Secret Peckham: The Asylum

I lived in Peckham for years, and I loved it. Having no car, I walked frequently past a set of alms houses on the way to get angry in B&Q. The houses seemed to be occupied, but in the centre of the gardens was a big derelict chapel which I always wondered about. Now, thanks to my friend at work, I have some answers.

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She’s getting married there. The chapel, known as the Asylum, is part of the Caroline Gardens alms houses, once the biggest set of alms houses in London. Bombed in the war, it has recently been brought back into use by Jo Dennis and Dido Hallett. You can now attend concerts, exhibitions and yes, even get married in it.

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Image: Mark Willis

Best of all the bringing back to life of this building has been through minimal intervention. The bombing, incredibly, didn’t damage the chapel’s extraordinary windows.

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The website about the Asylum is well worth a visit. Not only does it have listings for events and details of how to hire the space, it also has this brilliant brief history of the place:

“Caroline Gardens Chapel, in Peckham, forms the heart of London’s largest complex of almshouses originally known as the Licenced Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum. However, despite being called an “asylum”, the grade-II-listed site was not a home for lunatics. Instead, the word was used in its older sense of “sanctuary” and it was in fact an old folks’ home for retired pub landlords (or “decayed members of the trade” as they were known at the time).”

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Isn’t that wonderful. Old folks home for retired pub landlords? ‘Decayed members of the trade’? Can I book myself a place now?

2 Responses to “Secret Peckham: The Asylum”

  1. Bob Minting
    December 2, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

    Thanks for your explanation about the Asylum. I had found that one of my great great grandmothers Kesiah Cox (and possibly her husband John, for a short while) spent at least ten of her last years there. John was a licensee of several London pubs in the mid 1800s. Good to know that she was not necessarily insane, and probably lived reasonably comfortably there, in her widowhood. Does anyone know of any records of the inhabitants – names, dates etc?

  2. Paul Tomlin
    January 22, 2018 at 9:54 pm #

    Bob, I don’t know of any records but interesting spotting your post, my great uncle Dr Alfonzo Stocker owned and ran the asylum at one point and also Northumberland House asylum which I believe was knocked down in 1954 and is now Tower Hamlets, I think most of his clients were the better off in society so would tie in with great great grandmother being quite comfortable. I only found out about this about ten years ago , but about twenty years ago after being a cabinetmaker for the previous twenty years I decided to set up a therapeutic project for people with mental health problems, coincidence?. Will be doing some more searching so will let you know if I find out anything that might be of interest to you.

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