History of St. Michaels


The church

Vicars of St. Michael's

In ancient times, Abbey Wood was largely marshland, stretching from the Thames to the foot of Knee Hill/ New Road/ Bostall Hill. Knee Hill itself is believed to be a very ancient track way, and is possibly one of the oldest roads in London. Parcels of land in the area belonging to a notable Norman, Bishop Odo of Bayeaux, were identified on the Doomsday Book (though the name of Abbey Wood did not feature).

Description: C:\Users\Daddy\Documents\Church\WebPages\web\images\Lesnes abbeysmall.jpgLesnes Abbey.  A hundred years later, in 1178, Lesnes Abbey was founded by Henry 11's Chief Justiciar, Richard de Luci, the owner of the land.  This was an act of penance for his prominent part in the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.  The monks were made responsible for maintaining the river-wall and draining the marshes.  Though the Abbey received some income from marshland it rented out, it was constantly in debt, made worse by dishonest dealings by one of the Abbots.  It was never a successful Abbey - rarely having more than seven monks - and was one of the first to be suppressed by Henry V111 in 1525.  Thanks to recycling of the Abbey's stonework for buildings elsewhere, basically only the foundations still remain to be enjoyed by visitors today.

The woods behind the Abbey are "ancient woodland", having been there from time immemorial.  The story goes that the monks planted the first daffodils in the woods, but who knows?

Description: C:\Users\Daddy\Documents\Church\WebPages\web\images\abbey wood station_small.jpgAbbey Wood.  Prior to 1900, there wasn't very much of Abbey Wood - basically about a couple of dozen cottages in the shadow of the Abbey Arms and the Harrow Inn.  The building of the railway line in the 1840's, with a station at Abbey Wood, probably set the stage for all the subsequent changes.  (William Morris walked to and from ‘The Red House’ in Bexleyheath to meet friends at Abbey Wood).

One hundred years ago, the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society Ltd (RACS) started to build the Bostall Estate.  The land had originally been two farms - Bostall Farm which they had bought in 1886 to provide vegetables for the Co-op's shops and in 1899, Suffolk Place Farm (for a time the property of the Dukes of Suffolk).  The buildings of the former were about where the Nursery School now stands in Dahlia Road.  The pioneers of the Co-operative Movement had become concerned that better quality housing was required for the "industrial classes" and so the RACS decided to make use of this land for that purpose.  The plan was to build an estate of about 3,500 houses, with prices ranging from £255 to £405 for a 99 year lease.

Building actually started in 1900, and the architect planned to build 200 houses a year, employing 300 men at ½ d an hour over Trade Union rates.  McLeod Road (named like the School, after Alexander McLeod, the first Secretary of the RACS) was to be the finest road on the estate.  Many other roads have Co‑operative connections.

Building was halted in 1909, restarted in 1912 but stopped again in 1914, by which time 1052 houses had been completed.  It is noticeable that the houses built after WW1 (mostly in the western end of Parish) are in a different style.  In 1903, the London County Council bought land from the RACS in Bostall Lane and built a school for 1,000 children (infants on the ground floor, girls on the middle floor, and boys on the top floor).

Description: C:\Users\Daddy\Documents\Church\WebPages\web\images\magazine cover_small.jpgSt. Michael's church.  The land was originally in the Parish of St. Nicholas, Plumstead.  However, with 18,000 people already in its parish, St Nicholas felt it could not cope with more, so plans were laid to start a new parish, St. Michael and All Angels' Plumstead with Abbey Wood, "Plumstead" was not dropped from the title for many years.

In 1903, the Diocese of Rochester, which then extended up to Bermondsey decided to form a "Mission District" in Abbey Wood.  (The Diocese of Southwark was not formed until 1905).

The first "church" was St. Mary's Mission Hall, popularly known as "The Tin Mary" - a corrugated iron structure situated at the foot of New Road where the modern flats now stand.  Its use was offered by the Parish of St. Augustine, Belvedere and services were held there for a short period.

Description: C:\Users\Daddy\Documents\Church\WebPages\web\images\church hall1_small.jpgAfter a while the St. Michael's Hall was built for use as the church.  It is now used by the church and wider community for various functions and recreational activities.  Land for the Hall and Church had been acquired, at a cost of £1,000.  The Hall accommodated 350, with a class room and scullery behind and for over three years the services were held in it.  Much of the furniture was made and presented by members of the congregation.  The Altar was a gift from St. Andrews, Stockwell and is now in the Lady Chapel.

Fund raising for building the church began in 1905, with the foundation stone being laid on June 15th 1907.  Under a year later, on 11th April 1908, the new church was consecrated for worship by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, Right Rev. Edward Stuart Talbot, D.D.

The total cost of the building, including decoration and furnishing, was £8,026‑9s-8d, of which the congregation had raised under 10%, the rest coming from grants and outside donations.

Balance Sheet


£        s.  d.


£         s.   d.

Donations from outside the Parish

2,318 15  8

Longley & Co. (Builders)

7,124  11   1

Nutfield and Blechingly Association

   489  8  10

Sir A.W. Blomfield & Sons (Architects)

   369   6    7

Donations, Boxes, etc. in Parish

   887  9  10

India 3 1/2 % stock (insurance fund)

     98  15   0

Women's Bible Class (collected) in the Parish

     56  5   6 ½

Heating Apparatus

     82  10  10

The Communicants' Gift, in the Parish

       9 10 10 ½


   123    1   6

City Parochial Charities

2,250  0   0

Printing and Postage

     52   12  7

South London Church Fund

   700  0   0

Legal expenses

     17   17  8

Lockwood's Bequest

   350  0   0


     19   11  8

Woolwich Church Extension Association

   301  1   0

Presents to Workmen, Cheque book etc.

       7   9   0

Incorporated Church Building Association

   275  0   0

Furniture and Ornaments

    130  13  9

Marchall's Trustees

   250  0   0



H.M. War Office

     40  0   0



Bank Interest

     98 17  10



8,026   9    8


8,026     9   8

At first it was proposed to build only part of the church, but an offer of £1000 and a loan free of interest of £2000 made it possible to build the whole church at once.  Two country parishes, Nutfield and Blechingly, were affiliated under the Diocesan scheme, by which poor town parishes were assisted by parishes which have not such great needs, over £489 was received from them.  The Women's bible class made a weekly house to house collection for a year and were able to Description: C:\Users\Daddy\Documents\Church\WebPages\web\images\early church_small.jpgpresent a sum of over £56 on Easter Day, 1909, the anniversary of the consecration, on which day the whole debt was paid off.

Many individuals presented gifts.  The communicants gave the Altar Book, Altar Vases, a Credence, and part of the Altar hangings.  The Altar, the screen, the processional cross, the candlesticks, the sanctuary carpet, the Lady Chapel Cross, the alms dish, the altar linen, the standard lights, the Bible, the pulpit, and the Churchwardens' staves were given by different friends.  The vessels for the Holy Communion and the Cross on the High Altar, as well as the candlesticks in the Lady Chapel were gifts which were in use before the Church was built.  The flagstaff and a platform for the Lectern were presented by the Builders.

The Parish was constituted by Order-in-Council on 1st September 1908, with the Revd. J.T. Charlesworth who had been the Missioner since 1903 being instituted as Vicar on 14th December 1908.  The first vicarage was at 14 McLeod Road.  Land for the present one in Conference Road was given in 1916 with a grant of £400 to cover the cost of building.  Plans for this were drawn up in 1925 and erection started in 1927.

Page last updated 22-07-17