Garrison Church Trust. Services are still held at the Church for soldiers of the Kings Troop and Royal Horse Artillery based at Woolwich Barracks, and the Station Commander advises on operations and collaborates on events.