The Project

Places of Worship 2009: Hackney and Tower Hamlets is a unique partnership project between the Building Exploratory, English Heritage and the Churches Conservation Trust.

The project has assessed the condition, use and significance of 63 listed places of worship in the London Boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets with a team of committed volunteers. To find out more about these unique buildings please visit the Buildings page.

Background to the project

The survey of historic places of worship in the London Boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets contributes to English Heritage’s Heritage at Risk programme. It was designed to explore how volunteers could be involved in the assessment of places of worship and at the same time provide up to date information on the state of a diverse and important collection of religious buildings. The results will allow a more strategic approach to be taken in helping the owners of buildings to conserve and manage them.

Condition

Having reviewed all the listed places of worship in Hackney and Tower Hamlets the project team expected to find many cases of poor maintenance and significant repair needs. Our assumption was very far from the truth. There were several instances of buildings with repair and maintenance needs, which demonstrate how damaging water can be when it gets into a building and what happens if the carers of buildings do not carry out regular maintenance. However, on the whole, the places of worship are well cared for and are a credit to the people who use them and are responsible for them.

The Places of Worship 2009 volunteers looked carefully at all the exteriors and many of the interiors of the 63 buildings. Although not qualified architects or surveyors, using experience they brought or gained from the project, they did an excellent job of spotting poor gutter maintenance and roofs in need of repair. With so many listed places of worship in good repair, it is important not to be complacent and forget the sites where there are significant problems. It is only the relentless task of regular maintenance that prevents minor problems from becoming large repair bills.

Significance

The survey of listed places of worship in Hackney and Tower Hamlets undertaken records the growth, development and social change that has characterised London from the middle ages to the present day.

The story begins with the parish churches of the medieval villages and continues with the seventeenth century expansion of the City of London eastwards beyond the old city walls.

The new suburbs of Shoreditch and Spitalfields were eloquent testament to the burgeoning mercantile wealth of London and the churches built to serve the growing population gave full architectural expression to this new wealth.

The Anglican revival of the mid nineteenth century coincided with the greatest rate of growth London had ever seen. London’s new townscape was dominated by churches of a scale that reflected this growth, with church building activity peaked between 1840 and 1880. These places of worship, like the rest of London, suffered from war time bomb damage and post war demographic changes. However they have been reinvented as places of worship by committed faith communities.

The cosmopolitan nature of London as a great world city was reflected from the eighteenth century by the appearance of Huguenot immigrants from France who built their chapels, followed by Jews in the nineteenth century and most recently by the Bangladeshi who often reused the Huguenot chapels. The social legacy of this rich diversity of faiths is now as important as the buildings themselves as a microcosm of London.

Describing Places of Worship

Some of the words used to describe places of worship will seem strange to the lay reader, to find out more about the terms used to describe buildings in the survey please go to the toolkit page and download the Volunteer Survey Manual.