St John The Evangelist Church
St John the Evangelist Church on Penge High Street was built in 1849/50 from a Gothic Revivalist design in Kentish ragstone with bathstone details by architects Edwin Nash and J. N. Round. John Dudin Brown gave the plot of land which the church was built on.
The church provides a place of worship for Penge Anglicans. Before 1850, Anglicans had to travel to Battersea for Sunday worship or go to nearby Beckenham. The hamlet of Penge was part of the ecclesiastical parish of Battersea until 1899 when it became a separate urban district. There are still boundary markers to show this connection. There were only 270 inhabitants in 1841 but by 1851 the population of Penge had grown to 1,116. Even then the church was surrounded by fields and the remains of Penge Common.
The church has many interesting features and is a nationally-listed Grade ll building since 1990. Nicolas Pevsner, the architecture authority and critic, had rather lukewarm praise for the design except for ‘the open timber roofs, those in the transepts being especially evocative.’
Not least of these features are the beautiful Victorian stained-glass windows, one of which, the King Edward VII window in the north aisle, was designed by William Morris & Company in 1910. The style of the figures, Temperance and Hope, is that of Burne Jones but there are also leaf designs recognisable from William Morris wallpaper.
The stunning 1950s stained-glass window over the sanctuary has an image of the Crystal Palace in the left corner.
The church has been re-ordered over the years and has its own heritage project.
St John’s has a lively outreach into the community. There are concerts, fetes, choirs and carol-services. The church can be hired for public meetings. During the Penge Festival the grounds host a popular and well-attended Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
The celebrated African-American actor, Ira Aldridge, married his second wife, Amanda von Brandt, in this church in 1865. A renowned Shakespearean actor, Aldridge is celebrated on all university drama syllabi and there is a statue of him at the Shakespeare theatre, Stratford upon Avon. Garlanded with honours in his life-time throughout Europe and Russia, there is now a pavement plaque near the church to remind us of his connection with Penge.