Our church buildings are historically important mainly because of their original architect and his family. Augustus Pugin is most famous for his work on the inside of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. St Peter’s, built mostly in brick with very little decoration, does not look like the Houses of Parliament. This is because here Pugin was building for poor people. The church building shows how gifted Pugin was, in applying his principles and his design talents in widely different circumstances.
Who were the poor people he was building for? Woolwich in the 1840’s was a busy military and manufacturing town. It was a place where ships for the navy were repaired and where guns and ammunition were made for the army and navy. There were military barracks around Woolwich, including one where Tesco is now. Many of the soldiers and workers, were Irish Catholics. Irish immigrants did a lot of manual work in Britain from the mid-18th century.
At the time there were very few churches. Catholic priests and churches were banned in England until the late18th century, and Catholics did not achieve equal rights with other citizens until 1829. The Government wanted churches in order to encourage good behaviour among the troops and workers, so in 1841 they donated this piece of land for a Catholic church in Woolwich. But the funds for the building had to be raised by the resident priest, from less than 1000 local Catholic families, and other Catholics in Britain. Pugin became the church’s architect in September 1841, and it was completed in October 1843.
The church still shows many of the features of Pugin architecture. It also shows how, since it was built, parishioners have adapted it according to their own needs and tastes.