All Saints’ rose from the ashes—literally. The church was gutted by a fire in June 2000. With only the towering Victorian walls left standing, the ruined building was open to the sky.
But the congregation decided that All Saints should be restored. The church opened again at Easter 2006, its walls and pillars deliberately left showing the scars of the flames.
All Saints’ was started in Croxted Road in 1877 to serve a Dulwich population which was increasing as the railways expanded. It was a “tin tabernacle”, a corrugated-iron building of a type much favoured by Victorians for temporary churches and chapels and could hold 700 people.
But it was not enough to keep pace with growth in the area. George Fellowes Prynne, who was to go on to design Colombo Cathedral in Sri Lanka, was engaged as architect for a new All Saints.
In October 1888 the foundation stone was laid for the present building, which stands at the junction of Rosendale and Lovelace Roads.
The church opened in October 1891, although it was not consecrated until six years later when the building debt was cleared. Total cost, including fitting, was £14,000.
The money was too little to pay for Prynne’s design for the west end of the church. That was never completed, giving the huge building a truncated, unfinished look. It probably accounts for an erroneous belief, widespread locally, that All Saints’ was in competition to become a new cathedral for south London and that work was halted when the old parish church of St Saviour’s, Southwark, was named as the cathedral.
In the Second World War, the crypt at All Saints’ was used as an air-raid shelter. Most services were also held there in the Blitz, for safety and because the crypt’s windows could be easily blacked out.
In June 1944 a V-1 flying bomb landed near All Saints’ at the junction of Rosendale and Lovelace Roads, killing at least four people, destroying or damaging more than 25 houses and shattering the church’s stained glass windows at the east end. All Saints’ roof was also damaged and the crypt continued to be used for services until the church was repaired in 1951.
The crypt was used again for services after the fire of 2000. At first it was sodden from thousands of gallons of water pumped by firemen on to the flames, so services were held at nearby Rosendale School. The congregation used the crypt when it had dried out and the ruins above had been made safe, then returned to the school when major work began on restoration.
When All Saints’ reopened, the congregation found inside the old walls a church transformed.
Its dark gothic interior has been opened up and flooded with light. The west end has finally been finished, giving the church an airy Welcome Hall. The crypt has been completely refurbished to provide space and modern facilities for functions.
The church itself is now much more able to host concerts and other events. The choir (All Saints’ always had a big music tradition) are now housed in a gallery so that they sing out above the congregation and along the church.
At the east end, straight in front of the choir and congregation, is a direct reminder of All Saints’ journey through fire: a cross made of charred beams from the old roof.