As a renowned place for public speaking and of public executions, Kennington Park (formerly Common) has had made its mark on local history. It is therefore fitting, perhaps that that the church in Kennington Park, St Agnes’Church had made it own unique contribution.
The history of the original church on this site is closely tied with that of Saint Pauls, Lorrimore Square In the 1860s church developed a thriving catholic parish under the leadership of Father Going, By 1868, about 1,000 regularly attended Sunday evensong. It was decided to split off the southern part of the parish. Father Thomas Birkett Dover was appointed and started setting up the new parish. A temporary church was set up in 1874 in a shed. In 1875, a foundation stone for the new church was laid and by 1877 it was ready to be consecrated by the Bishop of London. However, the Bishop came under pressure to refuse consecration of the church until a representation of Our Lady was removed from the east window. They were so worried about riots that the doors were barricaded during the service. 50 constables waited nearby in case of trouble.
[It is ironic, perhaps, that 130 years later, in 2007, some 60 armed police with 150 officers in support, raided a nearby Rastafarian Temple suspected of being taken over by drug dealers. No class A drugs were found.]
From the outset, St Agnes was envisaged as a possible refuge for St Pauls’ parishioners should Catholic worship be suppressed. In 1880, the Bishop of Rochester, hostile to catholic worship, addressed the congregation. His message was badly received and an angry crowd gathered outside. Stones were thrown at the Bishop’s carriage as it drove away. A letter from Father Going sought to prevent further trouble and the following Sunday the entire congregation of St Pauls went to St Agnes. The Sunday after, at St Pauls, only 5 were there to attend the first service of the new vicar. Although the Bishop had managed to suppress catholic worship at St Pauls it was at a terrible price.
The original church was damaged and eventually demolished (as with St Stephen’s Church in Stockwell). The current church, which dates from 1958, was designed by the parish organist - Ralph Covell.