Swedish Seamen's Mission


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Swedish Seamen's Church, 120 Lower Road, Rotherhithe, London, SE16 2UB


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Statutory Address:
Swedish Seamen's Church, 120 Lower Road, Rotherhithe, London, SE16 2UB

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Southwark (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Seamen’s mission and church, 1964-66 by Bent Jörgen Jörgensen with Elkington Smithers, incorporating a church of 1930 by Wigglesworth and Marshall Mackenzie.

Reasons for Designation

The Swedish Seamen’s Mission, 1964-66 by Bent Jörgen Jörgensen with Elkington Smithers, and incorporating a church of 1930 by Wigglesworth and Marshall Mackenzie, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: for its strong affinities with modern Swedish church design during a period when Swedish architecture was particularly influential in Britain; a striking and rich interior derives from the skilful manipulation of contrasting volumes, daylight and natural materials; * Fittings: the interior is a showcase for contemporaneous Swedish craft and design, including Jörgensen’s copper light fittings and a dalle de verre wall by Christer Sjögren; these elements underscore the architectural interest of the building; * Liturgical interest: Jörgensen’s reordering of the retained church reflects the influence of the liturgical movement on the Church of Sweden, paralleling comparable reforms in England; * Maritime history: in its integration of worship, welfare and recreation, the Swedish Seamen’s Mission is a testament to our shared maritime heritage and the international character this has brought to worship in London; it is the final chapter in the story of the importation of Scandinavian timber into London docks; * Group value: forms an extended group with St Olav’s Kirke (listed Grade II) and the Finnish Seamen’s Mission (listed Grade II), both in Rotherhithe; there is also group value with the adjacent Southwark Park (registered Grade II).


Seamen's missions represented a ‘home from home’ for mariners of British and overseas origin, usually combining places of worship with social and welfare facilities. Some missions maintained links with foreign churches serving immigrant communities. The Scandinavian countries were notable for founding missions and Lutheran churches for their compatriots involved in the timber trade. The Scandinavian Seamen’s Church in Liverpool (1883-84, W.D Caröe) is the outstanding example nationally, as recognised by its designation at Grade II*.

The first Swedish congregation in London assembled in 1710, and in 1728-29 a Swedish Lutheran Church named Ulrika Eleanora was built in Prince’s Square. In 1911 the congregation moved to a new church at 6 Harcourt Street, Marylebone (Axel Haig with H.H. Wigglesworth, Grade II). By the turn of the C20 the Baltic timber trade was long established at the Surrey Commercial Docks in Rotherhithe, and the Church of Sweden Mission Board resolved to provide a place of worship and welfare facilities for Swedish mariners. The Swedish Seamen’s Mission was accordingly established in 1901, and in 1905 a lease was taken on the recently vacated Rotherhithe public library. The building, of 1889-90 by Stock, Page and Stock, was converted for worship and described in 1912 as ‘a small building of yellow stock brick consisting of a semicircular apse and nave with a small bell gable’.

In 1929 the church acquired the freehold of the site and commissioned Wigglesworth and Marshall Mackenzie to design a scheme of alterations and extensions. (In addition to the Marylebone church, H.H. Wigglesworth designed the 1920-22 Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Trinity Square, London, for which he was made a Knight of the Order of Vasa by King Gustaf of Sweden). The three-storey former library was remodelled to provide a hall, refreshment bar and reading room with flats for permanent staff above. A new church and parsonage was built at the rear (the parsonage is excluded from the listing). The new church was dedicated by Edgar Reuterskiöld, the Bishop of Växjö, a diocese of the established Lutheran Church of Sweden.

Further additions and alterations were completed in 1964-66 to designs of 1963-64 by Bent Jörgen Jörgensen, with Elkington Smithers as executant architects. The former library buildings, which had been damaged by wartime bombing, were demolished and replaced with a new building fronting Lower Road. This contained recreational facilities and accommodation for visiting seamen and two flats for permanent staff. The church was reordered and reoriented. The completed building was opened by King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden on 6 November 1966. Many fittings were shipped from Sweden, such as the bespoke copper light fittings and the dalle de verre entrance wall by Christer Sjögren (1926-2008) of the Lindshammar glassworks.

By the 1960s, however, commercial shipping was changing. With the introduction of mobile cranes, containerisation and bigger vessels, larger downstream ports like Tilbury were used in preference to the Surrey Commercial Docks, which closed in 1970. Crews were smaller in number but more culturally diverse, and enjoyed fewer days of shore leave. The Swedish Seamen’s Mission latterly served as a base for church staff carrying out pastoral visits to Swedish ships docked at Thames and Medway ports, and as a hostel for young Swedes visiting London for work or study. In May 2011 the Committee for the Church of Sweden Abroad announced its decision to sell the Mission and concentrate their activities at the Swedish Church at Harcourt Street.

