St. Anselm’s Court

There is still a Roman Catholic church in Tooting Bec dedicated to St. Anselm – an 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury who lived at Le Bec-Hellouin Monastery, from which Tooting Bec takes its name – but the Anglican version in Streatham has gone. An open, triangular space on the corner of Madeira Road and Oakdale Road, not far from Streatham Station, is a negative impression of the lost church. St. Anselm’s Coventry Park, a chapel to Immanuel Church by Streatham Common, was destroyed during the Second World War. It was built in 1882, as the centrepiece of the Coventry Park estate of upper middle-class Victorian semis, but twenty years later it was described as ‘unfinished’, with temporary walls still holding up one side of the nave.   

There appear to be no surviving images of the church, which has gone as though it was never there. The post-war flats beside its empty site are called St. Anselm’s Court, but there is no other suggestion of anything that came before. Streatham, like much of London, is full of vanishings – prominent buildings lost to bombs or fires, melting out of memory and leaving only oblique traces. I had often wondered about this particular road junction before I discovered what it had been. Oakdale Road, an ordinary residential street, widens suddenly and grandly where it meets Madeira Road, setting the scene for something important. It would have provided an appropriate setting for a church, but makes less sense now beside a fenced area of grassy humps, which may contain rubble from the ruined church. The missing building makes sense of the site and its absence now mirrors its presence. It has left a space to be filled by the imagination, which has powers greater than those of the Victorian architect (RJ Withers) who designed Coventry Park’s short-lived centre.