St Paul's Lorrimore Square: London's Magnificent Modernist Church

By M@ Last edited 9 months ago

Last Updated 14 September 2023

St Paul's Lorrimore Square: London's Magnificent Modernist Church
View of the interior of St Paul's Newington

It looks like... an okapi's bottom. That's my first, unvoiced impression when craning up at the remarkable ceiling of St Paul's Lorrimore Square.

My profane thoughts are swiftly conquered. Comparing this modernist church to anything — let alone an ungulate's arse — is obnoxious behaviour. St Paul's is a unique masterpiece. Its brown and white triangular roof is one of the most astonishing sights anywhere in London, let alone the Kennington-Walworth borderlands. Both inside and out, I've never seen anything quite like it.

St Paul's Lorrimore Square, also known as St Paul's Newington, deserves to be better known. It was built with style and character, at a time when post-war economic pressures made such qualities a rarity. The holy structure is so unusual that it's gained a Grade II listing from Historic England.  

St Paul's Newington's copper roof

The interior is sublime, but the outside is also a marvel — all pointy copper dormers and concrete honeycomb. The church would be all over Instagram, if it were in central London. Rather, it finds itself in a residential estate you're unlikely to stumble upon, unless you're local. I was only here because of its inclusion in Open House London.

Outside of St Paul's Newington
The entrance is raised to first-floor level, with a nursery at ground level.

The building's history is guessable. From the style, we can safely assume it's 1950s. And that being the case, we'd be tempted to speculate that this is a replacement for an older church, destroyed in the war. All of this is true. The original was a fairly typical Victorian Gothic affair, pleasingly buttressed with a soaring spire. It lasted just 85 years before the Blitz blasted it to pieces, along with much of the surrounding area.

Interior of St Pauls Newington
Pevsner described it as "pleasantly calm, with subdued lighting and a ceiling of interesting shapes". Londonist described it as "an okapi's bottom".

Following the war, the congregation had to make do with "The Hut", a temporary shack erected among the rubble. You can see pictures of this make-do church in a fascinating scrap book within the church. But something much livelier and imaginative was set to rise from the ashes, courtesy of architects Woodroffe, Buchanan and Coulter.

Note the "disco" lighting along the walls

Stepping back into the late-50s interior, and it's like finding a velvet lining in a suit of armour. The reinforced concrete is less apparent, replaced with warm wood, marble and the variform "disco lights" of the stained glass. The latter effect is most pronounced in the eastern Lady Chapel. Here, the hexagonal coloured glass bathes the space in azure hues. It's tempting to pretend we're in Doctor Who's TARDIS.

Coloured lighting in the Lady Chapel
The Lady Chapel

And like the famous time machine, St Paul's has more going on inside than you might expect. It also serves as both a community centre and a nursery, and includes a public playground and five-a-side court within its compass. It's the social hub of the surrounding Brandon Estate. But it's also one of the most remarkable churches in London. Praise be to Open House for bringing such a treasure to wider attention.

A sculpture of christ on the cross
Sculpture of the "Risen Christ in Glory by Freda Skinner, symbolic of the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension".

St Paul's Lorrimore Square, 4 Lorrimore Square, London SE17 3QT. Nearest tube is Kennington.