The little hamlet on the south side of Blackheath had gradually expanded and by the 18th century thrived. Residents depended wholly on the pastoral ministrations of Greenwich St Alfege, Lee St Margaret, Charlton St Luke and Lewisham St Mary for their spiritual wellbeing. The estate chapels of St Michael’s on the Cator Estate and that of St John’s on Stratheden Road were too small to serve the community and by 1854 local voices demanded a new church.
In 1857 residents gained more than they had hoped, for the church was no longer to be simply a daughter church of Lewisham St Mary but a parish in its own right.
The Earl of Dartmouth, who made the land available, laid the foundation stone on 26 October 1857 and on All Saints’ Day the following year (1 November 1858) the Bishop of London came to consecrate the church.
For 10 years the church lay within the diocese of London until 1867, when the boundaries of the ancient diocese of Rochester were redrawn. As south London expanded in the later Victorian period, it was felt that a new diocese was needed to meet the demands of the population. With the creation of the diocese of Southwark in 1905, from parts of the sees of Rochester, Canterbury, London and Winchester, All Saints was added to the new diocese.
Much of the history is familiar. We learn that spiralling costs more than doubled the original estimates for Benjamin Ferrey’s church; the musical life was high enough that Sir Arthur Sullivan and Gustav Holst brought choirs here and the opera composer Alfred Cellier was organist; an early service (8am Holy Communion) was established in 1883, perpetual reservation of the sacrament in 1928 and requiem masses said.
Before the Second World War vicars had curates and the parish somehow coped during 1939-45 even when one vicar left to be with his family who had been evacuated, one was removed and a third had a nervous breakdown.
Throughout the church, her priests and people have continued to serve the community of Blackheath, standing as a witness to God’s presence and offering a beacon of hope in a busy world.
The hymn writer Athelstan Riley was born in the same year as divine worship was first offered here. He wrote:
O friends, in gladness let us sing,
Supernal anthems echoing,
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Alleluya, Alleluya, Alleluya, Alleluya, Alleluya!