The Swedish Seamen’s Mission is one of several seamen’s mission churches serving the Thameside docks. Denmark established a purpose-built seamen’s church in King Street, Limehouse, near the West India Docks in 1873 (John Warrington Morris, demolished c.1971). It was superseded in 1958-59 by a seamen’s mission on Commercial Road (now London City Mission), designed by Holger Jensen with Armstrong & McManus. The Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish seamen’s missions served the Surrey Commercial Docks. Norway is represented by St Olav’s Kirke, Albion Street, Rotherhithe (1927, John L. Seaton Dahl, Grade II), which replaced an earlier church of 1871. The Finnish Seamen’s Mission, also in Albion Street, was rebuilt in 1957-59 to a design by the Finnish-born Cyril Sjöström Mardall of YRM. It is listed at Grade II.

Bent Jörgen Jörgensen (1915-99) was a Danish-born architect who established a successful practice in Sweden. He trained at the Art Academy in Copenhagen where he met and was influenced by Erik Gunnar Asplund, Alvar Aalto and Steen Eiler Rasmussen. Jörgensen started his career in the offices of Hans Westman in Skåne, Sweden (1938-40 and 1945-47) and Arne Jacobsen in Copenhagen (1942-45). Jörgensen supervised the practice after Jacobsen went into exile in Sweden in 1943. In 1947 he took over Paul Boberg’s practice in Växjö after the latter's death, and over the next three decades realised a variety of projects in the south of the country. His works include a hotel in Värnamo (1952-55), Vetlanda City Hall (1962-70), Swedish Emigrant Institute, Vaxjo (1967), private houses in Värnamo and Vetlanda and Jönköping, and churches of various denominations at Sävsjö (1949), Vetlanda (1952), Västrabo (1956), Dalstorps (1964-65, nationally designated), Lessebo (1958-60), Teleborg (1972-74) and Askim (1976).

The Lindshammar glassworks were founded in Vetlanda in 1905 by a German glassblower, Robert Rentsch. As with other Swedish factories, it blossomed after 1949 when it was taken over by Erik Hovhammar and new premises were built for the production of art glass. In the 1960s it employed a number of artists, including the sculptor Christer Sjögren from 1963 onwards, who introduced a freer approach to glass design.


Seamen’s mission and church, 1964-66 by Bent Jörgen Jörgensen with Elkington Smithers, incorporating church of 1930 by Wigglesworth and Marshall Mackenzie.

MATERIALS: the frontage building and hall (of 1964-66) have a reinforced concrete frame with yellow stock-brick cladding. Slates cover a steel-framed roof structure with timber joists. Copper is extensively employed inside and outside the building for cills, coping, flashings and fittings. The carriageway entrance bay is faced with slate slabs and has a copper and asphalt roof. There are double-glazed, central pivot windows with teak frames. The main entrance is of copper-clad timber within a dalle de verre coloured glass wall. The inter-war church to the rear is of stock brick with a tiled roof, and the principal interior spaces are demarcated by the use of polished Nabrežina limestone.

PLAN: the Mission occupies a long, narrow plot. Its elongated plan comprises a frontage building with through access to hall and church. Jörgensen’s three-and-a-half storey frontage building has a compact rectangular plan, adjoined by a carriageway entrance and small car park to the north. The entrance hall gives access to the main hall via a narrow servery and kitchen and, via a lobby, a suite of administrative accommodation and a games room (now subdivided). The first floor contains a library and a self-contained flat; above is the hostel accommodation and a flat with shared kitchen and bathroom. Former living and dining rooms to the south have been converted into guest rooms by the alteration of partitions. Four additional attic bedrooms have been converted from former storage and washing/drying rooms. There is also a basement with separate internal and external access.

Connecting the frontage building with the church is a hall, with a north aisle and access to a loggia with integral bell tower. The church is a single space with access to the organ loft and a rear parsonage (the parsonage is excluded from the listing).

EXTERIOR: street frontage of four bays with an additional carriageway bay to the north. Exposed concrete edge beam and columns to the ground floor with infill of adze-finished slate slabs and high casement windows. Double entrance doors and handles clad in copper, set within a dalle de verre coloured glass wall. Yellow stock brick cladding to the upper floors. At first floor, external pre-cast concrete mullions to the large library window and copper signage comprising an anchor and fish motif above slab-serif lettering. Widely-spaced square windows to the second floor with a slate mansard roof over. The metal ‘up-and-over’ door to the carriageway bay is possibly a replacement. The upper storeys have small windows set into adze-finished slate panels, and there is a copper-clad mansard roof.

