The church started in 1867, when Peckham was a village on the edge of Camberwell and a haven outside the intense bustle of Victorian London. It was carved out of several larger parishes and was sited near the newly built Peckham Rye station having opened itself in 1865. Within a few years the church had grown from about 20 people, meeting in the vicar’s sitting room, to over 600 adults in the congregation. There was also a children’s service for 800 children on Sunday afternoons.
The church was originally intended to have been twinned with a school, built at the same time. However the school once built proved superfluous following the passing of the Elementary Education Act 1870 which made local authorities responsible for the education of all children up to the age of thirteen. The building was therefore never used for this purpose and was gifted to the newly established church as its church hall.
The church grew rapidly in the early 20th century but, like many inner-city London churches, declined after World War II. By the mid-1990s, the church congregation had fallen in number to a small handful of members. The church was no longer viable and plans were made to sell the land for housing but to incorporate a small worship centre for the remaining members on the site.
In 1996, a last-ditch effort was made to save the church. The diocese appointed the Revd Bob Hurley (who had been on the staff at Holy Trinity Brompton in South Kensington) as vicar. Bob believed that “God had a plan that All Saints could be full again on Sundays” and, with the rest of the small congregation, was determined to fight the closure plans. The then Bishop of Southwark agreed to Bob’s proposal that within two years he would double the congregation of 20 people and install a heating system in the church or else the church would close. Bob rose to the challenge and both targets were achieved within six months – the threat of closure was removed and the church grew rapidly in the years that followed.
In 2002, Bob moved to five rural parishes near Salisbury and in 2003 the Revd Francis ‘Frog’ Orr-Ewing (previously a curate at St Aldate’s Church in Oxford) was appointed as vicar. During his time as vicar the number of people attending All Saints grew considerably, the staff team expanded and the outreach and public profile of the church further increased.
Frog stepped down as vicar in May 2010 to lead a new church in Buckinghamshire and in July 2011, All Saints welcomed the Revd Jonathan Mortimer as their new vicar. The church is currently in the process of commissioning a feasibility study to look at how the church and its congregations can best continue to serve the local community by ‘making space for good in Peckham.