St Michael’s is a beautiful Georgian church, which is the oldest church building in Blackheath with the largest seating capacity. A major restoration project in 2018 restored and redecorated the church inside and out, and provided high quality contemporary audio visual facilities, while preserving the authentic beauty and simplicity of the original building. It is used for a wide range of different community events.
St Michael & All Angels, Blackheath Park, is the parish church of the Cator Estate, named after John Cator, who in 1783 bought the estate of Wricklemarsh House, built in 1724. Cator had little use for the house and demolished it in 1787. It stood roughly where Blackheath Park and Pond Road intersect.
A church was then considered essential for any new development. The Cator Estate lay partly in the parishes of Lee and Charlton and partly in the Liberty of Kidbrooke. The last had no church and those of the other two were at some distance. The solution was a proprietary chapel, paid for by a benefactor. In 1828 J B Cator gave £4000 and a plot of land and the chapel was completed in February 1830 to the design of George Smith (1783-1869).
Smith used Gothic Revival for the new chapel, by 1830 the most widely used style for churches. The spire is the most prominent feature and, like the rest of the church, is unlike anything a mediaeval mason would have produced. It is very tall and thin, and sometimes known as The Needle of Kent. It is at the east end, probably as an eye-catcher to make the central cross-roads more impressive
Porches were added to both main doorways and a vestry of 1878-79 north of the tower, with plans by Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912), designer of the original New Scotland Yard. New pews were introduced at this time. Baptisms, marriages and burials were not allowed in a proprietary chapel, so the minister then earned his living from rents for pews and donations. A separate parish was approved in 1874 and the chapel was then re-dedicated to St Michael & All Angels, having formerly been called either Trinity or St Peter’s Chapel. The organ is considerably older than the church, dating from 1740, and was originally in St John’s Chapel near Lincoln’s Inn.
Few early Gothic Revival churches escaped significant later changes, because of Victorian notions of style and worship. St Michael’s was an exception, and therefore still gives much of the impression of an early to mid 19th century evangelical Church.
The major restoration project completed in 2018 introduced new heating, lighting and glass entrance doors. The floor was lowered and the front area of the church made more accessible and usable. This meant moving the pulpit, a War Memorial dating from 1920. A new font was also commissioned. The church was redecorated with an authentic Georgian colour scheme, and audio visual facilities enhanced. The church’s exterior stonework was fully repaired during the project, and the church was floodlit and the boundary wall repaired in 2020.