The hall has a flat roof and continuous clerestory lighting over a blind north aisle and loggia to the south. There is an exposed, white-painted reinforced concrete frame to the south incorporating full-height, double-glazed windows with chunky oak mullions. The loggia and bell tower are of exposed, white-painted reinforced concrete with dressed slate tiles and copper weathercock to the steeple. There are quarry tiles to the loggia. The church is of stock brick with a cement coved eaves band and a tiled roof. It is of four bays, originally with flanking porches to the south elevation (the west porch is a replacement, the east porch removed). Tall, round-headed window openings with red brick and tile dressings and impost. Multi-paned windows with flat metal glazing bars and textured craft glass, the latter of 1964-66. The windows to the north elevation were blocked with stock brick in 1964-66.

INTERIORS: double-height entrance hall with panelled oak, plastered and stock brick walls and copper wall light fittings. Quarter-turn principal staircase with teak handrails and a concrete wall with exposed aggregate. Cantilevered over the entrance hall is an internal window which supplies borrowed light to the library; it has continuous teak mullions. The floors to the entrance hall, stairs and landing are of polished Nabrežina limestone; those of the hall, games room and offices are of teak block. The principal doors are of oak with vertical stiles fixed with handmade, square-headed nails and brass handles. The servery is a low-ceilinged space with oak panelling, copper wall light fittings and suspended ceiling panels of sheet copper. The servery bar is of teak boarding with a hardwood top (covered with a Formica-like material); the adjoining kitchen has fitted units, quarry tiles and a prismatic glass tiled window incorporating a small casement. The first-floor library is finished in plain oak panelling, flush window frames with brass fittings and pine fitted bookshelves. The half-landing staircase to the upper floors has oak treads, risers and broad balustrades. The upper rooms are simply finished, with plastered walls and ceilings, oak-veneered flush doors and built-in cupboards. A fair-faced stock brick chimneypiece heats the former living rooms.

The recreation hall has a high ceiling of dark stained boarding, above square, white-painted concrete columns. It is generously lit by clerestory windows and full-height mullioned windows in the south wall. A large stock brick hearth adjoins the east wall and there are copper pendant and wall light fittings. A sliding folding door allows the hall to be opened up to the adjoining church. The church interior is a single space, lit from the south, with altar, font and organ loft at the far end. The 1964-66 work included exposing and grit-blasting the stock brick walls of the 1930 structure and adding a flat ceiling of closely-spaced, blue painted timber beams with dark stained boarding. Suspended from the ceiling are three pairs of elaborate cruciform light fittings of bronze and black stove enamel. The altar is of Nabrežina limestone with a polished black granite top and the hexagonal font is of the same grey limestone, with a recessed base of black granite and copper bowl. Affixed to the font is a Nabrežina stone plaque with an engraving of the Swedish warship 'Wasa'. The radiator covers are of hammered copper. The stairs to the organ loft and organ case are from the original build.


Books and journals
E.J. Beck, , Memorials to serve for a History of the Parish of St Mary, Rotherhithe, (1907), p.249
Malden, H E, The Victoria History of the County of Surrey: Volume IV, (1912), p.91
Palmblad, S., Lissing, T, När danskarna kom till byn: fyra modernistiska arkitekter och deras verk i Kronobergs län, (2008), pp.36-47
'The Builder' in , (5 December 1930), pp.954-57
'Architect & Building News' in , (15 March 1967), pp.455-458.
Börjesgård, B.M, 'Småländska kulturbilder' in ‘Bent Jörgen Jörgensen (1915-1999): arkitekt i Växjö’, (2007), pp.164-169
‘Bent Jörgen Jörgensen’, accessed from http://kulturnav.org/f1ec7b43-9e37-44f8-ae96 c0b88f4114c7/entityName_firstletter:%28j%29
‘Herbert Hardy Wigglesworth’, accessed from http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=100246
The Seamen’s Church in London is being closed down, accessed from http://www.mynewsdesk.com/uk/svenska_kyrkan/pressreleases/the-seamen-s-church-in-london-is-being-closed-down-640638
English Heritage London Historians’ File, reference SO215.,
London Metropolitan Archives: GLC/AR/BR/22/BA/000431. Rotherhithe Library, Lower Road, Bermondsey CP: Building Act case file, 1889,
London Metropolitan Archives: GLC/AR/BR/36/BE/0139/9/PW. Swedish Seamen's Church: Building Act case file, 1962-64,


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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